Ryan Skinner was headed down I-70 near the Utah-Colorado border in 2006 when something weird happened.
Skinner and his soon-to-be wife, Iryna, were making a long haul from Wisconsin to Las Vegas, and Iryna had taken the wheel, giving Skinner the chance to relax. There were no other vehicles on the road, but when they neared the town of Thompson Springs, Utah, Iryna began mentioning that there was something following the car that looked like a sparkler on fire. Skinner, in turn, asked her to pull over.
“The last thing I’m thinking of at this time is UFOs or aliens,” he said.
Skinner got out of the car to examine the source of the light, which he estimated to be about 20 feet behind the car and 7 feet in the air. He was frozen in place, staring at what he describes as a road flare hovering in the air. Iryna screamed, snapping Skinner out of the trance. The light had split into three individual lights, and all of them were approaching the couple.
Skinner and Iryna switched seats and sped away. Skinner’s first instinct was to leave the area as fast as possible and get to Green River, but Iryna convinced him to stop and investigate. The three lights returned and became shadowy figures, alien and transparent, along the side of the road.
“I’m just gobsmacked, confused, and in awe all at the same time,” Skinner said. “One of them starts moving or tilts its head and ... at the time, that was all I could possibly take.”
The couple took off and didn’t return, but the encounter stuck with Skinner.
“The event left me so rattled and shook up and curious more than anything else, you know ... why this location?” he said.
Skinner searched for stories of similar paranormal events and found out the encounter happened 30 miles south of a location called Skinwalker Ranch.
The ranchThough relatively obscure in pop culture compared to sites like Roswell, New Mexico, or Area 51, Skinwalker Ranch is legendary within the paranormal community. The old homestead that now bears a moniker based on shapeshifting creatures from Navajo legends is located southeast of Roosevelt in Uintah County, Utah.
The hot spot of paranormal activity first attracted interest in 1996, when The Deseret News first reported on strange phenomena plaguing the Sherman family, who were owners of the ranch at the time.
Chronicled later in the book “Hunt for the Skinwalker” by Colm Kelleher and George Knapp, the Sherman family’s woes began immediately after they purchased the 480-acre homestead in 1994.
As they were moving furniture into their new home, Terry and Gwen Sherman were approached by a wolf described as being three times larger than any they had ever seen. The wolf moved to the corral and attacked one of the Sherman’s calves, and Terry shot it at close range with a handgun and then a high-powered rifle, but the attack barely phased the animal, which soon left of its own accord.
Terry tried to follow the tracks of the wolf – which left no trail of blood – but the tracks abruptly stopped in the middle of a nearby field. The wolf had vanished.
Everything just got weirder from there. Over the next two years, the Sherman family saw strange vehicles, including a few they assumed were lost RVs ... until they lifted off and flew into the sky. They experienced poltergeist-like behavior, in which items around the house or ranch would go missing, only to reappear in strange places, such as inside the microwave, days later. Window-like portals in the sky opened up, showing views of the firmament from somewhere else. They would occasionally find their cattle mutilated, the soft flesh of the animals’ eyes, ears, and genitals seemingly surgically and bloodlessly removed by an unseen force.
The Shermans were more than ready to leave in 1996, when they were approached by an eccentric billionaire who wanted to purchase the ranch.
Discovery scienceIn 1995, Robert Bigelow – then known mostly as the founder of the Budget Suites of America hotel chain – created the National Institute of Discovery Science, an organization with the primary goal of studying UFOs and other paranormal phenomena. After hearing about their strange encounters, Bigelow purchased the Shermans’ ranch and set up shop.
Bigelow assembled a range of doctorate-level scientists and researchers, including Kelleher, a biochemist, to figure out what was going on at the ranch. The team tried to maintain the ranch as it was when the Shermans owned it, albeit as a living laboratory with extra equipment for observing and controlling what happened. And, at least anecdotally, the scientists got results.
