PROVO -- Is Bigfoot or some other mythic monster lurking in the woods of Provo Canyon?
A new viral YouTube video purports to answer that question affirmatively by showing footage of the fabled beast. The footage was posted Oct. 30 by a YouTube user calling himself "Beard Card," an apparent reference to BYU's similarly mythic permission slip to grow facial hair.
The video begins showing two pairs of feet -- presumably belonging to the video's shooter and a companion -- then quickly pans up to show a dark figure lumbering around in the brush. Though difficult to see through the trees, the figure looks like it could be a medium-sized black bear until it stands up, revealing a humanoid shape. The video's shooters then run away.
The video's description states that it was made by campers near Squaw Peak. The campers claim to have run into the creature while trying to get closer to some deer.
"On our way up, we thought we saw a bear," the description states, "until the monster stood up and looked right at us. We ran straight to the car after that, leaving our tent and everything behind. It's probably all still up there."
By Monday evening, the video had more than 3 million views, with comments offering explanations, criticism and a variety of typical Internet vitriol. Fliers announcing the encounter appeared on the south end of BYU campus on Friday. Mysteriously, the bottom left corner of the fliers was torn away.
But the video itself is ultimately inconclusive, according to Jeffrey Meldrum, a professor of anatomy and anthropology at Idaho State University and Bigfoot researcher. Meldrum said though the video appears to show an upright creature with a distinct arm, the image could be created by foliage obscuring part of the body of a bear.
"On first glance I really can't differentiate it from a black bear," he said.
Still, Meldrum advised against immediately writing off alleged Bigfoot sightings as pseudoscience.
"There is merit to that argument but I don't think that justifies ignoring what evidence we have," he said, adding that authorities have reported unexplained footprints, hair and vocalizations from various locations in the world.
Though the recent incident in Provo raises more questions than it answers, Meldrum said settlers began reporting similar encounters almost as soon as they arrived at the Wasatch Front. Meldrum recalled one story from 1902 during which kids in the LDS settlement of Chesterfield, Idaho, were ice skating on a frozen canal.
"Suddenly out from the tree line burst this wild man with a stick," Meldrum said, adding that Bigfoot figures were often described as "wild men."
Men from the community responded and found 16-inch footprints but were unable to locate the creature.
According to Meldrum, there have been additional sightings farther south in Utah and people living on the Ute Indian reservation have insisted that some sort of creature resembling Bigfoot exists. Meldrum further compared Sasquatch to wolverines, which are also elusive and almost never seen in the wild.
"It's not that surprising that we have little or no fossil record of them or their predecessors," Meldrum said. "The point is you don't just walk out in the woods and see these creatures, if in fact they exist."
But while Meldrum offered more scientifically based explanations for Bigfoot sightings, former LDS Church president Spencer W. Kimball seemingly offers another: a nude, hairy, immortalized Cain of biblical fame. In a chapter titled "Point of No Return" in his 1969 book "The Miracle of Forgiveness," Kimball quotes from a letter reportedly written by Abraham O. Smoot recalling David W. Patten's encounter with the murderous son of Adam and Eve. According to the letter, Patten was riding a mule one day when he "suddenly noticed a very strange personage" walking at his side.
"He wore no clothing, but was covered with hair," the letter states. "His skin was very dark. I asked him where he dwelt and he replied that he had no home, that he was a wanderer in the earth and traveled to and fro. He said he was a miserable creature, that he had earnestly sought death during his sojourn upon the earth, but that he could not die, and his mission was to destroy the souls of men."
Patten reportedly then "rebuked" the figure, who then left.
Though Kimball offers virtually no commentary on the incident, the description of a huge hairy figure corresponds with common characterizations of Bigfoot. And though it's difficult to know how pervasively believed the Cain-Bigfoot connection is among LDS faithful -- BYU folklorists did not immediately return phone calls Monday afternoon -- Google offers various suggested terms related to the topic when searching for Kimball's book, suggesting it remains a popular query.
A spokesman for the LDS Church also did not return calls Monday seeking to clarify the religion's position on the existence of Bigfoot, Cain and Kimball's book.
In the meantime the video of the sighting in Provo Canyon continued to rack up the views and comments.