Three miles north of the town of Hooper, Colorado — population about 100 — a white tower rises out of the desert. Centrally located between the Sangre de Cristo Mountains to the east and the San Juan Mountains to the west, the viewing platform provides observers with an unobstructed view of a large portion of the San Luis Valley.
More importantly, though, the tower allows viewers to watch the sky above the valley. That’s where the valley’s most interesting visitors seem to originate. For as long as it has existed, the site has been a prime location for spotting unidentified flying objects, or UFOs.
The death of a horseThe San Luis Valley first emerged on the world stage as a site of unusual occurrences in September 1967 when something killed Nellie Lewis’ horse, Lady, at her brother Harry King’s ranch just north of Alamosa.
When the horse didn’t come home one day, King went looking for it and found a grisly sight. Lady was lying on her side, her head stripped to the bone. A strong odor of acetone surrounded the carcass, which upon closer inspection, had cuts to its flank that seemed so precise that King didn’t believe they could be made by a wild animal. The bones, according to the Alamosa News, looked as though they had been exposed to the sun for years. A later investigation by pathologist Dr. John Altshuler found that the animal was missing its brain, lungs, heart, and thyroid. Further, there was no material in the spinal column and there was no blood — anywhere.
Lady’s hoofprints ended about 100 feet from her final resting place. Burns were found in the surrounding area, and bushes within a circle 20 feet in diameter were crushed to within 10 inches of the ground. A three-foot diameter circle of indentations two inches across and six inches deep was found pressed into the ground. Lewis found gelatin-like green globs on the bushes and a piece of metal covered in horsehair. Upon touching the items, her hands burned until she could wash them. When Duane Martin, a United States Forest Service employee, tested the area with a Geiger counter, he found the burn marks, the globs, and the metal object were radioactive.
According to local news reports, residents and visitors reported strange happenings in the area around that time — including a man saying his car was followed by a top-shaped object, a college student’s rear tires blowing out as he approached an object in a field, and two sheriff’s deputies being followed by an orange sphere. The Condon Committee (a group funded by the U.S. Air Force from 1966 to 1968 at the University of Colorado to study reports of UFOs) sent another pathologist, Dr. Robert Adams, to examine the horse. Adams concluded Lady’s death had “no unearthly causes, at least not to my mind.” Several weeks after the case was publicized, two local college students claimed that they had sneaked out to the pasture and shot Lady’s carcass in the rear.
The horse, Lady, which came to be known as Snippy after press coverage confused her with her sire, made international news, becoming one of the most famous cases of animal mutilations — a phenomenon that continues to this day in North and South America, though usually involving cows, not horses. Paranormal investigator Christopher O’Brien, who has written three books on unexplained activity in the San Luis Valley and one on cattle mutilations, said over 200 reports of cattle mutilations have been filed by SLV ranchers but he estimates the actual number of cases may be closer to 1,000.
An uncanny valleyO’Brien first became interested in the valley in 1992 after hearing tales of strange sightings by locals – and then having his own. He describes an encounter in which something crossed about 250 feet from his path as he was driving.
“This thing zipped right in front of our car. It looked like something out of a bad sci-fi movie or like the Jetsons. It was a little 12-foot craft, and I just went, ‘Wow.’ It looked like a fishing lure being reeled-in and skipping through the air,” he said.
On Dec. 9 of that year, there was another sighting in which at least 18 people in Crestone had the same experience. O’Brien didn’t witness that one — he was playing with his band — but when everyone at a New Year’s party he later attended was talking about the same event, he went to the Crestone Eagle and asked if he could write an article. In the two weeks that he spent investigating the sighting, he uncovered enough material to write a book, he said.
Between then and 2002, O’Brien investigated over 1,000 paranormal events in the San Luis Valley. These covered everything from haunted sites and legends to cryptids like Bigfoot to occult crime to secret military activity. The big two categories in the SLV, though, are UFO reports and cattle mutilations. He has researched between 600 and 700 of the former and around 200 of the latter, he said. They extend to almost every geographical extent of the valley, including as far west as Del Norte and South Fork and as far south as Taos, New Mexico.
“There is a variety and intensity of unexplained occurrences and phenomena unrivaled anywhere else. You name it, it’s happened there,” he said. “Anything that people were scratching their head and couldn’t explain I was interested in.”
The earliest non-legendary report of paranormal activity in the valley he could find dates back to the late 1770s. During an expedition against Comanche Chief Cuerno Verde, General Juan Bautista de Anza, then-governor of Nuevo Mexico, and his troops camped at the base of Blanca Peak. There, they saw odd lights in the sky and heard a low humming sound that unnerved them enough to cause a change in their planned travel route. Instead of continuing directly north along the Sangre de Cristos, they changed course, circling out to the east and across the Huerfano River, eventually meeting Chief Cuerno Verde’s Comanches in battle near Greenhorn Mountain.
Why is the SLV such a hotspot for paranormal activity?
According to O’Brien, it’s the geophysical properties of the area. The strength of Earth’s magnetic field on the planet’s surface is variable, and he suggests that UFO hotspots tend to occur in places where the maximum and minimum field strength are in close proximity. He said the gravitational negative space of the valley and the layers of clay, sand, and water beneath it create a natural battery. He compares it to areas such as Utah’s Uintah Basin (the location of Skinwalker Ranch), Arizona’s Superstition Mountains, and New York’s Hudson Valley.
