I'm sitting on a white plastic chair in what seems like total darkness. Strapped to my chest and shoulders is an array of electronic gear--microphones, a video camera, a box that detects magnetic changes and a Geiger counter. Somewhere in the mix is a flashlight, the only device whose function I understand, and thus, the only device I cannot find.
In front of me, I can almost make out the sinister shapes of some truly spooky trees. Malevolent bugs are buzzing in and out of my eyes and ears, and it occurs to me that there must be a tavern open somewhere nearby, even in this remote corner of Utah. One hundred or more yards away, beyond a barbed-wire fence and a little creek, are my fellow paranormal rangers, equipped with their own video cameras, night-vision glasses and assorted scientific gear. They are supposed to be watching me to see if anything happens.
On this night, I am the bait. Bait for what, I wonder? The unspoken hope is my own inherent weirdness quotient might give me some sort of connection to the undeniably odd energy, or entity, that seems to have concentrated itself on this remote rural community, and, in particular, on this small ranch where I now sit, waiting for something to announce its presence.
Some very strange things have happened at the precise spot where I'm sitting. It is here that a visitor was accosted by a roaring but nearly invisible creature, something akin to the Predator of movie fame. It is here that a Ph.D. physicist reported that his mind was invaded, literally taken over, by some sort of hostile intelligence that warned him that he was not welcome. It is here that an entire team of researchers watched in awe as a bright door or portal opened up in the darkness and a large humanoid creature crawled out before quickly vanishing. And it is here that several animals--cattle and dogs--were mutilated, obliterated or simply disappeared.
For as long as anyone can remember, this part of northeastern Utah has been the site of simply unbelievable paranormal activity. UFOs, Sasquatch, cattle mutilations, psychic manifestations, creatures that aren't found in any zoos or textbooks, poltergeist events. You name it, residents here have seen it.
Retired schoolteacher Junior Hicks is the area's unofficial historian for all things weird. He's catalogued 400 or so incidents, most of them involving UFO sightings, but says there have been thousands of other cases. Hicks estimates at least half of the 50,000 residents of this basin have seen weird things in the sky--flying saucers, cigar-shaped craft, zigzagging balls of light, so many different objects that local police and the Highway Patrol long ago stopped taking reports. (Many of the lawmen have been witnesses themselves.) Hicks and members of his family have witnessed their own UFO events over the years.
"The UFO activity really started getting intense in the early '50s," Hicks says. "There were cases where the whole school and all the teachers saw these things hovering over the town in broad daylight. In the '60s and '70s, we probably had more UFO sightings than any place in the world."
But run-of-the-mill UFO events don't begin to describe the rich array of unusual phenomena in this area. The Ute Indian tribe has been here far longer than white settlers. Tribal leaders are reluctant to speak to outsiders, but their oral history is replete with examples of strange creatures and sightings. Indian lore refers to some of these beings as Skinwalkers. Other cultures call them shape-shifters, werewolves or Bigfoot.
"The Utes take this very seriously," Hicks says. "They think the Skinwalkers are powerful spirits that are here because of a curse that was put on them generations ago by the Navajos. And the center of the whole legend is this ranch. The Utes say the ranch is `the path of the Skinwalker.' Tribe members are strictly forbidden from setting foot on the property. It's been that way for a long time."
The ranch in question is a 480-acre spread of rich, well-watered pasture and a few thick patches of tall cottonwoods. It's divided into three sections, each section being a former homestead. Thick brush and a small river are on one side. A rocky, picturesque ridge is on the other side. Skinwalker Ridge is what the Utes call it, according to Hicks. A long dirt road is the only way in or out of the ranch.
When rancher Tom Gorman (not his real name) bought the place in 1994, it had been vacant for seven or eight years. Gorman, his wife and two kids were curious about the impressive array of bolts that covered the doors and windows of the main house. There were deadbolts on both sides of the doors. Even the kitchen cabinets had bolts on them. And at both ends of the house, iron stakes and heavy chains had been installed. Gorman guessed the previous tenants had positioned large guard dogs in the front and back of the home, but he had no idea why.
The Bulletproof Wolf.
On the day the Gormans moved their furnishings onto the property, they had their first foreshadowing of the events that would follow. They spotted an extremely large wolf out in the pasture. The wolf cautiously made its way across the field, and, to the surprise of everyone, sidled up to the family, acting like it was a familiar pet. It had rained that day, and the family remembers the wolf smelled like a wet dog as they were petting it.
After a few minutes, the wolf strolled over to the corral and grabbed a calf by its snout, attempting to pull it through the corral bars. Gorman and his father began beating on the wolf's back with sticks but it wouldn't release the calf. Gorman grabbed a .357 Magnum from his truck and shot the wolf at point-blank range. The slug had no noticeable effect.
Gorman pumped another bullet into the wolf, which then let go of the calf but stood looking at the family as if nothing had happened. Gorman shot it two more times with the powerful handgun. The big animal backed off a bit, but showed no signs of distress, not even any blood.
The mystified rancher retrieved a hunting rifle and shot the wolf again, once more at close range. Gorman is not only an experienced marksman but a big-game hunter of considerable repute. Five slugs should have been enough to bring down an elk, let alone a wolf. The fifth shot caused a chunk of hair and flesh to fly off the wolf, but it still didn't seem fazed. After a sixth shot, the wolf casually trotted across the field into a muddy thicket. Gorman and his father tracked the beast for about a mile, following its pawprints through the mud, but the tracks suddenly ended, as if the wolf had simply vanished into thin air.
Returning to the corral area, Gorman examined the chunk of wolf flesh and says it looked and smelled like rotten meat. He made inquiries among his neighbors, but no one seemed to know anything about any tame, over-sized wolves in the area. A few weeks later, Mrs. Gorman encountered a wolf that was so large, its back was parallel with the top of her window as it stood beside her car. The wolf was accompanied by a dog-like animal that she couldn't identify.
