Estimated read time: 7-8 minutes
During the 1990s, American families gathered around their televisions on Sunday nights and watched "The X-Files," where FBI agents Fox Mulder and Dana Scully were part of secret government research into Unidentified Flying Objects.
Then in 2017, The New York Times revealed conspiracy theorists were right all along. The government for decades really did have secret agencies investigating UFOs and military pilots reported numerous contacts with flying objects.
Unidentified flying objects (UFOs) have appeared throughout human history and are typically associated with extraterrestrial life visiting Earth. As early as 1639, Massachusetts Bay Colony cofounder and governor John Winthrop reported a "sober, discreet man" named James Everell had seen a "great light" in the sky running back and forth over the Muddy River for several hours. By the time it vanished, Everell and the other men in his boat were a mile upstream from where they'd been and they had no memory of how they'd arrived there, according to an account in New England Today.
In modern times, "the first well-known UFO sighting occurred in 1947 when businessman Kenneth Arnold claimed to see a group of nine high-speed objects near Mount Rainier in Washington while flying his small plane," reports History.com. Though Arnold described the shapes as being crescent-shaped, they were mistakenly reported as being saucer-shaped in the media, leading to the first usage of the term "flying saucer."
Utah, with its barren deserts and dark, starry skies has long been considered a hotbed for unidentifiable sightings.
Over the years, there have been more than 1,000 UFO sightings in Utah, according to journalistic data analysis website Stacker.com. Some of these sightings have a reasonable explanation, including recent reports of lines of lights moving across the night sky.
These trains of brightly lit objects, reportedly seen over Utah as recently as February 2021, turned out to be Starlink Satellites, a SpaceX project launched by Elon Musk, which aims to provide internet service everywhere on Earth, according to Space.com.
Other sightings, however, are not so easily explained.
Skinwalker Ranch, just 30 miles west of Vernal is one of the most infamous places in the world for paranormal and UFO activity. The book "Hunt for the Skinwalker: Science Confronts the Unexplained at a Remote Ranch in Utah" by Kelleher and Knapp details the UFOs, crop circles, poltergeist activity and luminescent orbs the former owners experienced at the ranch. Some people even claim to have experienced more strange happenings after the acquisition of the ranch by the National Institute for Discovery Science (NIDSci).
According to Kelleher and Knapp, they investigated close to 100 incidents of UFOs, unexplained magnetic fields and vanishing and mutilated cattle on the ranch. However, they were unable to obtain sufficient evidence for scientific publication.
Today, Skinwalker Ranch is owned by real estate magnate Brandon Fugal and very few people are allowed access to the property. However, the History Channel released a docuseries called "The Secret of Skinwalker Ranch" which follows the efforts of a team of experts and scientists who attempt to explain claims of paranormal events, cattle mutilations and UFO sightings with science and technology. The ranch is also featured on an interactive map of UFO sightings taken seriously by the U.S. government.
Cedar City abduction
Stories of abductions are not rare. In fact, an ABC poll conducted in 2000 found that as many as 40 million Americans "have seen or know someone who has seen an unidentified flying object, or UFO" and "a growing number believe they've actually met aliens."
Author David Booher chronicled the story of one such man who claimed to have had contact with extraterrestrial life while driving just outside of Cedar City in 1959.
According to Booher's book, missile base technician Gerry Irwin was driving back to his barracks at Fort Bliss in El Paso, Texas when he saw a glowing object he thought was a plane crash. He pulled to the side of the road, put on his jacket, and left a note in his car explaining where he had gone. When a search party went looking for him later, they found him unconscious without a jacket and no sign of an airplane crash.
Following this experience, Irwin was given a clean bill of health but after returning to Texas, he suffered repeated bouts of blackouts and amnesia, ending up in the psychiatric ward in Fort Bliss more than once. He eventually deserted his post, but when Booher went looking, he was able to find Irwin and get a full account of what happened to him in the Utah desert and in the months and years following. Booher published his findings in a book titled "No Return: The Gerry Irwin Story, UFO Abduction or Covert Operation?" in 2017.
Booher said there was no archetypical account of alien abductions in circulation. Irwin's story originated before alien abductions had been portrayed in entertainment and the media, making his account unique for its timing.
Dugway Proving Ground
A small, unassuming community an hour and a half's drive west of Lehi, there is nothing outwardly mysterious about Dugway. Conspiracy theorists, however, claim that the military installation nearby is the New Area 51 where the U.S. government conducts tests based on hidden extraterrestrial technology.
According to the U.S. Army website, Dugway Proving Ground "is the nation's leading test center for Chemical and Biological Defense, conducting efficient testing and support to enable our nation's defenders, inter-agency partners and our Allies to counter chemical, biological, radiological, and explosives hazards."
The installation has an area of 800,000 acres, which is slightly larger than the state of Rhode Island.
Utah Stories cites conspiracy theorists who believe the military may be using this land to test technology harvested from a UFO that crash-landed in Roswell, New Mexico in 1947. Eyewitnesses in the area have reported odd sightings near Dugway, including a man who described a jet that vanished into thin air and a former police officer on the Goshute Reservation who claimed to have been traveling down a deserted road in the west desert when a flying saucer whizzed by.
"After he flashed a light beam onto the UFO, the UFO reacted by speeding up and over a mountain range until it was out of sight in seconds," Utah Stories reported. The officer said a few minutes later two fighter jets flew by following the same trajectory as the flying saucer.
When the writer for the Utah Stories article tried to obtain access to Dugway to observe the community first hand, he reported he was denied access for having an unpaid ticket on his driving record.
UFO reports abound
In addition to these accounts, there are many others spread across the state, from Neola to Kanab and Lehi to Hurricane. A 1996 Deseret News article "Frequent fliers?" recounted many incidents where people were willing to talk openly about their UFO experiences.
Utah is even home to the Utah UFO Festival, a three-day event scheduled for August in Cedar City this year. The website states the festival "includes renowned speakers and experts, movie screenings, radio broadcasts, vendor booths, live music, alien trivia, a human/pet costume contest, beer and wine tastings, dining with speakers and a caravan out to the gates of Area 51."
While scientific proof is lacking when it comes to evidence of UFO sightings in Utah, the fact remains that there are some things science has not been able to explain. You never know what you might see in the skies of a clear Utah night.