The researchers saw the same things the Shermans did, sometimes in conjunction with each other. Portals would open up, allowing alien vehicles or tall, shadowy, faceless humanoids to come through. Large, unexplainable beasts with glowing eyes would watch people from the trees ... and unseen forces continued to mutilate cattle.
Save for footage of the dead animals, none of this seems to have been documented on film. In addition to moving items and even animals – one story reports three bulls being inexplicably teleported into a single, tight horse trailer – the poltergeists at the ranch destroyed scientific equipment and cameras with alarming consistency. Perhaps influenced by its inability to make progress in documenting paranormal phenomena, NIDS disbanded in 2004.
But this wasn’t the end of research at the ranch.
In 2017, the New York Times reported that, at the request of then-U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, the Defense Department had spent $22 million on the Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program. The program, the purpose of which was to study reports of UFOs, began in 2007 and was run from the Pentagon, but most of the money went to Bigelow Aerospace, Robert Bigelow’s space technology company. According to Reid, officials from the Defense Intelligence Agency became interested in starting the program after visiting Bigelow’s Utah ranch.
AATIP ended in 2012, but not before Reid had decided that the program had made enough discoveries that it required heightened security to protect it. Reid requested extra security, but his request was denied and eventually the program was broken up. Many of the professionals involved in AATIP joined the aerospace science division of “To the Stars... Academy,” a public-benefit corporation co-founded by Tom DeLonge, the guitarist of Blink-182. They still research reports of unidentified flying objects.
Beyond the fencelineWhatever is going on at the former Sherman ranch, it isn’t limited to just that property. According to the Deseret News, high school science teacher-turned-paranormal investigator Joseph “Junior” Hicks investigated over 400 reports of UFOs in the Uinta Basin between the 1950s and ’90s.
“I’d estimate over 10% of the population of the Uinta Basin has seen something,” he said.
Fort Duchesne, a few miles northeast of the ranch, is the headquarters of the Northern Ute Tribe. In 2012, Corey Serawop was working as a house manager in an addiction treatment center on the reservation.
Around 6 a.m. on a foggy Sunday in February, he was doing rounds when he noticed the televisions were losing their signal. Then, suddenly, the lights went off.
“Oh, man. The mothership is here,” he joked to the center’s other employees and clients. Everyone then saw red, blue, and green lights outside. Serawop assumed they were from a passing emergency vehicle and opened the door to investigate. He quickly discovered that the lights were originating not at ground level, but above the building he had just exited. He and a female client walked to a basketball court about 25 feet away from the building, looked up, and saw a craft.
“There was no noise. It was quiet and had lights coming off it, and they were flashing blue, red, green,” he said.
As he moved to get a better look, the light turned red and so bright he and the woman had to put up their hands to see. Serawop describes the craft as dark grey and about the size of a small plane, but enshrouded by a cloud that formed around it.
“Hey, that’s a fucking UFO,” he remembers telling the woman. The experience excited him, he said.
Something in his head told him that he shouldn’t be seeing this and he should go back inside, which he did. He told everyone in the building what he had seen and walked to the other side to get another look at the UFO.
The voice returned, though, and told him that he shouldn’t be doing this because he’d miss his family. Serawop is unsure whether it was his own thoughts or if something inside the craft was communicating with him via his mind. Whatever the case, Serawop was spooked and remained in the building with the doors locked. When he later went to record his rounds, he noticed that during what seemed like a few minutes he spent investigating the UFO, 30 to 45 minutes had vanished.
The electric company said that the power loss was caused by a blown transformer, but Serawop talked to a lot of other people who lived in the area. Many of them saw not one, but two UFOs that morning, he said. One passed over Serawop’s uncle’s house, causing a vibration that made the people in the house feel ill. Serawop’s uncle described the craft as looking the same as the one Serawop saw, but with a crackling electricity at the center.
