The Hundredth Meridianrnby Chilton Williamson, Jr.rnWildness in WaitingrnDick Mcllhenny awoke with a cold footrnin the blackness that could be an hour afterrnhe fell asleep or ten minutes beforernthe alarm clock went off. He attended tornthe foot inside the sleeping bag andrnchecked the luminous dial on the clockrnbeside his pillow. The clock said 30 minutesrnpast one. Mcllhenny rolled on hisrnside and was working deeper into the bagrnwhen the first scream sounded. It camernfrom a hundred yards or so away, manlikernbut voluminous as the shriek of a giant.rnThe sound came and came again, arnhigh-pitched yell bonded with a roar, beforerna second voice answered it from thernopposite ridge. In the darkness Mcllhennyrnfumbled for his revolver. He had arnflashlight with him in the pop-uprncamper but was unwilling to call attentionrnto himself by using it. Wanting tornpeer across the moonlit clearing, he wasrnfearful of the sound running the tent zipperrndown would make. Instead he lay listeningrnfor nearly ten minutes to the unseenrncreature beyond the edge of thernforest and the thing that was answering itrnfrom half a mile or more away, until ninernrifle shots fired in rapid succession fromrna neighboring camp rang out, waking hisrnson beside him in the camper and endingrnthe screams abruptly. Armed with rifles,rnthe two men patrolled the forest andrnthe edges of the parks where, in spite ofrnthe full moon overhead, they observedrnno deer or elk grazing. The incident occurredrnnear Leadville, Colorado, in thernsecond half of October 1994.rnFour months earlier and 100 miles tornthe south, Keith Hawkins and his twornsons had been fishing for trout on thernConejos River cutting through wild andrnrugged country not far north of the Colorado-rnNew Mexico border. Although itrnwas only late afternoon the sun hadrndropped behind the continental dividernrising to an elevation of over 13,000 feet,rnand the canyon in which the river flowedrnwas already twilit. The western bank rosernsteeply to form a high ridge partly loggedrnbut with tall stands of timber remaining.rnAs the three cast to trout in the longrnshadow of the mountains, a bellowingrnroar started from the ridge above them,rnwithin one of the deeper tree stands.rnThe roar was terrific, seeming to issuernthrough a megaphone mouth from a pairrnof lungs that wouldn’t go inside a Kodiakrnbear. A bow hunter with two record killsrnlisted with Pope & Young, accustomedrnto killing elk and bear at distances of 25rnyards and less, Hawkins recognized thernsound for a threat. Unarmed except forrntheir fishing rods, the Hawkinses reeledrnin, waded from the river, and returned torncamp a couple of miles downstream.rnWearing a revolver this time, Hawkinsrnreturned to the site the next day and exploredrnthe ridge on foot looking for sign,rnof which he found none. However, thernincident caused him to recall his parents’rnclaim several years before to have seen,rnfrom a distance, an eight-foot tall creaturernon two legs standing beside theirrnhouse trailer while they were campedrnnear the Conejos, and a cousin’s story ofrnbeing wakened at night by the violentrnrocking of his Winnebago and the stentorianrnbreathing of some enormous creaturernaudible through the aluminumrnskin.rnBeing trained scientists as well as experiencedrnoutdoorsmen, Dick Mcllhennyrnand Keith Hawkins were aware thatrnno explanation recognized by science orrnirrefutably demonstrated by empiricalrnexperience could account for what theyrnhad heard in the mountains of Colorado.rnNeither man was willing to say what therncreature responsible for the sounds was;rnboth, however, were ready to assert whatrnit assuredly was not: bear, elk, moose,rnmountain lion, coyote, or any other animalrnknown to inhabit the SouthernrnRockies.rnDick mulled his experience at Leadvillernfor nearly four years before runningrnacross Keith’s recently posted account ofrnhis own encounter on the Internet,rnwhich introduced the two men to onernanother. Not wishing to waste time andrneffort on a wild goose chase, both hadrndone considerable reading and arrived,rnfinally, at a willingness to suspend judgment.rnWhen you have eliminated thernimpossible, said Sherlock Holmes, whateverrnremains, however improbable, mustrnbe the truth. Only in this case, neitherrnKeith nor Dick was quite so reckless inrnembracing improbability as Holmes frequentlyrnwas prepared to be.rnSeveral months after Dick Mcllhenny,rnmy elk-hunting partner in Wyomingrnyears ago, invited me to join him andrnKeith Hawkins for a walkabout in thernwilderness of southern Colorado, I mentionedrnthe planned trip to Brad Willfordrnwhen he called one evening from Kemmerer,rnwithout mentioning its object.rn”Oh,” Brad said, “my great-great-grandfatherrnhomesteaded in that area in thern1870’s and 80’s. Hold on and I’ll get thernmemoir he wrote in the 30’s about it.”rnHe was away from the phone a couple ofrnminutes and returned with the book inrnhis hand. “Let’s see,” Brad said. ” . . . Oh,rnthis ought to interest you. . .” Old Willfordrnhad written that you had to be arnbrave man to go alone into the San JuanrnMountains, where strange incidents occurredrnand the sense of being watchedrnwas recurrent. In one instance, a huntingrncamp that was supposedly bearproofedrnwas robbed, and game meatrnhung high in a tree out of a bear’s reachrnstolen. In another Willford had his horsernspooked from under him and his packmulernpanicked by a mysterious presencernwhile riding out of the mountains afterrndark. In a third, Willford was hunting afterrnan early fall snowstorm when herncame on the tracks of a small party of Indians,rnidentifiable as Navajos by therncross-hatches on the soles of their moccasins.rnThe tracks led diagonally uphillrnfor about a mile before plunging abruptlyrndownward in a series of broad jumpsrnseparated by four or five feet. Willfordrnfollowed them two or three miles fartherrnand came upon the Indians setting up arnshelter for the night. “Don’t go uprnthere!” one of them exclaimed, pointingrnin the direction from which they hadrncome. “One terrible big thing—fifteen,rnfoot bear!” Disturbed by these and otherrnMARCH 1999/49rnrnrn