Over the next two years, a menagerie of weird animals was reported by family members and neighbors. While driving into the ranch on a bright afternoon, Gorman and his wife saw something attacking one of their horses. They described it as "low to the ground, heavily muscled, weighing perhaps 200 pounds, with curly red hair and a bushy tail." It somewhat resembled a muscular hyena and seemed to be clawing at their horse, almost playing with it. Gorman got within 40 feet of the animal but says it literally vanished before his eyes. Poof. Gone. They checked the horse and found numerous claw marks on its legs. (A few months later, the wife of a deputy sheriff reported seeing a similar muscular, reddish beast running across the property.)
Another visitor to the ranch had a more ominous encounter in the middle homestead, the same place where I was set out as bait. The visitor, along with Gorman and his son, say they saw a large blurry "something" moving through the trees. The visitor has been meditating when this thing showed up. It swiftly moved from the trees, across the pasture, covering 100 yards in seconds, and when it reached the man, it let out a ferocious roar, something akin to a large bear, a roar loud enough to be heard hundreds of yards away. But this was no bear. It was, according to the Gormans, nearly invisible, resembling the camouflaged being in the movie Predator. The visitor was so scared, he grabbed on to Gorman and wouldn't let go. He left the ranch and has never returned.
Other creatures and beings were also seen, including exotic, multicolored birds that were certainly not native to the region and could not be identified. There were numerous close encounters with dark, nine-foot-tall beasts that resembled a Bigfoot or Sasquatch. (More on those incidents will follow.)
As if those visual experiences weren't enough, the family claims its other senses were also challenged by assorted weird events. They often were overwhelmed by strong musk odors. The pastures would unexplainably light up at night like a football stadium. They claim to have seen shafts of light that seemingly emanated from the ground, They (and others) say they heard what sounded like heavy machinery operating under the earth. And they heard voices. Tom, his son and his nephew remember hearing a loud, disembodied conversation in some unintelligible language. The disembodied male voices spoke in what the witnesses say was a mocking tone and sounded like they were emanating from 20 or more feet above their heads, but they saw nothing. The dogs accompanying the three witnesses growled and barked at the voices, then took off in a panic.
There were physical manifestations that aren't easily explained. While checking on his herd in the third homestead, Gorman noticed that someone had dug up his pasture. Hundreds of pounds of soil had been scooped out of the ground. The edges of the hole resembled perfect, concentric circles, as if someone had dropped a gigantic cookie cutter on the pasture. Several smaller scoop marks were also found.
The Gormans also report phenomena similar to crop circles. One formation found in their pasture consisted of three circles of flattened grass. Each circle was approximately eight feet in diameter, and they were arranged in a triangular pattern, with each circle about 30 feet from the others. Keep in mind, there is only one road leading into the ranch. Anyone coming in or going out would almost certainly be noticed by the Gormans or their neighbors.
UFOs and other Aerial Oddities.
In the spring of 1995, the Gormans started seeing strange things in the sky. While out checking on their cattle, Gorman and his nephew spotted what they thought was a recreational vehicle parked on the property. They approached it, figuring the driver might be having mechanical trouble. As they got closer, the RV moved silently away from them. They moved closer, it moved further away. They climbed a fence to get a better look at it, and that's when they knew this was no Winnebago. The craft rose above the treetops and slowly flew away, making no sound as it departed. It certainly wasn't a helicopter. The witnesses had a clear view and say the object was shaped like a refrigerator, with a single light on its front and a red light on the back.
Before long, everyone in the family was seeing weird aerial objects. Mrs. Gorman says something that resembled a stealth fighter, but ringed with blinking disco lights, silently hovered about 20 feet above her vehicle before zipping off. Each family member had repeated sightings of a cloud that usually hovered just outside the property. The cloud was characterized as having "blinking Christmas tree lights" or "silent, mini-explosions" inside. Among the other aerial craft seen by the Gormans, their neighbors and other witnesses were classic flying-saucer objects, flying sombreros, shafts of light similar to fluorescent light bulbs and a cigar-shaped craft several football fields long.
By far the most common objects they witnessed were floating spheres of different sizes and colors. In 1995 and 1996, the Gormans and others reported 12 separate incidents of seeing large orange circles flying over the trees of the center homestead. Tom Gorman claims that holes occasionally opened up in the orange spheres and other smaller spheres would fly out. (A neighboring rancher told this reporter of his own encounters with what he called a flying orange basketball.)
By early 1996, the sightings of blue spheres at the ranch became almost commonplace. These orbs were said to be about the size of a softball, made of glass and filled with bubbling blue liquids that seemed to rotate inside. Mr. and Mrs. Gorman say that in April 1996, they watched one of the blue orbs repeatedly circle the head of one of their horses, The horse was illuminated by an intense blue light, and there was a sound like static electricity in the air, but this wasn't ball lightning. The orb seemed to be intelligently controlled. When Gorman approached the horse with a flashlight, the orb darted off, maneuvering through tree branches with speed and dexterity.
The Gormans say the blue spheres seemed to generate severe psychological effects on the family. Family members felt waves of fear roll over them, far in excess of what might be normal, whenever the blue orbs appeared. It was the appearance of one blue orb in particular that finally convinced the Gormans to sell the ranch.
One evening in May 1996, Gorman was outside with three of his dogs when he noticed a blue orb darting around in the field near the ranch house. Gorman urged his dogs to go after the ball. The dogs chased and snapped at the orb, but it dodged and maneuvered enough to stay just beyond the reach of their snapping jaws. The ball led the dogs out across the pasture and into the thick brush that borders the field. Gorman says he heard the dogs make three terrible yelps, then they were silent. He called for them, but they didn't respond.
The next morning, Gorman went to look for the dogs. What he found were three round spots of dried and brittle vegetation. In the middle of each circle was a black, greasy lump. Gorman surmised that his dogs had been incinerated by something. One thing for sure, the dogs were never seen again. The disappearance of their dogs prompted the Gormans to think about getting out.
Mutilations and other animal mysteries
Tom Gorman wasn't some country-bumpkin farmer trying to get by. He had college degrees and advanced training in animal husbandry, was considered an expert in artificial insemination and had plans for raising hybrid, high-end stock at the picturesque ranch. His herd, which ranged from 60-80 head, consisted of expensive, top-of-the-line heifers and four 2,000-pound show-class bulls.
