Skinwalker Ranch, also known as Sherman Ranch, is an approximately 512 acres (207 ha) property located southeast of Ballard, Utah, that is reputed to be the site of paranormal and UFO-related activities. Its name is taken from the skin-walker of the Navajo legend concerning vengeful shamans.
UFO reports in the Uintah Basin were publicized in the 70s. Claims about the ranch first appeared in 1996 in the Salt Lake City, Utah, Deseret News, and later in the alternative weekly Las Vegas Mercury as a series of articles by investigative journalist George Knapp. These early stories detailed the claims of a family that allegedly experienced inexplicable and frightening events after they purchased and occupied the property.
In 2005, Colm Kelleher and co-author George Knapp published a book in which they describe the ranch being acquired by the National Institute for Discovery Science (NIDSci) to study anecdotal sightings of UFOs, bigfoot-like creatures, crop circles, glowing orbs, and poltergeist activity reported by its former owners.
The ranch, located in west Uintah County bordering the Ute Indian Reservation, was popularly dubbed the UFO ranch due to its ostensible 50-year history of odd events said to have taken place there. According to Kelleher and Knapp, they saw or investigated evidence of close to 100 incidents that include vanishing and mutilated cattle, sightings of unidentified flying objects or orbs, large animals with piercing red eyes that they say were unscathed when struck by bullets, and invisible objects emitting destructive magnetic fields. Among those involved were retired US Army Colonel John B. Alexander who characterized the NIDSci effort as an attempt to get hard data using a "standard scientific approach". However, the investigators admitted to "difficulty obtaining evidence consistent with scientific publication".
Cattle mutilations have been part of the folklore of the surrounding area for decades. When NIDSci founder Robert Bigelow purchased the ranch for $200,000, this was reportedly the result of his having been convinced by the stories of mutilations that included tales of strange lights and unusual impressions made in grass and soil told by the family of former ranch owner Terry Sherman.
Now, a team of researchers and scientists have been granted access to the ranch – one of the most infamous and secretive hotspots of paranormal and UFO-related activities on earth – to capture their investigation on film, for the very first time.
Sky History spoke to entrepreneur Brandon Fugal, Skinwalker’s current owner who is funding the current investigation and to Dr Travis Taylor who brings his wealth of scientific knowledge gained in the fields of engineering and aerospace system to the investigation.
Brandon Fugal Travis Taylor
Sky HISTORY: Unlike other areas in America famous for UFO activity such as Area 51, there have been strange sightings on Skin Walker Ranch for more than 200 years. Can you give some background to the history of the strange events at the ranch?
Brandon Fugal: 'This is, this is not a contemporary phenomenon, this is something that has been occurring for generations.
'The Native American tribes in the area have spoken for generations of strange occurrences of lights in the sky and unexplained phenomena. Over the course the last few decades we've seen events occur with greater frequency. And for some reason, this specific property appears to be the centre of gravity, for a diversity of unexplained phenomena, ranging from unidentified flying objects to cattle mutilations to orbs appearing and some very troubling electromagnetic anomalies that lead to equipment failures and also, to acute medical episodes.
'People have been seriously harmed, several of my team members have had to go to the hospital with injuries that still defy any conventional explanation. And, and, you know, we take these incidents very seriously. It's important to note that this is a dangerous place. Anyone who enters the perimeter of the property is required to sign a liability waiver. They have to acknowledge the risks associated with being involved with the subject property.'
Sky HISTORY: Brandon, your background is in property and on paper, the ranch does not look like a good investment with its history of UFO sightings, cattle mutilation, and unexplained phenomena. What made you want to purchase it?
Brandon Fugal: 'I see purchasing Skinwalker Ranch as a scientific endeavour. And not one that would provide a meaningful return on investment. My motivation in purchasing the ranch was really to explore those timeless questions: whether we truly are alone in the universe, and the nature of our reality.
'It has blown my mind, owning this property and has completely changed my perspective. It has opened my mind to the possibility that we truly are not alone in the universe that there is more than meets the eye to our existence on this planet. And I find it to be a very inspiring endeavour. We are excited to be able to invite the public on our journey to accompany us as we delve into these topics.
Sky HISTORY: Dr Taylor, what's your involvement in Skinwalker Ranch? And did you have any perceptions about UFOs and the paranormal before joining this project?
Dr Travis Taylor: 'I've always been sceptical of 99.9% paranormal and UFO reports because a lot of witness accounts do not provide scientifically valid data. They are not repeatable and there's usually no scientific instrumentation to back them up whatever the eyewitness testimony might be. Many times, the eyewitness misconstrued or misunderstood what or she is seeing. Even fighter pilots and astronauts sometimes they get it wrong
'And so went into this very sceptical, thinking we were going to find some phenomena like a hallucinogenic plant or some natural phenomena that is causing confusion, or there’s a government base nearby and people don’t understand what they’re seeing.
'And then when that got there I realized that none of that is the case and that there are things happening on the ranch that we just can't explain and that change my perception.
'I don’t like the term ‘paranormal’, I like Brandon’s way of putting it, ‘high-strangeness’ which is much better because paranormal suggests something that can't be explained without supernatural explanations. And I think eventually someday we'll be able to explain what's going on in Skinwalker Ranch, even if it turns out to be from another universe or another dimension or something from outer space or just some natural weird phenomena that Mother Nature is surprising us with.'
