Nevada has Area 51, and New Mexico has that whole “weather balloon” incident they don’t like talking about. However, when it comes to freaky UFO hot spots in the Southwest United States, a 512-acre property in Utah beats them both. Skinwalker Ranch doesn’t just have a name ripped from a campfire story. It’s got decades upon decades of ghoulish anecdotes to match its eerie moniker, from legends of witches and corporate intrigue to more UFO sightings than you can shake a ray gun at. This isn’t a place you want to find yourself in during the middle of the night. Even if you make it out, you’ll have alien gizmos embedded in your brain.
Skinwalker Ranch’s creepy reputation isn’t a recent phenomenon, but it’s only gotten creepier with age. So, strap on your tinfoil hat, buckle up, and get ready for a tale so bonkers it makes The X-Files look mild in comparison. Here’s the untold truth of Skinwalker Ranch.
Okay, so what the heck is Skinwalker Ranch?
If you say the name “Skinwalker Ranch” in a party full of normal people, they’ll probably look at you like you’re an extraterrestrial — or a wacky conspiracy theorist, at best. That said, this seemingly innocuous plot of land is quite real, and it can even be found on Google Maps, though you be the judge of whether the stories are a load of bunk or not.
Wait, what stories? Oh, right. When it’s not called Skinwalker Ranch, this place is also known as the UFO ranch, and some people call it the Sherman Ranch, after the family that was driven out of there. More on them later. To start with, what you need to know about this place, as described by Vice, is that it’s basically the Earth’s black hole. Here, people claim that UFOs hover in the sky, little green men mutilate cows, and paranormal activity happens entirely too often. Now, sure, weird sightings happen all over the world, but it’s believed that such incidents occur way more often at Skinwalker Ranch.
Why the creepy name?
If you wanted to keep people far away from a place, calling it Skinwalker Ranch is a pretty good way to do so. That said, this nickname wasn’t applied frivolously. It has deep cultural roots.
Skinwalkers, see, are sinister creatures derived from many North American indigenous mythologies, but they are particularly common in Navajo mythology. According to Skeptoid, these vile beasts are known for their ability to put on the skin of an animal, like a coyote, and transform from a human witch or warlock into a furry, four-legged creature. Skinwalker animals tend to look slightly off, though, whether due to disproportionate features or glowing red eyes. These days, whenever people claim to spot skinwalkers, they usually describe them as resembling half-human, half-animal freaks, the likes of which usually only turn up in B-movies.
So, as you’ve probably guessed, the fact that this little place in Utah got named after these monsters is not a good sign. According to the Las Vegas Mercury, it’s been said that members of the nearby Ute tribe have long considered the Uinta Basin region of Utah, where Skinwalker Ranch is situated, to be a forbidden, toxic place, where unearthly terrors prey upon mortals.
E.T. reports up the wazoo
In the present day, of course, Skinwalker Ranch isn’t necessarily known for witches. Rather, it’s a place where people see flying saucers.
In a 1975 piece for Bioscience, plant physiologist Frank Salisbury claimed to have found hundreds of UFO reports originating from Utah and nearby areas, each one weirder than the last. These weird happenings continued after Salisbury published his findings, too. In 1978, for example, the Deseret News wrote that a few separate individuals had seen an unearthly, metallic aircraft floating in the air above them. That same decade, a man named Ray Kelsey claimed that he and 250 other people witnessed a UFO hover over an oil rig. Kelsey says this very rig later exploded, according to the Deseret News, and the bosses told their men to hush up about it.
Perhaps the most bizarre story of all comes from Paul Pedersen, a businessman who claimed to have encountered a flying saucer in 1964, while driving home near Salt Lake. He spotted humanoid figures in the window, highlighted by an ethereal green light, and these aliens telepathically asked him to beam up with them. Pedersen answered — in his mind, not aloud — by thinking about his wife and kids, and how he couldn’t leave them behind. Evidently, the extraterrestrials were okay with that excuse, and they flew back into the mountains. Hey, those are some nice aliens, huh?
The high school teacher who keeps an eye on the sky
Every science fiction blockbuster has the one character, usually an older guy, who’s been keeping tabs on this wacky nonsense for a long time, and knows more than everybody else in the room. When it comes to Skinwalker Ranch, the man you want to talk to is a retired high school teacher named Joseph “Junior” Hicks.