From the day he moved his herd onto the ranch, though, his hopes--and his animals--seemed to be under assault. The balls of light that were seen so often on the property seemed to take special interest in the cattle and were often seen buzzing around the heads of the animals. Sometimes, the cattle would react violently, the herd splitting suddenly as if some invisible force was plowing through their middle. It soon got worse.
Although the Gormans kept close watch on their stock, something began exacting a terrible toll. One cow was found dead in a field. A strange, crisp hole had been cut in one of its eyes. There were no tracks or blood, and Gorman wondered what could do such a thing. He noticed a strong musk odor around the carcass, a smell he would come to know all too well.
Other cattle were carved up, as if with pinking shears. Cattle mutilations have been reported throughout North America for several decades. In typical cases, the ears, eyes, udders and sex organs are removed with surgical precision. Gorman's animals were subjected to all of the above.
As an experienced hunter and rancher, Gorman was more than familiar with the capabilities of natural predators. This wasn't being done by coyotes or mountain lions. The butchery was simply too clean. And no blood was ever left at the scene of the attacks. His other animals also suffered. His favorite horse had its legs slashed, as if by sharp instruments or claws. (The musk odor was still in the air when he discovered the damaged horse.) His dogs seemed to develop paranoia. They stayed inside their doghouses for days at a time, too fearful to emerge for food. Six of the family's cats vanished in one night.
Soon, cattle started disappearing altogether. One of the animals vanished from a snow-covered field. Gorman saw the hoofprints lead into the field, but the tracks simply stopped, as if the animal had been plucked from the sky. A 1,200-pound cow leaves tracks in snow, Gorman told himself, so what happened to this one?
In all, 14 of Gorman's prized animals were either sliced up or vanished. In one instance, a cow was found mutilated just five minutes after Gorman's son had checked on it. Something cut a hole, six inches wide and 18 inches deep, in the animal's rectum. The cored-out section extended into the cow's body cavity, yet there was no blood on the cow or on the snow-covered ground.
The loss of 14 expensive animals from an 80-head herd is extreme by any standards. (There were other losses as well, but from explainable causes.) It meant that Gorman was close to financial collapse. One April afternoon, Gorman and his wife took a quick drive to town for supplies. As they passed the corral that contained their four bulls, they commented to each other that they would really be in trouble if something should happen to one of the bulls.
When they returned to the ranch less than an hour later, all four of the bulls were gone. The Gormans began a frantic search for the missing behemoths but couldn't find a trace. As a last resort, Gorman decided to peek into a metal trailer that is situated inside the corral. He thought it highly unlikely that the bulls would be inside because, from the corral, there is only one door into the trailer and it was secured with thick metal wire, wire that clearly was still in place.
Gorman was shocked to see that all four of his bulls were inside the trailer, squeezed like so many oversized sardines into the tiny enclosure, crammed in against the sides of the trailer and against each other. When he yelled to his wife that he had found them, the bulls seemingly woke up, as if from a dream state, and started kicking the hell out of the trailer and each other.
"There is simply no way that anyone could coax those four bulls into that trailer," says Colm Kelleher, a microbiologist who would come to know the Gormans well. "It would be tough enough to get one of them into the trailer, but all four? Virtually impossible. The only door leading from the corral into the trailer was still securely fastened with wire. And there were cobwebs on the inside of the door, proving that it had not been opened. It's almost as if someone overheard the ranchers' worries about their bulls, then decided to mess with them."
NIDS to the rescue.
Kelleher didn't realize it back in 1996, but the Gorman ranch was to soon become his home away from home. Kelleher is the deputy administrator of NIDS, the National Institute for Discovery Science, a Las Vegas-based research organization founded by local businessman Robert Bigelow. Bigelow's long-standing interest in paranormal topics, including UFOs, animal mutilations and human consciousness, prompted him to assemble an impressive team of physicists, engineers, psychologists and other doctorate-level professionals for the purpose of investigating subjects that are largely shunned by mainstream science.
By the middle of 1996, the Gormans were ready to cash in their chips. Those who know Tom Gorman say he blamed himself for the weird string of events that had ruined his ranching operation. He didn't want to give up but felt cursed, and was ready to bail for the sake of his family. In an uncharacteristic moment, he told parts of his story to a news reporter. A respected journalist from Salt Lake City heard about it, came to the ranch and talked to the family. Pictures were taken, and a wire service picked up the story. That's how Bob Bigelow first learned about the ranch.
Bigelow and his team flew to Utah and introduced themselves to the Gormans. NIDS staffers checked out the story, interviewed neighbors and evaluated the Gorman's seemingly incredible tales. Bigelow offered to buy the ranch outright with the idea of transforming it into an interactive paranormal laboratory, an ongoing experiment that might shed some light on questions that have been viewed with scientific skepticism. Amazingly, he talked the Gormans into staying at the ranch as caretakers.
By that point, the family was a wreck. The UFOs, balls of light, cattle mutilations, animal disappearances, Bigfoot sightings and Skinwalker legends were bad enough, but there had also been an ongoing series of more personal events. Things had occurred within their home that had made a normal life impossible. They saw apparitions in the house, blinding lights, dark creatures peering in the windows. Furnishings, tools and everyday items moved around, disappeared or turned up in unusual places.
No one could sleep. When they did manage to grab a few hours, they were plagued by violent nightmares, often discovering later that different family members had experienced identical dreams. The two kids, honor students before arriving at the ranch, saw their grades plummet. Mrs. Gorman lost her job at a local bank because of her repeated absences and disturbing water-cooler tales. Hoping for safety in numbers, the Gormans slept each night on the floor of their front room.
The folks from NIDS offered moral, emotional and financial support to the Gormans. What's more, they had a plan. The ranch presented what appeared to be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to legitimately study a full menu of paranormal activities. They endeavored to seal off the ranch, pack it with high-tech monitoring equipment, staff it round-the-clock with trained observers, and see what happens.
