Dean Traylor is a freelance writer and teacher who writes about various subjects, including education and creative writing.
Concrete barrier walls are not something one expects to find on a dirt road leading to a ranch. One would imagine this in a military zone in front of well-fortified buildings. Their mere existence conjures up images of war-torn Iraq or Afghanistan—not rural Utah.
Additionally, these walls contrast to the open and seemingly accommodating country surrounding the 480-acre ranch. It’s also one of many things that indicates that visitors are not welcome at Skinwalker Ranch.
Electronic surveillance devices, as well as guards and fences surrounding the ranch, protect this privately owned property at all times. And, if the concrete barriers don’t dissuade visitors from approaching the ranch’s gate entrance, guards will tell them that the ranch is, “considered dangerous and unpredictable (Altereddemsions.net, 2012).”
Oddly enough, this is not the only strange thing about Skinwalker Ranch. Accounts abound of ghosts, cryptids, UFOs, secret experiments, and countless paranormal activities. Additionally, according to presumed accounts from the indigenous Ute Nation, the land where the ranch resides has been “cursed” for hundreds of years.
The story of Skinwalker Ranch blurs the line between urban legend, the paranormal, and reality. It’s the kind of stuff tailored for conspiracy theories as well as a backdrop to a movie (which did come to fruition in 2013).
What is the real story behind this place? Unfortunately, it’s complicated. Many websites and pieces written on the subject tend to side with the notion that this place is ground zero for the supernatural. The secretive nature of the owner of the property—an organization coordinated by a Las Vegas billionaire—doesn’t help clarify this thorny question. Instead, one is left with speculation on how such a place could attract so much speculation and controversy. It's no wonder why it has been dubbed "the strangest place in the world."
How It Got Its Name
The ranch is located near the small towns of Ballard and Fort Duchesne, Utah and outside the Unitah and Ouray Reservation. If the legends are true, that’s exactly where the Ute tribe wants it to be.
As the story goes, the land the ranch is on was cursed by the Navajo after they were expelled from the region in the mid-1800s. The “curse,” in this case, was a vicious wolf-like creature known as the skinwalker.
According to Navajo tradition and an article on Line-up.com by Grazia Rutherford-Swan, skinwalkers are “shape-shifting” beasts that . . .
- steal animal or human skins and change into them.
- use mental powers to control their victims before changing into them.
- take the forms of wolves, coyotes, owls, foxes, eagles, crows, and sometimes humans (Swan, 2018).
- imitate the powers of witches (in some publications, they are considered witches).
According to numerous blogs and websites, the Ute refer to the land as “forbidden” and do not allow members of their tribe to enter this particular place.
Still, the ranch took on other names—albeit nicknames—over the years. In the past, it was referred to as Sherman Ranch (named after one of its past owners), and UFO Ranch. Skinwalker Ranch, however, stood the test of time, in part due to its supposed connection to the history of the indigenous people in the region.
A Family Terrorized by Mysterious Events
The skinwalker legend gave the place its name. Reports of UFO sightings in the area during the 1950s gave the ranch some exposure to the outside world, but it wasn’t until the mid-1990s that the legend really took off and became an international phenomenon.
In autumn of 1994, Terry and Gwen Sherman (names vary per sources) bought the long-vacant ranch in the arid Unitah Basin near Unitah Mountain and moved their family in. They hoped to raise cattle on the land, something that is very common in this region.
The original inhabitants had abandoned it under mysterious circumstances. It was assumed they couldn’t compete with other nearby ranches and vacated the place when they couldn’t keep up with the finances. Immediately, events would put that thought into question.
Terry saw what appeared to be a wolf attacking one of his cattle. He retaliated by shooting at it with a handgun. But, it was all for not; the creature, unharmed, continued its rampage before vanishing into the harsh landscape.
According to writer Emily Madriga for the site Thought Catalog, when the family moved in, they discovered that “some of the doors and windows had deadbolts on both the inside and outside.”
Madriga also reported in her article, “17 Creepy Facts About Utah’s Skinwalker Ranch”, that they found large chains that appeared to be used for restraining a large and massive animal.