According to The Daily Beast, Mr. Hicks has been following Utah’s extraterrestrial scene ever since 1951, after an incident where he believes that he and his students saw a UFO floating over their heads. In the following decades, Hicks has become the number one authority on all things Skinwalker. He’s the one who first sussed out the Ute legends of the skinwalkers, and he has also cataloged literally hundreds of UFO reports from the area. When interviewed by reporter George Knapp in 2002, Hicks estimated that at least half of the Uinta basin’s 50,000 residents had seen alien weirdness in the sky, from floating lights to flying metallic cigars. That’s … well, a bold estimate, for sure. No word on where he got those numbers or if they check out.
The scary story of the Sherman family
Enter the 1990s. For the first half of the decade, nobody lived at Skinwalker Ranch. That all changed when the Shermans moved in, and oh boy, did they come to regret it.
The Sherman family — composed of a husband, a wife, and two kids — spilled the beans to the Deseret News in 1996, claiming that in their two years on the ranch, they’d seen multiple types of UFOs, ranging from orange “doorways” in the sky to an alien aircraft bigger than a football field. One time, a light followed their car. Another time, their dogs went nuts over floating voices coming from 25 feet above their heads, speaking in an alien language. Crop circles kept being formed in their yard. According to The Daily Beast, it’s alleged that a seven-foot-tall humanoid figure appeared on the ranch. And one time, as written on Vice, the Sherman family says that they were stalked by wolves that, even when shot by high-powered rifles, wouldn’t die. Nightmare fuel, much?
Terry Sherman, the father, openly speculated on whether they might be running into evidence of a top-secret government project. Others, of course, were more inclined to think it was aliens, ghosts, or skinwalkers. However, the thing that really messed with the Sherman family’s lives wasn’t the lights in the sky, but rather, the horrific things being done to their cattle.
Cattle mutilations aren't a joke
When you hear about aliens beaming up cows, of all things, it’s easy to crack wise. However, the nightmarish predicament that the Sherman family found themselves in this regard was no laughing matter. As the Deseret News explained, by 1996, four of the family’s prized cows — an important part of their income — vanished from thin air. Another three were found mutilated in various brutal ways that you don’t want to hear about. When Terry Sherman asked other ranchers about this insanity, they confirmed that their own cattle had been mutilated in the past, and that the local authorities hadn’t been able to help.
A later article in the same paper reported an even more frightening cattle incident that occurred on March 10, 1997. On that morning, less than an hour after a healthy 84-pound calf was tagged, the animal’s corpse was found in the middle of the field, in broad daylight, with all of the blood drained from its body. According to those on the scene, there was no blood in the field, no blood in the dirt, and nothing in the calf itself.
Whoever the perpetrator was, the things being done to those cows were sickeningly inhumane, and there’s still no good explanation as to why.
Where's the evidence?
Whenever people hear claims about the paranormal, their first question is always, “So where’s the evidence?” And as usual, that’s the problem. Stories are one thing, and footage is another, but where’s the proper evidence?
Well, regardless of whether one believes in UFOs or not, it seems unlikely that the Shermans would’ve lied about their predicament. The violent, continual loss of their cattle took a heavy hit on the family income, not to mention the psychological damage it must’ve caused, and it eventually caused them to move far away. Now, that doesn’t mean that there were necessarily aliens, ghouls, or what have you — and sure, there have been occasional instances of a person ruining their business for the sake of a good hoax, as the true story of Bigfoot demonstrates — but why would the entire family make it up? In any case, the experiences that the Shermans suffered through, presuming it all really happened, are horrific, whether they were caused by little grey beings or, perhaps, other human beings with some mean-spirited agenda.
Currently, though, the only public “evidence” of alien activity at Skinwalker Ranch is the usual myriad of blurry photographs, videos, eyewitness accounts, and other not-so-great proof that usually surfaces with these urban legends. So stay tuned, but don’t hold your breath.
The great Robert Bigelow connection
After a couple years of ducking from lights in the sky and helplessly watching their cows get slaughtered, the Shermans did what any family would do: They got out of Dodge.
That’s normal enough. What’s decidedly not normal is that the person who purchased the house from them, according to Wired, was a big shot Nevada businessman named Robert Bigelow. This dude, if you’ve never heard of him before, is recognized for having founded Bigelow Aerospace, a million dollar technology company that creates space station modules … and he’s also known for being really, really into studying UFOs, E.T.s, and paranormal stuff through his other organization, the National Institute for Discovery Science. In the past, he also helped put together the UFO Research Coalition. Hey, why choose one passion when you can pursue both of them, right?
While the Sherman family sold the ranch because they wanted to get away from all that ethereal madness, Bigelow bought the property because he wanted to dive right into it. So, once the Shermans packed their bags, Bigelow got to work.