Some residents sarcastically wondered what the hucksters from Las Vegas really had in mind. A scam of some sort was one oft-mentioned possibility. UFO buffs whined that Bob Bigelow was a "shadowy" guy who may or may not have CIA connections and that he was out to somehow corner the market on E.T. They demanded that whatever happened at the ranch should be made immediately available for their evaluation. And paranormal debunkers predicted the NIDS team would come up empty-handed because unexplained events inevitably wither under careful scrutiny.
As it turned out, all three groups were wrong. NIDS did seal off the ranch from outside observers but not for any monetary gain. Neither the CIA nor any other government agency had any input or access to the things that have occurred under the NIDS watch. And the phenomena itself did not wither or evaporate.
For the past six years, events at the ranch have been under constant scrutiny. Witnesses, including highly accomplished scientists and law enforcement personnel, have documented a mind-boggling array of unusual activity. But there has been a near-total blackout on the release of any information about the site.
By agreement with Bigelow, this reporter was granted the first outside access to the ranch and to the scientists and ex-lawmen who've been studying it. Interviews were conducted with ranch personnel, as well as with community members who had reported unusual events. And several nights were spent out on the ranch itself, watching for odd lights or other manifestations.
No one who has studied this can say with any certainty what's going on here. The NIDS researchers are not making any claims about E.T.s or ghosts or Skinwalkers. They are merely collecting data and trying to make some sense of it. That is small comfort to me as I sit in the darkness on my little plastic chair, waiting for something to happen. The mind certainly can play tricks in such an environment, but could so many witnesses be completely wrong?
Next week: We'll examine a long litany of bizarre activity that occurred while the NIDS team was stationed at the ranch, including the shooting and tracking of an unknown creature, the destruction of electronic equipment by something unseen, the unexplained creation of "ice circles" and the opening of what some say is a portal to another dimension.
Warning to paranormal enthusiasts:
Do not travel to the ranch. You are not welcome there.
It is private property and the people who live on or near it don't want to be hassled by curiosity seekers or the media. What's more, the level of unexplained phenomena has taken a steady nosedive over the past several months, so chances are you wouldn't see anything even if you could get on the property.
Las Vegas businessman sets up shop at Utah ranch to study paranormal activities.
This is the second of two reports about persistent stories of anomalous phenomena in a section of northeastern Utah. The activity, as reported by hundreds of witnesses over several decades, includes UFOs, unusual balls of light, animal mutilations and disappearances, poltergeist events, sightings of Bigfoot-like creatures and other unidentified animals, physical effects on plants, soil, animals and humans, and a vast array of other unexplained incidents.
The activities seem most concentrated on a 480-acre cattle ranch owned by the family of Tom Gorman. (Gorman isn't his real name.) In 1996, the ranch was purchased by Las Vegas businessman Robert Bigelow, who arranged for an intense, ongoing scientific study of events at the ranch. By agreement with Bigelow, and at the request of many of the witnesses, a few names have been changed or omitted to protect those who don't want to be hassled by media outlets or UFO enthusiasts.
It began as a dull white light, appearing out of nowhere in the darkness of the middle homestead of the Gorman ranch. Tom Gorman saw it. So did a researcher named Chad Deetken. It was nearly 2 a.m. on Aug. 28, 1997. Gorman and Deetken were out in the pasture as part of an ongoing effort to document unusual activity on the property.
Both men watched intently as the light grew brighter. It was as if someone had opened a window or doorway. Gorman grabbed his night vision binoculars to get a better look but could hardly believe what he was seeing. The dull light began to resemble a bright portal, and at one end of the portal, a large, black humanoid figure seemed to be struggling to crawl through the tunnel of light.
After a few minutes, the humanoid figure wriggled out of the light and took off into the darkness. As it did, the window of light snapped shut, as if someone had flicked the "off" switch. Deetken had the presence of mind to snap a few photos of the event, but would later learn that his film had recorded little of what the two men had witnessed.
Tom Gorman, his wife, two teenage kids and several extended family members had grown accustomed to weird things happening at the ranch. They had seen numerous UFO-type craft, as well as balls of light that seemed to be intelligently controlled. Their neighbors had seen them too. Residents of this basin have been reporting similar phenomena since the '50s. Native Americans say the sightings extend back even further. But aerial anomalies weren't the strangest occurrences on or near the ranch, not by a longshot.
In his two years on the property, Tom Gorman had lost 14 head of cattle from his hybrid herd. Some animals simply disappeared, as if plucked from the sky. Others were carved up with surgical precision. Family members and neighbors had also seen Bigfoot-like creatures, oversized wolves, animals and birds that no one could identify. Their horses had been attacked, their dogs incinerated, their cats abducted.
The Gormans themselves were bedeviled, almost daily, by odd little household incidents that, separately, wouldn't amount to much, but when considered together, were hard to dismiss. Windows and doors in their home would rip open or slam shut, seemingly on their own. Frequently, when Mrs. Gorman would take a shower, she'd emerge from the tub to find that her towel and personal items had been removed from inside the locked bathroom. On one occasion, she returned from town with a large haul of groceries and other supplies. She carefully put the provisions away in various cabinets, walked into another room for a few minutes, and returned to find all the supplies back out on the kitchen table.
Clothing, tools and appliances seemed to develop lives of their own. But this wasn't the equivalent of socks disappearing in the laundry. For example, Gorman's son worked up a considerable sweat to meticulously stack a one-ton pile of cord wood on the south side of a treeline in the middle homestead. He took a 30-minute water break and returned to find that the ton of wood had been moved 100 yards to the north side of the tree line. Tools often disappeared, then reappeared on the range. In one instance, a heavy post hole digger vanished. It was finally discovered, days later, high up in the branches of a cottonwood tree, as if placed there by a crane. The uneasy feeling grew among family members that they were constantly being watched, but they had no idea who, or what, was doing the watching.
Enter Robert Bigelow and NIDS.
Las Vegas businessman Robert Bigelow first heard about the Gorman ranch in the summer of 1996. A small newspaper article about mysterious events at the property prompted Bigelow and his team to fly to Utah. Bigelow bought the ranch and convinced Tom Gorman to stay on as caretaker, against the wishes of his family.