Sky HISTORY: In episode 1, Brandon, you mention that the previous owners, the Shermans were terrorised while living on the ranch. What happened to them?
Brandon Fugal: 'The previous owners experienced a diversity of phenomena. Much of it was terrifying. And not only did they observe what can only be described as unidentified flying objects and strange craft flying over the property but they also had a large percentage of their capital mutilated.
'These cattle mutilations occurred in broad daylight within minutes of each other, the cause of which was never detected. And these mutilations were not only surgically precise but, these animals were drained of their blood. Yet there were no traces of blood found on or around or underneath the animals, which was quite disturbing. They had other experiences that can only be described as more poltergeist-like in nature that terrorized them for a period of several years. And after being confronted with such a, a wide range of disturbing events, they decided to sell up.
‘They were approached by the Las Vegas billionaire Robert Bigelow. His company, Bigelow Aerospace had an interest in bringing a team of scientists to the property for the purpose of documenting and investigating the nature of the high strangeness, that was happening there. That whole investigation commenced 24 years ago, and Skinwalker Ranch became the centre of a Pentagon-funded black-budget program that investigated the reality of the UFO phenomena and other unexplained events concerning the property.’
Sky HISTORY: What was the scientific process you undertook, Dr Taylor to monitor the strange activity on the ranch? Did you take any pointers from Bigelow’s previous investigation?
Dr Travis Taylor: 'Since Bigelow never released any of his information to anybody, it might as well never have happened. Because part of the scientific method is that other scientists have to be able to repeat your experiments to see what happens.
‘The first thing I wanted to do is measure the ambient electromagnetic and acoustic fields. And as soon as I got there we measured unusual electromagnetic and microwave radiation that can't be explained and we couldn't find the source for it.
'There's a mythos about the ranch that if you dig bad things will happen. And so we looked into how we could go about doing that in a safe way. With an investigation, you start small, and as you uncover things it gets a little bigger - the hope being that it will stimulate, whatever the phenomena are to occur, and boy did we do that.
Sky HISTORY: Dr Taylor, did you have any first-hand experienced with any ‘high-strangeness’ while you were investigating the ranch?
Dr Travis Taylor: 'Name almost every phenomenon you associate with UFOs, and I experienced it. There are even fourteen seconds of my life that are missing. And cameras missed it. The cameras were always on me and they blacked out. I remember things happening that nobody else was able to verify. The whole experience was strange.
'There's something that happens out there that once you get exposed, it affects you in some way or the other that I'm not exactly sure how to explain. In the last eight or nine months of my life since I was on the ranch, I've had more troubling nightmares than I had as a previous fifty years of my life. And it's not because I'm afraid of the ranch because I love the place but I think there's something about the place that maybe it's affecting how I think about thing or how I sleep, or something. But it's an interesting phenomenon that is real, that I would have never believed was real from just reading the story or seeing the YouTube videos people talk about.'
Sky HISTORY: Brandon, in episode 1, the ranch is described as having a personality. How can you explain this to someone who has never visited?
Brandon Fugal: 'It’s a strikingly beautiful and haunting place. It not only features some of the most stunning landscapes and backdrops but a number of very haunting older pioneer dwellings that remain standing to this day. The experiences and the mood, on the property, can change from one moment to the next. One moment; it feels peaceful on the property and in the next moment, it can be terrifying. The events that occur, come without provocation, without warning.
'They can not only be startling but disturbing to those that are involved in the investigation and residing on the property right now. I think it's important to note that the number of individuals who were part of the previous owner's investigation, vow never to set foot on the property ever again for the rest of their lives. In fact, Mr Bigelow himself stated that he has no desire, ever to return to the property.'
Sky HISTORY: You are a man of faith, Brandon, how do you reconcile your religious beliefs with your experiences with Skinwalker Ranch?
I was raised to believe our existence is not a mistake. There is a higher power that there is a creator. And, and that we are not alone in the universe. And I believe the scientific investigation that we are conducting on the property has the potential to bear witness to the fact that we are not alone in the universe and I find it very, very consistent with not only the faith that I was raised in but also with the belief system of most of those who practice some type of religion on this planet.
'I think most people believe that our consciousness continues after death. And I think a scientific explanation for that could be that we truly living in a multi-dimensional reality. Could Skinwalker Ranch provide a glimpse into other dimensions of reality? I believe that could be possible. And I also believe that our investigation. And our scientific research has the potential to advance human knowledge. And the very understanding of our existence and role in the universe, like no other project.'
Sky HISTORY: As a scientist, Dr Taylor, has being involved in Skinwalker Ranch changed your outlook in any way?
Dr Travis Taylor: When I hear people talk about having an unexplained experience. I think about them a little differently now because I can tell that something occurred while I was there. Normal, everyday people don't have scientific equipment following them around and they have nothing but their word for their experiences.
'I now feel bad for them because everybody's been sceptical of them for so long and, you know, some of them are probably made up but some of them probably are not. And it's changed the way I look and listen. When people talk to me about those types of things.
'And also, investigation invigorated me to realize that this is a national and global imperative that we figure out what these phenomena is, not just from a philosophical and metaphysical standpoint but from a national security and faith standpoint. And so I'm really excited and enthused and invigorated to get to the bottom of whatever the secret is.'