BALLARD — Regulars maintain someone can spend weeks at Skinwalker Ranch and nothing bad, odd or unusual will happen.
And then in an instant, everything changes.
"You get that sense you shouldn't be here, sometimes the hair will start standing up on your arms," said ranch superintendent Thomas Winterton. "I've had a feeling of dread or terror come over me and I can't get off (the ranch) fast enough."
The feelings roll in like a thunderstorm, and Winterton said they often precede the mysterious events that have become synonymous with the ranch, now the focus of a hit TV series with a 10-episode second season set to launch sometime next year on History Channel.
Poltergeist activity, UFO sightings, cattle mutilations, bizarre injuries, transient radiation spikes and anomalous visual and audio phenomena have all been either reported or documented over the decades.
"I came on the ranch as a complete skeptic," Winterton said.
Then, he said he was tasked with carving out some dirt roads on the property to improve accessibility.
"The legend here on Skinwalker Ranch is don't dig," Winterton said. "I had a mysterious bump (develop) on my head pretty rapidly and over the course of a few days, my scalp completely separated from my skull."
History of Skinwalker Ranch
The shadow of the 'skinwalker' has loomed over the property dating back to a curse apparently placed on the lands long ago by a Native American tribe.
"The shaman cursed this ground with this demonic being that can take the form of, people say, a wolf, a coyote or crow or human," Winterton said.
Accounts of the unknown are believed to date back well into the 1800s.
In 1996, then-ranch owners Terry and Gwen Sherman told the Deseret News about a host of activity on their property they struggled to explain, including sightings of three different types of UFOs and cattle that either disappeared or were found mutilated — including one that "had a peculiar hole in the center of its left eyeball but was otherwise untouched with no trace of blood."
"For a long time we wondered what we were seeing, if it was something to do with a top-secret project," Terry Sherman told the Deseret News for the story that appeared in the paper on June 30, 1996. "I don't know really what to think about it."
The Sherman family sold the property to Las Vegas billionaire and Bigelow Aerospace founder Robert Bigelow, who told the Deseret News in 1998 the strange activity had continued as his nonprofit National Institute for Discovery Science investigated the lands.
"We wouldn't be there just for the weather," Bigelow told the paper for the story that appeared on Aug. 10, 1998. "Should people be fearful of anything from NIDS? Absolutely not, but I think the jury is way, way, way out and a long way from coming back on whether or not we know enough to say that they shouldn't have something to fear from the phenomena."
Skinwalker Ranch today
Today, very little has been made public about what Bigelow and his scientists may have done or found at the ranch, though a New York Times report in 2017 connected Bigelow's company with a Pentagon program that investigated reports of unidentified flying objects.
Utah commercial real estate magnate Brandon Fugal purchased Skinwalker Ranch in 2016.
"What really interested me in this property was a conversation I had with certain scientists that approached me in 2015 that had been advising (the) billionaire," Fugal said in an interview with KSL-TV. "(Bigelow) had acquired a piece of property that was supposedly the site of more paranormal activity and 'high strangeness' than anything else being reported in the country at the time."
Fugal assembled a multi-disciplinary team of scientists and investigators in hopes of bringing to light answers about the unexplained events that had been taking place on the 512-acre ranch.
"Over four years, we have recorded phenomena that really defies all natural explanation," Fugal said.
Numerous cameras and sensors now monitor the property 24/7 as the different field experts get a handle on transient radiation and radio frequency anomalies that have been detected.
Scientists also look continually at infrasonic and seismic measurements recorded at the ranch.
Principal investigator Erik Bard said a wide range of theories has emerged as to what might be behind the various unexplained events, including focused energy sources either above or below the ground, a portal or some sort of interdimensional phenomenon, a technology of unknown origin or even the idea of a "sentient, pre-cognitive, non-human intelligence."
Multiple people KSL interviewed also spoke of a possible "hitchhiker effect" in which those who have visited, stayed and even researched at the ranch experienced phenomena and ill-effects after they returned home.
"There is definitely an intelligence that exists on the property that is interacting with those that come and go," Fugal said.
KSL visit and a possible UFO sighting?
On June 18, KSL 5 reporter Andrew Adams and photographer Meghan Thackrey traveled to Skinwalker Ranch to gather interviews for this story and to see what phenomena might take place during their roughly 9-hour stay there.
They had been cautioned that it was very possible nothing would happen at all—which also can be quite common on any given day.
This day, however, quickly proved to be anything but the usual.
It wasn't long after the crew had made it through the front gate — which was guarded by armed head of security, Bryant "Dragon" Arnold — and had met Fugal as he exited from his helicopter, that the first of several unexplained events took place.
