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South east of Ballard, Utah there is a place which has been called the most active and diverse paranormal hotspot in the world.
For decades people have claimed to have encountered all manner of bizarre phenomena in the area: UFOs, aliens, inter-dimensional beings, invincible cryptids, wormholes, shadowy entities, and so much more. At the heart of these reports is Sherman Ranch. In recent years, as stories of extraordinary happenings there spread into public consciousness, the farm became known, rather sensationally, as Skinwalker Ranch. So strange is this location reported to be, that it has attracted the attention of scientists, professors and even US military personnel, many of whom have been left befuddled by inexplicable occurrences.
It is the combined weight of the reputations of many of those involved which has given Skinwalker Ranch an impressive resume of testimony. Yet, one would be forgiven for being suspicious of the undoubtedly fantastical stories which have reached the public forum. After all, they are just stories. With a lack of physical evidence, and often less than adequate known records and written sources, Skinwalker Ranch is a difficult case to analyse. Even constructing a clear narrative of events that supposedly happened at the ranch is challenging. Whether this be due to concealed records, a campaign of misinformation or outright falsification remains to be seen.
Paranormal Phenomena in the Uintah Basin
Skinwalker Ranch is located in Utah’s Uintah Basin, an area reputed for its high level of paranormal activity. Far from being limited to the farm, strange happenings supposedly extend into the wider area.
UFOs in particular are said to have a special connection with the basin, with sightings regularly reported in the area. It is even claimed that one of the earliest reports of an unidentified flying object dates back to 1776, when a Spanish priest, Father Escalante, reported witnessing a strange fireball fly across the sky. 1
In more recent times, a local UFO historian, Junior Hicks, reported to have documented two cases of alien abduction.
Asides from extraterrestrial phenomena, locals are said to have repeatedly reported seeing a creature resembling a sasquatch. According to researchers, some of the Ute people, Native Americans in the area, affirm such sightings, also believing that the basin is inhabited by skinwalkers, beings that are said to be able to take on the shape of any animal, including sasquatches. The Ute people are also said to believe that a particular plot of land, encompassing around 480 acres, is cursed. This is supposedly the area where Skinwalker Ranch stands.2
The Sherman Family
The ranch had a long history of cattle farming. In the early 1990s, Terry Sherman and his family moved to the ranch. With 480 acres of beautiful pastureland, they thought it would be the perfect place to raise their family and livestock. Yet, after just two years, the family moved away. When their story reached the media, they claimed to have endured misery and terror at the hands of mysterious forces.
According to their testimonies, the day they arrived to take possession of the ranch, all of its windows were bolted shut, and thick metal chains connected to enormous steel rings were embedded into the exterior walls of the house. It was apparent that the previous owners had very large guard dogs attached to either side of the home To the Shermans, this seemed peculiar: in their minds, the area did not have enough crime or natural predators to warrant the keeping of such guard animals. However, so enthralled by their new life they did not think too much of it. It was not until years later, in retrospect, that they claimed that, since the chains were attached to the house, the animals must have been installed to protect the previous family from the same thing that had haunted them during their time at the ranch. 3
Soon after the Sherman family moved in, there occurred one of the many strange events that would take place regularly on the ranch – the appearance of unnaturally large wolves on the land. Not only were they unnaturally large, but wolves – of any size – were not known to have settled in the area. Only very rarely does a lone wolf happen to wander hundreds of miles from somewhere like the northern Rocky mountains to the basin area. 4Regardless, the Shermans attested to having seen multiple wolves on several occasions. Terry Sherman described one incident where he shot a particular wolf multiple times, seeing its flesh be torn from the animal’s body, ripped apart by the bullets, only for the wolf to trot away without a care. Although adrenaline may help keep an animal alive after being shot, its alleged calmness would undermine such an explanation. 5
This creature has been popularised as the “bulletproof wolf”, and has become a hallmark of Skinwalker Ranch. Yet, it is perhaps one of the tamest aspects of the paranormal phenomena which allegedly occurred during the Sherman’s tenure at the ranch – for at least that creature was discernible as a wolf.
Dr. Colm A. Kelleher, a biochemist, journalist, paranormal author and later occupant of Skinwalker Ranch, described in his book Hunt for the Skinwalker another beast that the Shermans supposedly encountered. 6
“It was a big animal, very heavily muscled, with short legs. It seemed to have the shape of a hyena’s body, but it had a bushy tail! […] The creature was plainly hunting his [Sherman’s] horses but did not seem intent on causing serious harm.”