Bigelow is the founder of NIDS, the National Institute for Discovery Science, a Las Vegas research organization dedicated to the study of unexplained phenomena. NIDS staff members include highly trained and educated scientists, engineers and former law enforcement personnel with solid credentials, degrees and experience. Although the organization investigates seemingly bizarre events, it has no preconceived ideas about the true nature of the subject matter and is primarily interested in getting to the truth, wherever that truth leads. (This observation is a personal one, based on more than six years of interaction with the NIDS organization.)
NIDS staffers emphasize that they are constantly drilled by Bigelow and by his Science Advisory Board to rigidly adhere to the scientific method. ("The Science Board really holds our feet to the fire," one staff member confides.) Because the subject matter itself is so controversial in science circles, NIDS realizes that any deviation from the scientific method would mean a loss of credibility. If they were deemed a crackpot organization, their findings, no matter how profound or well-documented, would be dismissed out of hand.
The Gorman ranch presented a unique opportunity to study a rich tapestry of strange stuff. It was as if someone had ordered up the Weirdness Pizza With Everything on It. UFOs and Sasquatch, balls of light and cattle mutilations, poltergeists and crop circles, psychic manifestations and Native American legends--the ranch sounded like a unique place in all the world. NIDS staffers knew they had to be careful but also knew they couldn't merely dismiss the stories told by locals.
"We had no preconceived ideas about what was going on, but we decided to use an 'open-filter' approach to gathering information," says one senior NIDS staffer. "We had a lot of reservations about the legends of skinwalkers, Bigfoot sightings, all the things the family claimed to have seen, but we decided to collect all the data we could get, without dismissing it outright, and figured we could evaluate it all later."
The NIDS team set up shop. They installed a command post, positioned video and other monitoring equipment around the ranch, built new fencing around the perimeter of the property to better control access to the site, constructed observation posts in the pastures and staffed the property with trained observers. The effort constitutes the most intense and thorough surveillance of a UFO hot spot ever undertaken.
UFO researchers were incensed at being excluded from the study. They floated rumors that Bigelow was working for the CIA, that he and NIDS were already in contact with E.T., and that whatever information was gleaned from the ranch probably would be locked away in dark vaults under the Pentagon. The constant criticism prompted the publicity-shy Bigelow to grant a rare interview. He told a Utah newspaper that NIDS was not communicating with either extraterrestrials or lizard people. He appealed, perhaps in vain, for a reasonable amount of time, free from outside interference, so a legitimate study might be undertaken.
"We know so little in terms of what the overall scope of the phenomena are that it's just embarrassing to try and make some conclusions at this point," Bigelow said. He admitted that the activity at the ranch seemed to be "selective in how it exposes itself and to whom," suggesting that a tailgate-party atmosphere where people sit around outside the ranch, barbecueing hot dogs while awaiting flying saucers, would not be conducive to a scientific study. Not surprisingly, this plea for sanity fell on deaf ears among the UFO faithful. They were so busy expressing their outrage over being barred from private property that they failed to grasp the major clue dropped by Bigelow during his interview.
A pre-cognitive intelligence
Contrary to some predictions, the odd phenomena at the ranch didn't evaporate under the glare of scientific scrutiny. Activity continued, but grew even harder to comprehend. NIDS staffers saw the same balls of light, even UFO-type craft that the Gormans had seen. But their attempts to photograph or videotape the sightings were largely futile. Team members, accompanied by Gorman and former lawmen who were hired for the study, often saw anomalous aerial phenomena, with their eyes, their binoculars and with night vision equipment. With few exceptions, though, the images inexplicably could not be recorded on film or video.
A confidential report prepared for NIDS board members and obtained by this reporter documents dozens of encounters involving NIDS staffers, the Gormans and other witnesses. After several months of round-the-clock surveillance, a mind-boggling pattern began to emerge. The phenomena, whatever they represent, seemed capable of anticipating the moves of the scientists. If they placed extra cameras and personnel in the southern field, the activity would pop up in the northern pasture. If they concentrated their observations in the center homestead, the activity might move to the ridge overlooking the ranch.
Skeptics might suggest that such an explanation for a lack of photographic evidence sounds a little too convenient. But something happened on July 19, 1998, that sheds further light on the challenge faced by the research team. Soon after arriving at the ranch, NIDS had installed three telephone poles in one of the pastures. Atop each pole was a sophisticated package of sensoring equipment, including multiple video cameras. The cameras had a full view of that section of the ranch and were connected to video recorders back in the command post. At exactly 8:30 p.m., the three cameras on the westernmost telephone pole were suddenly disabled. When NIDS staffers went to check out the problem, they saw that something had shredded their electronic equipment. Wires had been ripped out of the cameras with considerable force. Plastic brackets were snapped in two. Thick layers of duct tape that had been used to secure the equipment had been ripped away. A foot-long piece of TV cable was missing. Analysis of the remaining cable showed it had been slashed with a knife.
Team members excitedly returned to the command center, knowing that the telephone pole that had been assaulted was in full view of cameras positioned atop the second pole, located about 200 feet away. The assumption was that, whatever had ripped the guts out of the first camera would be clearly visible on video recorded by the second. But when they rolled the tape back, they saw nothing. At the exact moment the first camera package was being vandalized, nothing visible could be seen anywhere near the second telephone pole. This incident set a pattern for what was to follow.
"I came up with a term for it," says Col. John Alexander, a retired Army intelligence officer who still works on classified projects with Los Alamos National Laboratory and remains an adviser to NATO organizations. "I called it a pre-cognitive sentient intelligence. It certainly seemed to be intelligent, and it seemed to know what we were going to do even before we did it."
Alexander is a former adviser to NIDS who made the trip to the ranch to see what was going on. As a scientist and military insider, he is reluctant to jump to any conclusions about the nature of what has happened there. But he suspects, after exploring the property and reading the witness reports, that there is an intelligence behind the assorted phenomena and that it almost seems to be playing a game with those who are trying to observe it.
Another NIDS staffer arrived at a similar conclusion. He has a doctorate in physics, a long list of peer-reviewed papers about cutting-edge scientific concepts, and a lengthy employment history with prominent think tanks and classified military programs. He asked that his name not be used in the belief that he would never again be hired for sensitive scientific work if his involvement with the ranch were made public.