It started with a simple malfunction of a GoPro that was operating as a secondary camera in an interview with Bard inside the ranch's nerve center. The device suddenly would not connect to the smartphone that was controlling it, which was in Thackrey's hands just feet away.
"One of the more common things we experience is a malfunction or shutdown of our equipment," Bard quickly chimed.
Some gear, he noted, had even sustained permanent damage while at the ranch.
After several minutes of investigation and no conclusion what had caused the issue, the crew headed outside to gather generic scenery shots on the property.
Thackrey deployed her drone to capture some aerial views of the ranchlands and the iconic mesa that sat above the infamous homesteads. Upon landing, another baffling connectivity issue came to light.
"It says calibration failed," said Thackrey as she read aloud the screen prompt to Fugal. "Too strong magnetic interference detected. Ensure there are no magnets or metal objects nearby."
Fugal's helicopter had already flown away from the landing pad and there was nothing in sight that seemed to even suggest the possibility of some sort of magnetic interference.
It was at that moment Bard came outside and revealed that the RF sensors had been lighting up in a sustained manner that had not occurred since the crew had arrived at the ranch.
"So we might think of this as a range across the radio dial and here it's as if several stations all at once became very loud," Bard explained.
It was unclear what could produce something like that so it could be detected in the middle of a rural countryside in the Uintah Basin.
"I don't know what that is or if it has any relation to what happened to your drone," Bard told Thackrey. "It would be fun to figure that one out."
The timing was certainly curious, especially because two minutes later, Arnold and Winterton said they noticed something in the sky that appeared to look like a contrail shadow.
Bard examined the horizon as well, and then retreated back into the nerve center to see if the cameras had captured anything interesting.
"Something moves through there!" Bard exclaimed as he looked at the recording from one camera. "Right here. Wonder what that guy is!"
The trajectory appeared to be straight up into the sky, perhaps different than what could be observed out of a plane or a bird.
The ranch is also equipped with technology that detects aircraft signatures as they pass through the area.
Nothing seemed to correspond with what the camera captured.
"Oh my gosh!" Fugal exclaimed as he looked at the blip on the screen, which appeared almost like a slender, perhaps cigar-shaped object.
Any of those anomalies could have had perfectly natural explanations, but the timing of all of them together—wrapped up into a possible UFO sighting — seemed of high interest to the ranch's regulars.
So did another drone connectivity issue when Adams and Thackrey explored near the notorious Homestead No. 2, the epicenter for much of the ranch's unexplained activity.
"This is the second drone that can't connect in this very area," Arnold said, noting a moment documented in season one of the History Channel series where a drone operator also notably encountered troubles. "This is, I mean, literally the identical spot where he couldn't get it to connect either."
After walking several hundred feet away from Homestead No. 2 with still no connection, Winterton had another idea.
"I know this sounds crazy, but WILL YOU PLEASE ALLOW US TO FLY THE DRONE?!" Winterton shouted at the empty air.
Thackrey set the drone down on the ground and within seconds it connected to its controller and took flight.
"I said it out loud and there it is in the air!" Winterton said to Fugal as he shrugged.
In addition to the drone and GoPro troubles, the KSL crew also experienced multiple batteries draining at a far faster rate than they had been accustomed — something Bard said is common at the ranch.
The unexplained extended beyond the possible UFO sighting and atypical issues with electronics.
When the crew was filming elsewhere on the property, a pheasant was chased by another bird or pheasant and it flew into the front gate and broke its neck and died, according to Arnold. The encounter was captured by a surveillance camera.
While Adams and Thackrey were interviewing Fugal and Arnold outside Homestead No. 2 after dark, they left an MP3 recorder and flashlight on the floor inside the homestead along with a static GoPro camera to see if any audio or visual anomalies might be captured.
The lone capture of note was a small flame that seemed to shoot out of the ground during a wind gust. It was visually unique to anything Adams or Thackrey had seen before and Fugal said would require further examination.
To Fugal's knowledge, there was nothing chemically active in the soil that could explain such an event, but did say the area was "electromagnetically influenced." It was also several feet away from a spot where transient, high levels of radiation were detected during the recording of an episode of the History Channel show.
"It is — it's baffling," Fugal acknowledged of the wide range of unexplained events on the ranch.
Fugal and Winterton both said their experiences have altered their initial skepticism.
"I can't describe what it is, but I can definitely say with a surety that there is something strange happening here at Skinwalker Ranch," Winterton said.
Fugal hoped his team of scientists will be able to uncover answers to what is causing the mysterious phenomena in time.
"You really have to see it and experience it to believe it," Fugal said.