Cryptozoological animal sightings, although frequent, were not the most common paranormal sight the Sherman family saw. Rather, it was the appearance of otherworldly orange structures in the western sky which the family attested to witnessing most often. All the members of the family claimed to have seen them. According to Kelleher’s research, Terry Sherman – who he refers to as Tom Gorman throughout his book – used to like going outside and looking at them through the scope of his rifle. Apparently Sherman related to him one particularly remarkable incident when, a long time after the sun had set, he saw an enormous orange structure in great detail. He stated to have been able to discern a blue sky hovering over the structure in the distance. He described it as being like looking into a window into another world in the sky. 7
Alongside inter-dimensional portals, the Shermans alleged to have witnessed a myriad of UFOs. It was around this time that their prized beef cattle began to be mutilated and assaulted by unknown forces. It was these terrible incidents in particular that drove the family into – not only emotional – but also financial despair, as they relied on their cattle to make a living. It was after their dogs were mysteriously incinerated that the Shermans reached their last straw and decided to sell the ranch. 8
Robert Bigelow and Skinwalker Ranch
The new owner of Skinwalker Ranch was Robert Bigelow, a highly successful American businessman with interests in hotels and other commercial real estate. His coming to the ranch in 1996 signaled a new era in his career, with the founding of the National Institute for the Discovery of Science (NIDS) the year previous.9 This institute was established to explore fringe scientific topics, and with the ranch’s infamous paranormal reputation, it became the perfect “laboratory in the wild” for a group of scientists to observe the phenomena allegedly occurring there. 10
Amongst these researchers was Colm A. Kelleher, the biochemist-journalist and future author of Skinwalker Ranch’s most widely-read book. His colleagues on the ranch included the reputable US Army Colonel, John B. Alexander, the multi-Emmy Award winning journalist George Knapp, and the renowned Harvard psychiatrist John E. Mack.
Perhaps most intriguing is that during Bigelow’s ownership of the property, he was involved in the Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program, a secret investigatory effort funded by the United States Government from 2007 until 2012 to study unidentified flying objects. This programme received tens of millions dollars in funding from the US Department of Defense, much of which ended up with Bigelow Aerospace, Bigelow’s space technology startup company based in Nevada. Whilst it is of course impossible to say where and how that money was spent, many, including a filmmaker who produced a documentary about the ranch, have speculated that at least some of these funds ended up at Skinwalker Ranch, and that this proves in some way government endorsement of the research being conducted there. 11
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Yet, for all the money and expertise poured into the ranch by Robert Bigelow, the findings – or at the very least those which have been released to the public – were limited. Physical evidence was lacking. That being said, in the years since, many of the researchers involved have testified to having personally witnessed much of the activity that the Shermans allegedly experienced. 12
“I’m absolutely convinced. That’s all there is to it. […] There has been, and is an existing presence; an ET presence. And I’ve spent millions and millions – I’ve probably spent more as an individual, than anybody else in the United States has ever spent on this subject.” – Robert Bigelow 13
Paranormal phenomena witnessed on the ranch
In his book describing his own experiences, Colm A. Kelleher claims that seemingly sentient orbs of light would interfere with the electrical equipment used by the researchers. It was as though the orbs were trying to restrict their ability to work. According to Kelleher, some of these orbs were captured on camera. 14
In 1997, Terry Sherman was still keeping some of his cattle on the ranch. Whilst visiting to care for his livestock, he would supposedly witness red orbs of light, which would manifest around the cattle. According to his testimony, the lights caused the death, injury, and abortion of several of his animals.15
Kelleher, in his book, noted similarities between these orbs and some of the crafts sighted during an infamous UFO wave that occurred in Brazil in the 1970s. These sightings, witnessed by Brazilian air force personnel were known as “chupa” UFO. According to reports, strange lights would emanate from the sky and cause radiation damage to people and livestock, many of whom also reported developing mysterious scars. Those with the scars claimed that they were given them by beings in mysterious box-shaped UFOs.
Strangely, the Shermans also claimed to have witnessed box-shaped UFOs flying over their ranch. With their red orbs causing injury to their cattle, there did seem to be parallels between the two cases. What the Shermans – and later, Kelleher – encountered appeared to be part of wider phenomena. 16
In addition to orbs of lights, there are other incidents which Kelleher has stated he witnessed personally.
On one occasion he and two of his colleagues noticed a dirty, yellow light hovering and expanding above the ground. Upon closer inspection, they realised that the light was actually a tunnel, inside of which one of them allegedly saw a big, black, faceless creature crawl out through his night vision binoculars. According to the witness,
“The night vision turned the light into a three-D tunnel, and a large creature, I am thinking maybe four-hundred pounds, at least six feet tall,” 17
Many others have since visited the perimeter of the ranch and claimed to have seen what the researchers saw, as well as a whole host of other paranormal phenomena.
Some have even compiled a list of the diverse happenings. According to SkinwalkerRanch.org, a fan-run website dedicated to the ranch, if one were to visit Skinwalker Ranch they would have a 25% chance of seeing “flash drones”, sentient orbs of light that have the ability to affect animals and electrical outlets around them; a 15% chance of hearing “invisible adult males” speaking to each other in an “unknown language”; a 6% chance of hearing babies crying from waterways in the area; a 4% chance of seeing a UFO; a 2% chance of seeing a “sentient mist”, a dark fog that appears to be in the middle of transforming into a shape; and, a 2% chance of seeing a portal which lights up the night sky. According to the website, there is even a slight chance of hearing a disembodied “adolescent female” voice speaking softly around the area. 18
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One of the most striking things about the activity reported at the ranch is how it is often described as sentient or intelligent.