"It's a very messy affair. Nothing is clear cut. It isn't as simple as saying that E.T.s or flying saucers are doing it," the scientist said. "It's some kind of consciousness, but it's always something new and different, something non-repeatable. It's reactive to people and equipment, and we set up the ranch to be a proving ground for the scientific method, but science doesn't seem amenable to the solution of these kinds of problems."
Ice and Dinosaurs.
As if to punctuate the point, the phenomena at the ranch seemed to constantly evolve. One of the most recent incidents occurred on a cold morning in February. The caretaker for the property was patrolling the grounds early in the morning. As he walked past a watering hole, he noticed an odd circular impression in the thin ice that had formed overnight. Something had carved a perfect circle in the ice. The circle was just under six feet in diameter and seemed oddly reminiscent of the crop formations seen in English wheat fields.
The cuts extended only a quarter-inch into the ice and the ice itself was perhaps another quarter-inch thick. The question arises, how could this have been done? Someone standing on the muddy bank would have left footprints. The only prints were cattle tracks. The ice itself was so thin that it could support almost no weight and certainly would have cracked and broken if someone stood on it. Could someone have suspended themselves above the ice patch and then somehow carved a perfect circle? How, and more importantly, why? NIDS staffers, following the scientific method, collected and analyzed ice shavings from the spot, took readings for magnetic fields and EM radiation, checked for tracks throughout the area but found no clues. There is no natural explanation for such a subtle event, and it has never been reported again.
NIDS employees compiled a confidential report containing information about all the assorted incidents on the ranch. Reading this report will make the hair stand up on your neck. To date, the researchers have recorded seven distinct incidents involving magnetic abnormalities. Simply put, their compasses went nuts while out on the range. The needles of the compasses either spun out of control, or pointed straight down at the ground. No one has a reasonable explanation.
There were several instances involving some sort of invisible force moving through the ranch and through the animals. One witness reported a path of displaced water in the canal, as if a large unseen animal was briskly moving through the water. There were distinct splashing noises, and there was a foul pungent odor that filled the air but nothing could be seen. A neighboring rancher reported the same phenomena two months later. The Gormans say there were several instances where something invisible moved through their cattle, splitting the herd. Their neighbor reported the same thing.
Of all the strange incidents at the ranch, this one may take the prize. It occurred on the night of March 12, 1997. Barking dogs alerted the team to something lurking in a tree near the ranch house. Tom Gorman grabbed a hunting rifle and took off in his truck toward the tree. Two NIDS staffers followed in another vehicle. Up in the tree branches, they could make out a huge set of yellowish, reptilian eyes. The head of this animal had to be three feet wide, they guessed. At the bottom of the tree was something else. Gorman described it as huge and hairy, with massively muscled front legs and a doglike head.
Gorman, who is a crack shot, fired at both figures from a distance of 40 yards. The creature on the ground seemed to vanish. The thing in the tree apparently fell to the ground because Gorman heard it as it landed heavily in the patches of snow below. All three men ran through the pasture and scrub brush, chasing what they thought was a wounded animal, but they never found the animal and saw no blood either. A professional tracker was brought in the next day to scour the area. Nothing.
But there was a physical clue left behind. At the bottom of the tree, they found and photographed a weird footprint, or rather, claw print. The print left in the snow was from something large. It had three digits with what they guessed were sharp claws on the end. Later analysis and comparison of the print led them to find a chilling similarity--the print from the ranch closely resembled that of a velociraptor, an extinct dinosaur made famous in the Jurassic Park films. (For the record, no one at NIDS is saying he shot a velociraptor. They don't know what it was.)
More cattle deaths
Two days before the above incident, another animal was found mutilated on the ranch, and it is the only case from the ranch that NIDS has publicly confirmed before this article. Gorman and his wife spent a bright Sunday morning tagging the ears of newborn calves. They put a tag on the ear of a calf born near the ranch house, then wandered out into the pasture for a period of 45 minutes. In that interim period, with the Gormans only 200 yards away in the pasture, the calf was completely stripped of flesh. The Gormans were alerted by a wail from the mother of the calf. The calf's entrails had been placed, almost ritualistically, on the ground, but all of its flesh was simply gone, leaving only bone and hide behind. There was no blood on the ground or on the animal.
A NIDS team was at the ranch and quickly scoured the area for evidence. The remains were sent to two pathology labs. Both pathologists concluded the calf had been butchered by two distinct instruments, something like a heavy machete and something like sharp scissors. How this was done in broad daylight, in an open pasture and in clear sight of the ranchers remains a mystery. (A second calf disappeared that same morning after being tagged and was never found. In all, 12 cattle have met a similar end since NIDS has been on the ranch. A full report on the calf incident can be found on the NIDS website.)
So, what's going on?
Capt. Keith Wolverton spent more than 20 years as an investigator with the Cascade County Sheriff's Department in Great Falls, Mont. In the mid-'70s, that area experienced a similar wave of UFO sightings and cattle mutilations, as well as Bigfoot sightings, and Wolverton investigated them all.
"I asked my boss back then to give me six weeks to solve the mystery," Wolverton says. "It's 30 years later and I'm still left with a lot of questions but no answers."
Wolverton wrote a book about his Montana experiences. He came to the ranch to share his expertise with NIDS, and while there are similarities between the things that happened near Great Falls and at the Utah ranch, Wolverton says he's never heard of any place with such a concentration of weird activity as the Gorman ranch. Microbiologist Colm Kelleher has reached a similar conclusion.
"I thought that if we threw enough personnel and equipment at this one, pull out all the stops, adhere to the scientific method, that we would probably get answers," Kelleher says. "We have all of these strange cases, close to 100, many of them well-documented, but if you try to call that scientific evidence of anything, you'd be laughed at."
The main reason NIDS has been unwilling to go public with information about the ranch is there isn't much that can be said. For a scientific organization to merely toss out a lot of scary stories would be counterproductive, especially if it resulted in hordes of UFO nuts flooding the property and interfering with whatever goes on there. Make no mistake, the activity at the ranch certainly seems to have an interactive component. It responds to people, events and disturbances. In many instances, it seems capable of anticipating things that were about to happen.