That was only the beginning. The article stated that they witnessed or experienced . . .
- multiple cattle mutilations.
- crop circles.
- hearing discombobulated voices.
- inanimate objects moving on their own.
- bizarre birds and animals.
- “blue orbs” (possibly ghosts).
In one harrowing account, Terry saw what appeared to be a wolf attacking one of his cattle. He retaliated by shooting at it with a handgun. But, it was all for not; the creature, unharmed, continued its rampage before vanishing into the harsh landscape. It wasn’t the first time nor the last. In all, the Shermans claimed they lost 20% of their cattle herd to “mutilation.”
If that wasn’t enough of a mystery, then the strange lights that lit up their property or the UFO the size of “two football fields” being piloted by aliens described as being “over seven feet” may satisfy. Finally, in 1996, the Shermans vacated Skinwalker Ranch—never to return.
Local Media Takes Notice
The Shermans may have fled the ranch, but others came flocking in. Throughout the mid-90s local press such as Salt Lake City’s Desert News, began reporting the alleged sightings of UFOs and bizarre lights over Skinwalker Ranch.
The news of the events captured the attention of one man, Las Vegas billionaire Robert Bigelow. Eventually, he’d buy the ranch for $200,000. But, Bigelow—who made his fortune through real-estate development and hotels (he started Budget Suites)—didn’t have redevelopment in mind.
Bigelow and the NIDS
The reason for Bigelow’s interest pertains to a long-held secret he had. Although he made his fortune through real estate, his interest was in astronomy. He kept this desire from his family and never pursued any form of science in his college years. Once he became wealthy, however, he began to fulfill that childhood dream by starting the aerospace company, Bigelow Aerospace.
His interest, however, soon strayed into the fringe. In 1995, he founded the National Institute for Discovery Science (NIDS). Its main goal was to research and advance the concept of fringe science, which included aspects of the paranormal and ufology (the study of UFOs). Its chief administrator, Dr. Colm Kelleher, Ph.D., went further to explain: “We don’t study aliens, we study anomalies . . .”
Closed to the Public
The Ute Nation may have prohibited its members from stepping onto the ranch, but it didn’t stop the non-indigenous population from entering. That had to change. Bigelow and NIDS intended to investigate the purported events that occurred there. But, in doing so, they didn’t need the outside world to interfere.
As the new owner of the ranch, Bigelow sent NIDS to investigate the purported events that occurred there. In doing so, the team’s first move was to close the road running through the ranch. Although the dirt road, Hicken Ranch Road, was a public road at the time, NIDS managed to illegally set up place gates at each entrance.
In addition, the team fenced off the area and added other security measures. NIDS may have wanted total privacy in order to investigate the place, but their security efforts brought more attention and speculation about their motives. Were they really investigating the unusual mysteries at the ranch, or were they working on top-secret government projects (something that Bigelow Aerospace had been doing in the past)? More questions than answers were raised, and there is still a lot of speculation to this day.
A Hotline Is Established
In 1999, NDIS, with Colm Kelleher in charge, decided to reach out to the outside world when they established a hotline to report odd occurrences in the surrounding communities and beyond.
Over 5,000 calls and e-mails were received. Apparently, the residence within this sparsely populated area claimed to have witnessed a lot. These sighting included . . .
- cattle mutilations,
- ball lightning,
- unidentified aircraft,
- various types of lights and orbs, and
- crop circles.
After a while, NIDS abandoned the project.
The End? Not Quite
In 2004, Bigelow disbanded NIDS. In part, the group’s secrecy and lack of results (if there were any) from their research played a part in its dissolution. Then again, no one is certain, considering that little the group did was reported in local and national media.
This could have been the end of research at Skinwalker Ranch. It appeared it was destined to return to obscurity; however, Kelleher and Las Vegas reporter George Knapp kept the story alive in their book, Hunt for the Skinwalker.