Serawop said that sightings of strange lights are not uncommon on the reservation, and stories of unusual entities abound. He is a firm believer in ghosts and has seen glowing orbs around buildings. Others, he said, have seen tall, shadowy figures move through hallways.
On one occasion, Serawop and his brother went to a local cemetery to clean their family’s graves. They found what looked like a child’s footprints and as they followed them, the footprints transformed into canine paw prints before they disappeared entirely.
The future of the ranchIn 2016, Bigelow sold the ranch to a company called Adamantium Real Estate. The new owners are very private about who they are, but not so private that they wouldn’t allow filmmaker Jeremy Corbell to visit the ranch. His documentary about the visit, which also includes interviews with eyewitnesses and footage shot by George Knapp in the ’90s, is titled “Hunt for the Skinwalker,” and came out in 2018.
While shooting at the ranch, Corbell did not see anything unusual himself, but a soft-spoken former military member of his security detail told Corbell that he saw a seemingly sentient black mist follow the filmmaker through one of the buildings.
Corbell said he tries to maintain a healthy level of skepticism about the unknown and as such, he finds the cattle mutilations to be some of the most intriguing reports from the ranch. Bigelow’s scientists actually had the chance to document and study the evidence in these cases, he said, and they were perplexed by the skills and tools needed to inflict the kind of damage they witnessed on the carcasses.
“That has always felt to me like something I can sink my nuts and bolts kind of teeth into,” he says.
Corbell’s documentary takes care not to reveal the current owners of Skinwalker Ranch or what they’re doing there. Ryan Skinner, who now operates SkinwalkerRanch.org, said he has also met the current owners and thinks their identity will be revealed soon. The History Channel is reportedly developing a non-fiction series to be filmed on the ranch.
ObsessionSkinwalker Ranch, and Uinta Basin as a whole, has developed a reputation in the ufology community. Once people experience something there, many return to learn more, even if their visits aren’t sanctioned by the owners of the ranch.
After his first encounter, Ryan Skinner visited the ranch to learn more about what he had seen on the highway, and his visits paid off. In one instance, he and several other visitors witnessed mysterious lights that they initially thought were those of tribal police cruisers, only to find there were no vehicles there to make them. On another, he watched a ball of light fall to the ground, transform into a black, smoky mist, and from that mist emerged a wolf.
Another witness to the strange events at the ranch, Ryan Burns, learned about the ranch in the mid-’90s. He was living in Salt Lake City and working as a fly fishing guide.
While driving one day, he saw what he thought was a UFO near the ridgeline in the area behind the ranch. He then spotted an elderly Native American man shuffling down from atop the bluff and approaching the car. When the man reached the car, Burns rolled down the window and asked him if he needed a ride somewhere. The man did not respond, but opened the door and climbed in. Burns does not remember anything after that. He was found by local authorities, catatonic and hanging out of – but still buckled into – his truck at Bottle Hollow reservoir, a body of water north of the ranch. After determining that he was neither drunk nor passed out, they told him that he’d “been nabbed by the skinwalker.”
When interest in Skinwalker Ranch took off around 2005, Burns began to return to the site. He recently bought a small parcel of land in the basin that ufologists called the “southern vantage point,” a popular spot for watching for paranormal phenomena near the ranch.
“It’s a magical place, and to not be able to visit it legally is difficult for somebody to wrap their head around if you’re really connected to the area,” he said.
At the site, Burns and a group called Space Wolf Research investigate what they believe is an inter-dimensional landscape using game cameras and the like. They say they’ve witnessed objects, including a golf cart, being mysteriously relocated on the property and tall, shadowy people behaving like dogs or beasts.
What’s actually going on in the Uinta Basin? It doesn’t seem like anybody knows for sure. Skinner and Burns both believe that solving its mysteries is key to our understanding of the universe. And at one point, the U.S. government thought there was something to be gained by investing millions of dollars in research stemming from the area, too. But whatever secrets it might hold, Skinwalker Ranch isn’t ready to give them up quite yet.