The Bizarre History of Skinwalker Ranch
If you asked a random person to name the eeriest places on Earth – places synonymous with unexplained, X Files-esque phenomena – the Bermuda Triangle and Area 51 would probably top the list. But, despite their infamy, they’ve got nothing on Skinwalker Ranch, a place so weird that it’s flummoxed scientific experts and terrified even the most cynical onlookers.
The massive ranch sprawls across over 500 acres of northern Utah in a region known as the Uintah Basin. The whole area has, since the days of early Spanish missionaries, swirled with rumours of strange goings on. In the words of journalist George Knapp, it’s “been the site of simply unbelievable paranormal activity. UFOs, Sasquatch, cattle mutilations, psychic manifestations… you name it, residents here have seen it.”
The epicentre of it all is Skinwalker Ranch, which first came to national attention in the mid-1990s, when the Sherman family – who had purchased the ranch in 1994 – shared their incredible stories with the media.
Monstrous wolves and lights in the sky
One day, shortly after settling into their dream country homestead, Terry and Gwen Sherman were startled by the sight of a fearsome animal – perhaps a wolf or coyote – stalking towards their livestock pen. When it grabbed a calf in its jaws, Terry fired at it with a handgun and then a rifle. Despite being hit, the creature didn’t seem hurt and simply wandered away into the bushes. Its foul stench, like rotting flesh, stayed with the Shermans.
In the weeks and months that followed, visitors to the ranch reported seeing unidentifiable beasts moving in the woods and letting out roars. And then there were the lights, hovering and zipping about in the sky, including “large orange circles” and “blue spheres” that flew around, as if directed by unseen forces. Most disturbingly, animals on the ranch began to die in grotesque ways. Some of their dogs were seemingly incinerated in the night, while cows were found dismembered and “cored out” with the kind of surgical precision that ruled out attacks by coyotes.
A newspaper article about the Shermans’ terrifying experiences attracted the notice of an unlikely party: billionaire property magnate Robert Bigelow. As well as being a hard-headed businessman, he had a passion for space travel and the paranormal, founding the National Institute for Discovery Science (NIDS), which was effectively his own personal X-Files team. Fascinated by the history of the region, Bigelow bought the ranch.
Visitors to the ranch reported seeing unidentifiable beasts moving in the woods and letting out roars
“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,” recounted journalist George Knapp, who visited the ranch when Bigelow and NIDS had settled in.
The team set up monitoring equipment, observation posts and round-the-clock surveillance. The activity triggered conspiracy theories among UFO-watchers, leading Bigelow to give an interview denying he was in cahoots with the CIA, or that he had prior contact with aliens in Utah.
What makes the story of Skinwalker Ranch so remarkable is that the curious phenomena carried on even when under intense scrutiny by NIDS. Researchers witnessed the same inexplicable lights which the Shermans had reported, yet their equipment would mysteriously malfunction at critical moments. There were even cases of electronic equipment being physically mangled and shredded, and wires ripped out. One NIDS consultant, retired army intelligence officer John Alexander, later said in an interview that a “pre-cognitive sentient intelligence” was at work on the ranch, somehow predicting what the NIDS team were going to do next, and scuppering their equipment accordingly.
What is really going on?
The sheer number of incidents around Skinwalker Ranch, the number of different eyewitnesses, and the general reputation of this part of northeastern Utah, has led many to take the case more seriously than other UFO hotspots. There’s also the connection to Native American folklore to consider.
The very name, Skinwalker Ranch, alludes to one of the most feared entities in Navajo culture and history: skinwalkers are reputed to be malevolent witches who mastered the ability of changing into different creatures. The hulking, wolf-like beast confronted by the Shermans (which seemed to resemble the large, long-extinct dire wolf that used to prowl North America) as well as other creatures seen by NIDS observers, have been linked to legends of skinwalkers in the region.
Intriguingly, there is a long-standing local legend linking the presence of skinwalkers to hostile relations between two Native American peoples, the Navajo and the Utes. In the words of historian Sondra Jones, author of Being and Becoming Ute, “The Navajo were more aggressive people, they took slaves, they had Ute slaves.” And, according to the local legend, a territorial dispute led the Navajo to curse the land and unleash skinwalkers there.
The historical basis for such legends are hazy. Speaking to a Vice reporter looking into the rumours, Betsy Chapoose, the Cultural Rights and Protection Director for the Ute tribe, acknowledged that various oral tales may have evolved over the generations, but emphasised that she personally had never heard of any Navajo curse being placed on the land.
Putting aside explanations relating to Indigenous lore, there has been speculation around possible alien activity and secret government experiments. Now, with the ranch having been passed into the hands of a new owner, the major new History series The Curse of Skinwalker Ranch will be delving into the mysteries of the region. A team of experts will be using hard science, including drone thermography and laser technology, to examine the whole ranch in unprecedented detail. Could some kind of answer finally be found?