He is also quick to point out that the SLV has been inhabited for around 12,000 years and many cultures consider it and its landmarks to be sacred. Blanca Peak, for instance, is known as Sisnaajiní to the Navajo people and marks the eastern boundary of the Dinetah, the traditional Navajo homeland.
If you build it ...Judy Messoline and her family moved to Hooper in 1995 to raise cattle. For four and a half years, she struggled to make a go of it as a rancher, with her animals facing a number of terrestrial, explainable problems. (“Cows don’t eat sand very well,” she jokes.) All the while, her neighbors and people in the community would tell her stories about sightings and the strange occurrences in the valley. In response, she’d giggle and suggest that the valley needed a UFO watchtower, she said.
When she finally gave up her dream of being a rancher, she needed to do something with her land. Her husband suggested that she put up the watchtower she was always joking about. So she did. A ten-foot-high deck made from pipe and expanded metal was built over a dome-shaped gift shop, and the UFO Watchtower opened on Memorial Day of 2000.
At that point, Messoline had yet to experience any of the SLV’s paranormal activity.
“I never expected to see anything. It was going to be a cute little old mom and pop business to pull the tourist traffic off the highway. That was the whole idea,” she said.
Along with random tourists and people interested in UFOs, she quickly started to see another type of visitor. Messoline said within a short amount of time, individuals identifying as psychics showed up at the Watchtower and explained some variation of the same idea — that the land where she chose to build the structure is more special than she thought.
According to them, she said, there are two energy vortexes on the property — pretty much immediately in front of the property. Passing near them has reportedly caused people to feel things such as headaches, heart palpitations, and nausea, but it also has positive effects. Apparently, two beings that protect the vortexes have healing properties and perform miracles for those who ask.
At some point, Messoline suggested that people leave something at the vortexes so they could add their own energies. As a result, an entire garden of personal items has sprung up near the Watchtower, featuring toys, pens, bits of clothing, and other trinkets.
And if the psychics are to be believed, the placement of the Watchtower is far from random – it’s sitting directly above a crashed alien mothership. Descriptions vary (it may be anywhere from 50 feet to a mile long), and it seems to move between 50 and 75 feet underground, and it is probably covered in moss.
While the idea that there is an extraterrestrial craft underground isn’t the easiest concept to accept, the property does have unusual qualities. Messoline is quick to demonstrate magnetic anomalies, taking out a compass and showing that from certain areas it stops pointing north and instead turns to the east.
And the psychics are far from the strangest visitors. Initially a skeptic, after building the Watchtower Messoine started seeing UFOs herself. So far, she’s had 28 sightings.
“The closest one was between here (the Watchtower) and the mountains and partway down. I call it cigar-shaped. It was narrow, really long and it went zip, like that. It was 11 o’clock at night. We had over a dozen people here. Everybody saw it,” she said. “So what the heck was it? We’ve seen these lights that just dance all over the sky — they just don’t make sense. And our planes can’t do what they do. I’ve asked the Air Force guys, ‘Can our planes go really fast and just stop? And they said don’t even think about the plane doing that ... with the G-force on our bodies, our bodies would blow up.”
Messoline’s encounters are a small fraction of the number of UFOs seen by visitors to the property — 254 as of late August. For $15 (it costs $2 to use the viewing platform), people can camp at the Watchtower, and while many UFOs are seen in broad daylight, others zip through the sky at night. She maintains a logbook in which hundreds of visitors have written down their experiences. Messoline also keeps two guest books, one for run-of-the-mill visitors and another for close encounters of the third kind. In addition to government agents, she has been visited by people claiming to be aliens themselves and others identifying as human-alien hybrids.
Departing from the original intention of the place, Messoline now describes the Watchtower as “a place for people to go and meet with folks with the same ideas. Where nobody’s gonna make fun of them. ... Folks come here because they can tell us their experiences and not get made fun of. So many people, when you tell them you saw something, they say, ‘What were you smoking? What were you drinking?’”
The future of the valleyChristopher O’Brien hasn’t lived in the area for the better part of 20 years. But, not content to rely solely on anecdotal evidence, he’s part of a group that is trying to gather hard data on the valley’s phenomena.
“I’m putting together a scientific monitoring program in the valley to see if we can get generate unassailable scientific data so that we can start to analyze some of the events that are constantly going on there,” he said.
The program will have a variety of cameras, sensors, and radio frequency spectrum analyzers coupled with an artificial intelligence taught to discriminate between normal and unusual happenings in the valley.
In the meantime, he’s very interested to hear about people’s sightings at [email protected] or his website OurStrangePlanet.com, even when they’re not from the SLV. Reports of UFOs from places like Aztec and Cortez often serve as a sort of early-warning system that activity is going to spike further east. (“Chances are, if there’s stuff going on there, then there’s stuff going on in the valley as well,” he said.) If you see something, take your phone out and get it on camera, he said.
If extraterrestrial visitors are visiting the San Luis Valley, its anyone’s guess whether they’re the kind that butchers animals for reasons beyond comprehension or the healing kind that inhabit vortexes atop an ancient crash site. But if you’re looking for a place to start your search for the unknown, the valley is as good a starting point as any ...especially when it already has a tower upon which you can gaze into the heavens.