Knapp was no stranger to the paranormal. As an investigative TV reporter, he did stories on Area 51, UFOs, and other anomalies. In 2006, Knapp was interviewed for the popular paranormal-themed radio show, Coast to Coast AM. He claimed that strange things were still happening at the ranch, including a visit from the “bullet-proof” wolf-like creature that he personally witnessed. Later in that interview, he claimed that "It gets weirder."
The story of Skinwalker Ranch got more bizarre and secretive, even without adding the alleged paranormal activity. The ranch sold for $4.5 million to Adamantium Real Estate. At a July 18, 2016 Unitah County commission meeting, Thomas Winterton, a representative from the real estate holding company, asked have Hicken Ranch Road through Skinwalker Ranch vacated in order to make it a private road, due to “rampant trespassing issues (Murdock, 2016).”
According to the article from UBMedia.biz, Hicken Ranch Road was a public class-D country road. However, Bigelow and NIDS—as well as the new owners, illegally blocked the roads through Skinwalker Ranch. Adamantium successfully got approval. But, they had to temporarily open the gates before the date of the road’s was to be vacated.
In the process, speculation arose that Admantium was actually a company owned by the ranch’s previous owner, Robert Bigelow. According to the UBMedia.biz article, Winterton denied this, despite mentioning, “Bigelow Aerospace had brought one Admantium Real Estates.”
Others, especially those in support of fringe science, claimed that the place was a vortex or that something truly evil was happening there. The speculations within the paranormal community runs rampant.
More Questions Than Answers
Many have speculated upon the mysteries surrounding Skinwalker Ranch. NIDS claimed inconclusively that some of the events were hallucinations or delusions. One scientist not associated with the group surmised that “vibrational frequency” may have caused people to see things.
Others, especially those in support of fringe science, claimed that the place was a vortex or that something truly evil was happening there. The speculations within the paranormal community continue to run rampant.
Still, the phenomena may have “earthly” explanations. Some of the sightings of UFOs and lights in the sky may have come from rockets launched from a nearby military base. In addition, some skeptics point out that most of the stories were based on a few people's accounts and were possibly sensationalized by NIDS and reporters covering the story. They explain that those championing the paranormal concept had much to gain by doing so, such as more money and exposure from an interested public.
While much of the Skinwalker Ranch story may contain elements of truth, it is also shrouded in bold claims and mystery. The bizarre and secretive handling of its ownership by Bigelow, NIDS, and Adamantium only generates more speculations. The purpose of Skinwalker Ranch was supposed to be raising cattle. Instead, the urban legend surrounding this place has produced several lingering mysteries.
George Knapp Talks About the Skinwalker
Questions & Answers
Question: Will you get arrested if you try to walk down the access road of Skinwalker Ranch, and how close can you walk to the property?
Answer: Not sure how close you can get. What I do know is that its private property and supposedly had (or still has) security. The existing pictures I've seen indicate that at one time, the access road had a barrier to slow traffic down, but not necessarily to prevent access to the facility.
© 2018 Dean Traylor
Patricia Scott from North Central Florida on November 26, 2019:
O my. I do find articles such as this ones that catch my interest. Who knows what really happened there but I will not be the first to dispute it as I was not there. Thanks for sharing Angels are headed your way this morning ps
Fin from Barstow on November 25, 2019:
A lot of stuff in here and lots of speculation. You go from UFOs to military to cryptoids and myths. I haven't heard of this place but will definitely look it up. You have piqued my interest.
What I think is interesting is how there seem to be a few of this places - there is a compound somewhere in - I want to say the Dakotas - and that these places are spaced apart and sort of isolated.
I wonder if there is a connection with Area 51 or with the Denver Airport. There has been talk about the underground tunnel system too and I wonder if these are just stop over places for the subteranian travelers...
Shawindi Silva from Sri lanka on September 15, 2019:
SOOOOOO INTERESTING !!!
That's some freaky stuff. on January 20, 2019:
Crazy stuff. Very interesting
Nock Patel from Ahmedabad on October 24, 2018:
Yes it is.
Patricia Scott from North Central Florida on October 19, 2018:
Wow....quite something. I will need to read again to absorb all of it. Angels are on the way. ps