"The only thing that jumps out of the data is how unreproduceable these things are," Kelleher notes. "No two events ever repeated themselves in the same fashion. It's almost as if it's a learning curve and we were being led along. It's the only thing consistent here."
What could possibly explain all that has happened at the ranch? Natural predators, rustlers or pranksters might conceivably be responsible for some of the events, but certainly not all of them. NIDS staffers considered the possibility that Indian shaman or black magic practitioners might have been carrying out some sort of ritualist campaign at the ranch. They note that the Ute people consider the ranch to be an unholy place, a forbidden place, but that explanation falls far short on many levels.
Hardcore UFO believers have proposed an E.T. connection to events at the ranch, but NIDS staffers say there isn't an iota of evidence to prove such a hypothesis. The possibility exists that unknown military units might be capable of producing nearly all of the events that have been reported in the area, perhaps as an experiment in psychological warfare. (Tom Gorman was convinced of this for a long time, but came to realize the theory was more than a stretch. Someone, somewhere would have seen these military men operating in such a rural area.)
That doesn't leave much. There is one possibility that's worth considering. Cutting-edge physicists have proposed the existence of alternate dimensions or parallel universes. Quantum physicists believe that portals may exist between our world and other worlds. The concept of wormholes is no longer considered to be the stuff of science fiction. New York physicist and author Michio Kaku theorizes that there are 11 dimensions in our universe, although humans have only identified four. Might a wormhole resemble the portal of light that was seen on the ranch? And if such portals do exist, could they allow beings on the other side to travel into our world? As wacky as it all sounds, leading scientists believe that wormholes and alternate dimensions are perfectly consistent with known laws of physics. If so, then it isn't much of a leap to suggest that UFOs, aliens, Bigfoot beings or other creatures, even poltergeists or spirits, could come and go and never be detected by puzzled, mystified humans.
"Aliens may be here now," says Kaku, "here in another dimension, a millimeter away from our own world."
Admittedly, it all sounds farfetched. But if anyone has a better explanation, let's hear it.
A final note
For further discussion of the Gorman Ranch mystery, along with a few personal observations, check out the Knappster column elsewhere in this issue. Also, the website of the National Institute for Discovery Science is packed with information and research papers concerning these and other issues. Anyone with information or insight about the ranch, UFOs or mutilations is welcome to contact NIDS through the website. All such contacts will remain confidential.
The truth might be out there.
If you haven't read, or don't plan on reading the "Skinwalker" article elsewhere in the Mercury, chances are this column may not be for you either.
Admittedly, the "Skinwalker" subject matter is a bit strange, but I tried to write the two-part article as a straight news piece with only a few subjective comments. This column will put more of a personal slant on what it's like to chase after aliens, ghosts and such.
I made two trips to visit the Utah ranch that is the site of assorted weirdness. On the first trip, I was accompanied by photographer Eric Sorenson, as well as Dr. Colm Kelleher. On the second trip, Kelleher joined myself, photographer Matt Adams and former sheriff's deputy Keith Wolverton.
During both trips, we scoured pretty much every inch of the ranch. We were out in the field and up on the ridge day and night. We photographed and inspected every part of the property, prowled the ranchlands surrounding the area, interviewed townspeople and other witnesses, but we never saw anything remotely unexplainable.
On one night, I spent some time sitting out in a field, dangled there like a piece of bait. Whatever the phenomenon is, it has been known to react to the arrival of new people, to the presence of fire on the range and to disturbances of the earth. So before I took my seat out in the field that night, we made our presence known in a big way. We built a large campfire down in the third homestead and sat around telling stories. And just before nightfall, the caretaker of the property fired up his bulldozer, plowed over some dirt piles and cleared a new pathway into the lower homesteads. If anything was around, we hoped to have its full attention.
It was a disappointment that nothing happened during our visits, although, to tell the truth, I was a bit relieved during my stint as bait that the mystery cattle mutilators didn't show up to taste-test a new, yummy type of flesh. (Mmmm, too much gristle and marbling, wouldn't you say?). Dr. Kelleher says the phenomenon has seemingly moved on or taken a hiatus. There has been very little unexplained activity of any kind for the past year. Some folks familiar with the ranch think that, whatever "it" is, it doesn't like to be watched, and that it may just be in hibernation until such time as the NIDS people move on.
The only odd thing we witnessed was a huge flash of light that occurred just after sundown. The flash was captured on one of the video cameras that run 24 hours a day on the property. We watched the tape of the flash over and over, trying to figure out what it might have been. It wasn't until days after we returned to Las Vegas that Dr. Kelleher called to say he had confirmed the flash was caused by a missile launch further west. That might sound anti-climactic to some, but is indicative of what NIDS has been doing up in Utah for the past six years.
I've been privy to info about the ranch for several years, even though I didn't have permission until now to write anything about it. And all through that time, I watched the way the NIDS researchers have operated. Mostly what they do is to search for mundane explanations for the things they've seen. They try to find normal explanations for what seem like paranormal events. For example, they didn't assume that the big flash of light caught on the video was caused by a UFO. Instead, they looked for other, more prosaic explanations. The same is true for their investigations of animal mutilations. While checking out the slice-and-dice job on an unfortunate calf, their first instinct was to look for evidence of tracks, either animal or human. They found none, but that didn't lead them to conclude that space aliens with a taste for beef were responsible. They drew no conclusions at all.
The fact that NIDS scientists would even dare to study such matters seems to be an affront to some of their snooty counterparts. Most of the scientific establishment has accepted the ridiculous explanation that coyotes and mountain lions are responsible for animal mutilations throughout the country, even though solid scientific evidence demonstrates beyond any doubt that sharp metallic instruments have been used to cut up the animals. From my observations, the NIDS investigators have gone into their study with open minds, and I've never heard one of them say that aliens are involved with any of this stuff. They just gather information, which is what I thought scientists were supposed to do.
