© Aaric Bryan/Daily Inter Lake
Misty Allabaugh uses a flashlight to search for hair on a log while hiking near Columbia Falls recently.
Misty Allabaugh knows exactly what she saw as she rested her head against the back door of her dad's truck that late October day in 1993.

It was just before dusk as her family headed out of the woods west of Kalispell where they'd spent the day hunting.

"My mom gasped," Allabaugh recalled. "And my dad said, 'let it go, Mary.'"

Her father had worked backcountry logging jobs all his life, and had seen some odd occurrences through the years that couldn't easily be explained. He'd been told if you leave "it" alone, it will leave you alone.

Then Allabaugh saw it with her own eyes. It was like nothing she'd ever seen before, but she knew it was Bigfoot. "There's no doubt in my mind," she said. "It was on a short hill. You could see the daylight between his arms, his hair lifting in the breeze."

Her mother turned to her and asked: "Did you see the hairy man cross the road?"

Allabaugh, of Columbia Falls, was 17 when she witnessed the ape-like creature. The sighting left her wanting to know more, and the intrigue never left.

© Misty Allabaugh
This photo was taken Jan. 16, 2014, in one of Misty Allabaugh’s research areas in western Montana where she collects unusual hair samples and droppings in her ongoing search for Bigfoot.
Now, 24 years later, Allabaugh's research and relentless search for Bigfoot, synonymously known as Sasquatch, has turned into a career for her. She is the emcee for the upcoming Big Sky Bigfoot Conference planned in Hamilton Sept. 22-23.

The annual conference, launched two years ago in Montana, draws Bigfoot believers from all over. It's a gathering where people can share their stories of sightings, meet a variety of experts and bond over Bigfoot.

Another of this year's presenters hails from the Flathead Valley. Joe Hauser, who lives near Glacier National Park, is a wildlife biologist and environmental consultant with more than 30 years of field experience. As a former curator with the Bigfoot Field Researchers' Organization, Hauser has had the opportunity to investigate several Bigfoot reports.

Allabaugh's research has taken her all over, from New Mexico to the Yukon. But most of her Sasquatch studying has been done relatively close to home, in the area between Kalispell and Libby.

She has found oddities such as unusually large tracks in the snow with a long stride that seem to be larger than those of a bear, long strands of hair 9 feet up a tree, dead trees placed in unusual positions.

"When I'm researching, I'm always asking, what could it be and what could it not be," Allabaugh said. "I've taken reports of all different sizes and shapes."

Sawyers have reported finding the chain saw they left in a remote tree overnight twisted and bent the next day, a feat that seemingly would take more than human strength.

"I bring out a tape measure, and I try to set realistic goals," she explained about her research. "We're dealing with an unidentified animal."

Allabaugh has gathered an ample amount of hair, blood and excrement samples through the years that she has stored but hasn't had tested because she doesn't have the money it would take for forensic studies.

© Aaric Bryan/Daily Inter Lake
Misty Allabaugh inspects a track she found while hiking near Columbia Falls recently.
"If it's what we think, it's something between prehistoric and a mountain gorilla."

Western Montana seems to be a hotbed for Sasquatch sightings. During the 2015 conference held in Hot Springs, Brian Sullivan, a 40-year veteran of Bigfoot research, said there have been well over 100 documented sightings of Sasquatch in Montana, mainly in the western half of the state.

Allabaugh, who has written two fictional books about Bigfoot with a third manuscript underway to complete the trilogy, also is compiling people's personal accounts of sightings from Canada to Mexico for a book. She also acknowledges the prevalence of Western Montana sightings.

One inquiry came from a Columbia Falls resident who allegedly had seen the creature. Another sighting occurred on Thanksgiving in the Nyack Flats area near Glacier National Park. That witness has a fuzzy photo of something crossing a log in the distance, but what Allabaugh noticed was the creature's "breath halo" that seems to indicate something much larger than a bear exhaling into the frosty air.

"There's a fantastical factor," she acknowledged. "But there's a realist factor, too.

"I have one big critic and my [response] to him is, 'I don't need to see Bigfoot to know he's there. With Bigfoot you have your own set of beliefs, it's like religion and politics. I've seen Bigfoot."

In addition to her initial 1993 sighting, Allabaugh said she's seen Bigfoot only one other time.

For Bigfoot believers, the quest is to get taken seriously.

"We're not going to get anywhere without scientific research," Allabaugh said.

Her own exhaustive research, she said, is personal.

"I'm an avid hunter, but I want to see them protected."