During an interview with Open Minds TV in 2013, John B. Alexander, the US Army Colonel who conducted research at the ranch, described experiencing “disturbing” “precognitive sentient phenomena”. Relating the story of how several cameras were destroyed during his time at the ranch, Alexander claimed that some sort of “trickster” entity was responsible for the sabotage. In the interview, he was clear to state that “despite there being psychological issues” when investigating a case of this sort, he was certain that the events he and others experienced at the ranch “weren’t figments of somebody’s imagination”. They were very “real”. According to Alexander, something mystifying was happening at Skinwalker Ranch. 19
Colonel John B. Alexander’s interview with Open Minds TV
Is the phenomena at Skinwalker Ranch real?
It is extremely easy to dismiss the phenomena at Skinwalker Ranch as a fanciful multipack of paranormal phenomena being packaged up for consumer consumption in the form of books, films, TV shows and so on. This conclusion becomes all the more likely when one considers that the ranch was sold in 2016 to Adamantium Real Estate LLC, a company who filed a trademark for “Skinwalker Ranch” to be used for,
“[..] Entertainment services, namely, storytelling; Publishing of printed matter; Publishing of electronic publications;[..], creation, development, production, and distribution of multimedia content, internet content, motion pictures, and television shows.” 20
In 2018, a spokesperson for Adamantium Real Estate, Thomas Winterton, stated that the new owners of the ranch “has NO interest in exploiting the ranch for money/profit (sic.)”.21 Yet, the securing of intellectual property rights for “entertainment services” and other commercial ventures clearly highlights the perceived financial value of Skinwalker Ranch’s reputation by its current owner. Add to this evidence of Adamantium Real Estate’s moves to legally secure and expand road access to the ranch22, as well as the increase of security operations on and around the site23, and it becomes quite obvious that there is heavy financial investment in the property.
All that being said, financial exploitation of Skinwalker Ranch does not necessarily preclude there being genuine paranormal phenomena. There are many unaffiliated witnesses that have attested to experiencing paranormal happenings at the ranch. And even if these witnesses can be attributed to some sort of bandwagoning effect from the ranch’s reputation, it does not easily explain how individuals like Dr. Colm A. Kelleher, a scientist with a twenty-eight year research career and more than forty peer-reviewed medical articles, could be part of a decades long conspiracy.
Another theory is that the ranch is being, and has been, used for secret US military purposes, especially in more recent times under the ownership of Bigelow and Adamantium. Yet, the new owners have denied this, claiming they are “private” individuals and have no obligation to divulge any information because they have nothing to do with the government. 24 And certainly, just because a US Army Colonel has been involved in the investigation of the ranch, it does not indicate a wider military commitment. Some point to the millions of dollars of government funding into Bigelow Aerospace, however, how much – if any – of this money went to Skinwalker Ranch is unknown. Thus, whilst a military purpose for the site cannot be confirmed or denied, the filing of the trademark by Adamantium Real Estate seems to indicate that the future of the ranch is more probably a commercial one rather than a research one.
After all, the few public interactions that Adamantium Real Estate has made through their representative Thomas Winterton have been saturated with coyness. One example is a Facebook post published by Winterton on 8th April 2018 to the “Skinwalker Ranch” public group. What appears at first glance to be a long and detailed post amounts to little more than a declaration of a private company’s right to be anonymous and not share information about the ranch with the public. 25 Should this be the case, then why does a private company feel the need to say anything at all? Not only that, just one day later, Winterton posted again to emphasise the dangers of visiting Skinwalker Ranch, the “tight security measures” in place there, as well as the high level of “sophisticated” and “new era” “scientific research” being conducted.26Yet, if their intention truly is scientific, then why are they a real estate limited liability company and not a non-profit organisation? This claim of non-profit scientific interest becomes all the more disingenuous when one realises that the owners “set up Adamantium” specifically for the purpose of purchasing the property. 27
All of this information seems rather a lot for an intensely private company with no interest in public relations to reveal. Regardless of whether or not there is genuine paranormal phenomena at the ranch, it all seems rather like a tease, one to increase public speculation and interest in Skinwalker Ranch in preparation for future commercial exploitation protected by registered intellectual property rights. Whilst there is nothing wrong with such a business venture, the deceptive and suspicious manner in which the ranch is possibly being marketed does little to inspire confidence in the genuineness of the paranormal claims being made.
As Jeremy Corbell, a filmmaker who produced a documentary on the ranch in 2018, stated in an interview, “It really, truly is like a paranormal Disneyland.” 28
- Hunt for the Skinwalker: Science Confronts the Unexplained at a Remote Ranch in Utah, by Colm A. Kelleher (2005)
- Skinwalker Ranch: No Trespassing, by Ryan Skinner (2014)
- Lost on Skinwalker Ranch: The True Story of a Property Guard and His Encounter with the Paranormal, by Erick T. Rhetts (2014)
- “Government Funded Paranormal Study Revealed In Skinwalker Documentary.”, by Alejandro Rojas for Den of Geek! (14 September 2018)
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