HAMLET — Organizers of Encounterquest are calling all creepy creature connoisseurs from across the Carolinas to Cole Auditorium.
The inaugural cryptid conference, scheduled for Saturday, April 1, will include topics ranging from bigfoot to UFOs.
Kim Ristau, one of the organizers, said she became interested in both subjects in her youth based on the experiences of her mother, including seeing a triangle-shaped UFO near Fort Lewis in Washington state.
“Hearing her stories … I’ve been hooked ever since.”
Growing up in the Pacific Northwest, Ristau said her father was stationed at the base and would sometimes joke about it being so dark out in the field that there could be a bigfoot out there and they wouldn’t know it.
Ristau has had a few unexplained experiences of her own.
Once, with her mother while they lived in Washington, they saw “something weird” cross the road in front of them.
She said the creature had four legs, a long neck and a little head.
“I don’t know of any animal close to being shaped like that,” Ristau recalled.
Later in life, when she was in her 30s, Ristau said she was camping with friends near Mount Hood in Oregon when something threw pebbles at her tent. She also heard a loud thump just outside her tent.
“I can’t tell you what it was,” she said. “It was just an odd experience.”
Ristau is a ceramic artist and would go to bigfoot and alien conferences while she was still out west. However, when she moved to North Carolina, she found there was nothing like that around.
The closest she found was in Virginia, where she met Encounterquest co-host Jessica Mora, who had her first paranormal experience at age 12.
Like Ristau, Mora is a vendor. Along with her brother, Mora started the “everything bigfoot” business Broken Branch Designs, creating and selling a variety of clothing, housewares and other items — all featuring bigfoot.
Ristau said she was especially surprised there was nothing near the Uwharrie Mountains, which boasts the most reported sasquatch sightings in North Carolina, according to the Bigfoot Field Researchers Organization.
The BFRO lists 15 reports in Montgomery County, seconded by Cleveland County with six.
Click here to read a previous RO story on bigfoot.
When Encounterquest was granted $5,000 from the Richmond County Tourism Development Authority in February, Ristau said they plan to make it an annual event and that they chose Richmond County Because of its central location.
Click here to read about the grant.
“A lot of people have paranormal experiences but don’t want to talk about it,” Ristau said.
Two of the guest speakers’ topics are related to the study of a suspected Sasquatch language.
Ron Morehead, outdoorsman and author of “The Quantum Bigfoot,” along with journalist Al Berry, recorded vocalizations in the Sierra Nevada Mountains in 1972 which have come to be known as the “Sierra Sounds.”
Following Morehead will be R. Scott Nelson, a retired U.S. Navy crypto-linguist who has analyzed the sounds. According to a 2019 interview with the Hastings Tribune, Nelson said he believes “The Sierra Sounds” to be a conversation between an adult male, an adult female and a younger Sasquatch.
“There’s not many shows you can go to and see the both of them together,” Ristau said.
Other speakers on the schedule for Saturday include: Kenny Irish, “The Cryptopunkologist,” who will be discussing dogman sightings across the country; Alien Hunter Derrel Sims; Tar Heel bigfoot investigators NC Squatch Watchers; and the hosts of the “Cryptids of the Corn” podcast, who chose the topic of the Arkansas Giant Killer Centipede based on an online poll.
Sims will also be giving a workshop on Friday evening that requires separate tickets purchased online only.
In addition to the speakers, there will be more than 30 vendors including artists and authors as well as food trucks — one being The Taco Factory. There will also be a Man in Black stalking the crowd, an eight-foot inflatable bigfoot and and guitar-playing bigfoot.
“The Cole is excited to host its first major conference,” said Joey Bennett, director of Cole Auditorium. “We are excited for the organizers and appreciate all of their hard work. We hope that this is a fun event for locals to come out and enjoy, even if just to browse the vendors or eat from the food trucks, and that this is a great economic boost to our local gas stations, lodging, and small businesses. If you see visitors in town at places of business, please make them feel welcome.”
Doors open at 9 a.m and the speakers start at 10. General Admission tickets are $25, however there are discounted tickets for senior citizens, military personnel and first responders at $20. Children 12 and under get in free. Tickets are available online or at the door.
For more information, visit encounterquest.com.
Note: This story has been updated to add a quote. 1:12 p.m. 3-24-23