Home Local News EncounterQuest cryptid conference comes back to the Cole

EncounterQuest cryptid conference comes back to the Cole

HAMLET — Jessica Mora has long been interested in the unknown and unexplained.

It’s that interest, which she shares with Kim Ristau, that led them to founding EncounterQuest — which heads into its second year Saturday, April 13 at Cole Auditorium.

“My favorite show growing up was Unsolved Mysteries,” Mora told the RO. “They had several episodes of first-hand-accounts from people seeing Bigfoot, UFOs, aliens, angels and ghosts. It’s intrigued me ever since.”

Both Mora and Ristau are cryptid vendors: Mora co-owns Broken Branch Designs with her brother Jeff; and Ristau, a Pacific Northwest native now living in Laurinburg, is owner of Elusive Haire.

“Kim and I have participated in a lot of cryptid events all over the United States. That’s how we met,” Mora said. “She was saying how there aren’t many cryptid events near her and that she would like to host one and asked if I would join her.”

And EncounterQuest was born.

The pair started promoting the cryptid conference in late 2022 and both had booths at the Hamlet Seaboard Festival.

Jessica Mora looks out to the crowd during the inaugural EncounterQuest in 2023. Photo by William R. Toler-Richmond Observer

“Hamlet is such a beautiful area with a lot of neat history!” Mora said regarding holding EncounterQuest in Richmond County. “Plus, it’s a great location being close to the Uwharrie National Forest where there have been many sightings of Bigfoot and UFOs.”

According to the Bigfoot Field Researchers Organization, there have been 15 reported sightings in neighboring Montgomery County — more than any of the other 99 counties in the state.

That county has used the notoriety to its advantage. There is a sasquatch statue in the town of Troy and several miles north of town, near the Uwharrie National Forest, is the Bigfoot Bar and Grill — which recently announced its own festival coming in 2025.

Bigfoot Statue in Troy, Montgomery County
Bigfoot statue in Troy, North Carolina. Photo by William R. Toler-Richmond Observer

There is only one documented encounter in Richmond County, but there have been a few other anecdotal accounts.

Click here to read more about Bigfoot in North Carolina.

Mora and Ristau have both had unexplained encounters.

Mora briefly spoke about hers last fall during an EncounterQuest Town Hall at Hinson Lake. Click here to read that story.

Ristau discussed hers with the RO prior to the inaugural EncounterQuest. Click here to read that story.

“Bigfoot is definitely my favorite cryptid,” Mora said. “There are so many accounts world-wide from credible witnesses, from police officers to judges to grandmas, that you can’t dismiss the fact that they are seeing and experiencing something very similar to each other.”

Cryptids are creatures — including Bigfoot, Dogman and the Loch Ness Monster — that have been reportedly seen by eye-witnesses but aren’t recognized by mainstream science and academia.

But one of this year’s speakers is an exception.

Dr. Jeff Meldrum – promotional photo

Dr. Jeff Meldrum is a professor of Anatomy and Anthropology at Idaho State University who has studied and has a collection of casts of suspected sasquatch footprints.

Among those who believe Bigfoot exists, there is still debate on what the creature actually is. Ideas range from an undiscovered ape to a human-ape hybrid to an interdimensional being.

Mora has come to her own personal conclusion after years of research into the topic.

“I believe that some are part of the nephilim from Genesis 6 in the Bible,” Mora said. “I also believe there could be some, perhaps a certain sect of them, that may be a part of God’s original creation.”

Mora said there are accounts of the creatures saving people’s lives — “That shows incredible intelligence and foresight on their part” — but there are also “some very frightening accounts of where people thought they were legit going to die so they started praying, and as soon as they said Jesus/ Lord/God, the Bigfoot immediately stopped, and turned and walked away.

“Regardless of your beliefs, as a researcher, you cannot dismiss these details in people’s accounts,” Mora added. “In the end, no one truly knows what these things are. We can only speculate and draw our own conclusions.”

The Ohio Night Stalkers will also make the trip to Hamlet to talk about Bigfoot and Shenandoah Squatch will be rolling around on a one-wheel.

While the sasquatch is the main topic for EncounterQuest, the conference will also feature talks on other cryptids — including two that hit a little closer to home.

Lyle Blackburn – promotional photo

Lyle Blackburn is an author and musician who has written several cryptid-related books, including one one the Lizard Man of Bishopville, South Carolina. Blackburn will be speaking on both the Lizard Man and the infamous Beast of Bladenboro.

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Click here to read a column on the Beast of Bladenboro from local storyteller J.A. Bolton.

Bishopville has embraced its legendary creature and hosts the annual Lizard Man Stomp. This year’s event is slated for June 29.

Ken Gerhard – promotional photo

Cryptozoologist Ken Gerhard, who has appeared on multiple television shows including “Monsterquest” and “Missing in Alaska,” will discuss thunderbirds of Native American legend.

Rockingham Mayor John Hutchinson will again open the event just before 10 a.m. with a talk about the Santer — a cat-like creature seen along the Yadkin-Pee Dee and Cape Fear river basins, including Salisbury and Hamlet, in the late 1800s and early 1900s — as well as a local state representative who was accused by political opponents of being a werewolf.

But EncounterQuest isn’t just about cryptids. The event also includes the UFO phenomenon.

“…we’re all encompassing,” Ristau told the Richmond County Tourism Development Authority Board, which helps sponsor the event, last year.

Lt. Cmdr. Alex Dietrich, a retired Navy fighter pilot involved in the 2004 “tic tac” unidentified aerial phenomenon encounter during a training mission, is also slated to talk about her experience.

Justin England and Jay Wolber, hosts of the “Cryptids of the Corn” podcast, will serve as the emcees for this year’s EncounterQuest. Last year, the two spoke about giant centipedes. Click here to read about the 2023 EncounterQuest.

Justin England and Jay Wolber, hosts of Cryptids of the Corn, speak with attendees of the 2023 EncounterQuest. Photo by William R. Toler – Richmond Observer

Following their participation, the two gave kudos to the Cole and its staff on their podcast.

“We are so excited for the return of this event and the exposure that it provides our community and the facility,” Cole Director Joey Bennett said Tuesday. “The organizers have worked so hard to put this event together, down to the last detail.

“From the free vendors, to kids activities, to the speakers, and local vendors, this event has a lot to offer everyone. We hope that a lot of locals will turn out.”

A new addition for this year is the Cryptid Crawl, organized by the city of Hamlet and Richmond Community College, starting at 8 a.m.. The free run/walk will take participants through the nature trail at the college with “some alien and Bigfoot sightings along the route” for photo-ops.

Participants can sign up for a chance to win a free ticket and T-shirt at: https://runsignup.com/Race/NC/Hamlet/CryptidCrawl

There will also be a meet-and-greet dinner with the speakers and plaster-casting workshop at the Hinson Lake Rotary Lodge Friday evening.

Vendors will be set up throughout the lobby and banquet room of the Cole, as well as outside. There will also be several food trucks on-site, including Taco Factory and Burger Bros.

Tickets for the speakers are $25 and are available online at encounterquest.com, or at the door on the day of the event. There is no cost for the Cryptid Crawl or to shop.