Unfortunately, I was unable to use the real names of many of the researchers involved in studying the ranch. The sad fact is most of them worry that they would never be able to land another job if they were linked to such research. I think they're right. I would hate to think a good scientist like Colm Kelleher will be forever branded as a nutcase simply because he spoke with me about the ranch, but it's a possibility. That stinks.
The same prejudice exists within the journalism fraternity, and I should know. For the last 13 years, I've been The UFO Guy. The public seems very interested in my occasional pursuit of UFO stories and allegations of government disinformation on the topic, but it really drives my journalism brethren up the wall. I can't count the number of times I've been pilloried by radio DJs, newspaper columnists and others because of my interest in UFOs. They generally all use the same jokes (something about spotting Elvis, something about E.T. phoning home, something about beam me up, Scotty) but really think themselves clever at the moment for coming up with such rich, original material.
Since my face is on TV a lot, I figure it comes with the territory, and I have laughed at a lot of it along the way (including the hilarious parody songs produced by radio guys Johnson and Tofte.) The part that bothers me most is that many of the the wisecracks are issued by people who haven't done one whit of work in the area of paranormal research. They don't know squat, other than a generalized belief that everyone involved with UFOs or animal mutilations is a wide-eyed saucer nut wearing an E.T. beanie and a Darth Vader mask. I will grant them that the UFO field attracts more than its share of mentally challenged true believers. No one has encountered more UFO wackos than yours truly. But at the core of the phenomena, there remains a body of evidence that is not easily dismissed and is worthy of further study.
Most mainstream scientists, even the stuffiest among them, will concede that confirmed contact with another civilization, an alien civilization, would be the most profound event in human history. It would change everything, absolutely everything. They have used this argument to justify spending money on SETI, the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence. Somehow, that endeavor is respectable, but looking for evidence of E.T.s closer to home is a waste of time, no matter how intriguing the data might be. After all, since we can't get to other solar systems, surely aliens can't get here either.
That sort of view is a form of prejudice, as closed-minded as a religion. In fact, many people would argue that science is our new religion, with its strict commandments against prohibited thoughts or behavior. In the case of the Utah ranch, the adherence to the scientific method has been an asset--and a necessity. The Science Advisory Board of NIDS has held the feet of the staff to the fire, insisting that they merely collect information and not try to reach any conclusions about calf-loving Zeta Reticulans who have a penchant for Utah scenery. The board has even been tough on NIDS founder Robert Bigelow, demanding that he justify his interest in the Utah property. Even in personal conversations, Bigelow is reluctant to say what he thinks might be going on at the ranch. He, like his staff, will only say that more study is needed before any conclusions can be reached.
There's an astrophysicist named Jacques Vallee who has written extensively about UFO phenomena. In my view, he's the most important guy to ever study the topic, although he has publicly kept an arm's distance from it for the past several years. (In the film Close Encounters of the Third Kind, the character played by Truffaut is modeled on Vallee.) Vallee once told me he would be deeply disappointed if the beings we refer to as aliens turned out to be "only" extraterrestrials. Vallee thinks the real explanation may be far more complex and more challenging than the simple idea of E.T.s visiting Earth. The possibility that other dimensions may exist and that these dimensions may help to explain some of our mysteries is a concept that is catching on with younger scientists, those on the cusp of cutting-edge research. Quantum physicists, for example, are now convinced that other dimensions and parallel universes really do exist and that wormholes might be a way to travel between worlds.
It isn't much of a leap from such theories to the strange stuff at the Utah ranch. The NIDS people won't say it, of course, but others familiar with what's going on at the ranch think the property might be some sort of roadway or shortcut to other realities. I know how wacky that sounds. So do the people at NIDS, and that's why they simply won't talk about it. Many of the true believers in the UFOlogy field are convinced that NIDS is hiding dark secrets, that the organization is a CIA front, that Bigelow wants to corner the market on E.T. technology. The simple fact is that NIDS hasn't spoken about the ranch because there isn't much to say other than relating anecdotal information that is unreproduceable.
I really hope my articles about the research at the ranch don't result in damage to anyone's employment future, because from what I've seen, the study of the ranch has followed all scientific protocols. Instead of being scorned by their peers, the folks at NIDS should be praised for having the courage to proceed into unpopular areas, to explore new ground while adhering to accepted scientific practices. That, after all, is how progress is made.
Some mainstream types are convinced they already know all there is to know about UFOs, Bigfoot, animal mutilations, ghosts and such. They don't need to go out and study it themselves because it can't be true. It can't be true, and therefore it isn't. And woe to anyone else who dares to challenge the official mantra. I always believed it is the duty of science, and of journalism, to investigate the unexplained, not to explain the uninvestigated.
One more plea to the saucer nuts.
I know in my heart that this will do absolutely no good, but I appeal once more to the UFO diehards around the world to leave the ranch alone. You are not going to see anything. The activity has stopped or moved on and you are too late. What you will see is jail if you trespass on the property. NIDS is very serious about that. What's more, the residents in that remote section of Utah generally don't want to deal with the paranormal stories, at least not with strangers. This place isn't Area 51 and there is no Little A'Le'Inn to help celebrate all that is weird and unexplained.
Another word of warning to UFO diehards:
It is probably futile to ask for restraint on the part of the faithful, but here goes anyway.
Visitors are not welcome at the Gorman ranch. The ranch is patrolled 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and NIDS emphatically declares that trespassers will be arrested and prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. One of the principal caretakers of the property is a 20-year veteran of Utah law enforcement and will not hesitate to bust people who mess with the property, the animals or the staff. The people who live in the area do not want to be hassled. So leave them alone. Don't be a jerk.
Furthermore, anyone expecting to find the ranch and see UFOs or Bigfoot will be deeply disappointed. Paranormal activity on the property has all but disappeared over the past year, which is a primary reason that access was obtained from NIDS for this article.
The NIDS website is at www.nidsci.org.
The NIDS online report form, where people can electronically report UFO sightings, animal mutilations, etc., is at www.nidsci.org/reportform.html.
The NIDS UFO hotline number is 702-798-1700.
Special Thanks to George Knapp.
Skinwalker Ranch: http://www.skinwalkerranch.org/
http://ufotruth.wordpress.com & Jerel Olson - Photographs.