Skinwalker Ranch was a land of paranormal studies … but with science!
Bigelow’s organization, the National Institute of Discovery Science (NIDS), wasn’t a bunch of superstitious people in robes, or anything like that. According to the Deseret News, those involved with NIDS wanted to study paranormal activity from a strictly scientific perspective by bringing in — gasp! — real scientists. The organization posted job ads asking for researchers with an interest in “exploring the origin and evolution of consciousness in the universe,” and hired experts in physics, biochemistry, immunology, and veterinary studies to get the work done. According to one of these scientists, Colm Kelleher, life at Skinwalker Ranch got pretty spooky. Some researchers reported seeing “flying orbs” in the sky. Others claimed to have been stalked in the shadows by fearsome animals with yellow eyes. When they tried to get scientific evidence for the weirdness via an array of expensive audio and video recorders, this equipment was mysteriously vandalized.
Unfortunately, despite millions of dollars, a crack team of scientists, and a lot of strange events, it doesn’t seem like Bigelow’s company ever uncovered the verifiable proof that the businessman had wanted. In 2004, according to Wired, NIDS was disbanded. Not long afterward, Bigelow walked away from Skinwalker Ranch.
Bigelow also studied UFOs for the Pentagon
Now, hold on. Before you write off Bigelow as some crackpot, just because he has spent decades looking for aliens, you should know that, interests aside, he’s a consummate professional — the kind of guy who’s trusted by major government bodies. What government bodies, you ask? Try the U.S. Department of Defense, according to The New York Times. If your mind isn’t already blown, try this: The assignment that the Pentagon hired Bigelow for, in fact, was to study UFOs.
Back in 2007, the U.S. government got freaked out about UFO reports from military pilots, so the Department of Defense doled out $22 million in black money to a top-secret initiative called the Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program (AATIP). This program, then, hired Bigelow Aerospace to do the work for them. Though the AATIP supposedly went kaput in 2012, that was actually just the year where the Pentagon stopped bankrolling them, and it has secretly continued running ever since.
Now, sure, this sounds like something you’d see in the Men in Black movies, but as Politico points out, “UFOs” aren’t necessarily alien. They’re just unidentified. Political insiders are more inclined to think that bizarre, flying vessels described by Navy pilots are next-generation aircraft developed by other countries, as opposed to little green men. That said, Fast Company writes that some of these reports are pretty wild. One pilot described something that looked like a “sphere encasing a cube,” and another pilot reported a white, wingless, oblong aircraft hovering over the water.
Skinwalker's mysterious new owners
Want to know how to make an already creepy place even creepier? Sell it to an anonymous company, of course!
Now that Bigelow has seemingly washed his hands of Skinwalker Ranch, according to Wired, the new property owners are a company named Adamantium Holdings, LLC. Why are they named after a fictitious Marvel Comics metal? Is that you, William Stryker? Anyhow, nobody knows much of anything about these Adamantium guys, as the company seemingly claims only two employees, and they have also deliberately cut off all roads leading to the ranch, according to Decider. It’s always possible that their seemingly weird intentions are just boring capitalist greed, as the name Skinwalker Ranch was apparently trademarked in 2018. Gotta’ cash in.
Maybe someday, more details about these owners will leak to the press. For now, you can probably just presume that they really enjoy the character of Wolverine … though honestly, being a shady company and all, they really missed a great opportunity by not dubbing themselves Weapon X. Fake fans!
Movies and TV are here to fill in the gaps on Skinwalker Ranch
If you’re ever wondering what’s going down in the world’s most mysterious locations, Hollywood will make sure to give you the most zany and/or horrifying answers possible. In 2013, Deep Studios released a low-budget horror flick called (what else?) Skinwalker Ranch, which tried to scare viewers by cashing in on the goofy old “inspired by true events” tagline. The film used the then-popular “found footage” approach, and while it certainly wasn’t The Blair Witch Project, it definitely introduced new viewers to all the Skinwalker Ranch mythology.
More recently, History announced the production of a new reality show called The Secret of Skinwalker Ranch, according to Deadline. Presumably, this series will give a team of researchers access to all 500-plus acres of the ranch, marking the first time that television cameras will be permitted onto the property. Will they find conclusive, incontrovertible evidence that aliens or skinwalkers live there? Don’t count on it, considering the History Channel doesn’t have the best track record when it comes to accuracy.
Nonetheless, expect the show to draw big ratings, and it’ll keep your local conspiracy theorists buzzing for many years to come.
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