There is a place in Utah, America, which is a veritable cornucopia of the strange and unusual for those who believe in such things. The so-called Skinwalker Ranch boasts stories of everything from unexplained animal mutilations, monstrous bullet-proof cryptids, and shapeshifting humans to UFOs and even ghosts. It’s a medley of paranormal and paranoid content that has been so popular that it has inspired a History Channel “documentary” series called The Secret of Skinwalker Ranch. But as entertaining as all these stories may be, what is the actual evidence supporting them? The answer is remarkably simple – none.
Skinwalker Ranch is named after the traditional stories of the Navajo people who live in the Southwestern United States. In these stories, vengeful shamans/evil witches have the ability to change shape or to possess humans and animals. According to legend, these skin-walkers were unleashed on the local Ute Tribe by the Navajo and are still out there.
In 1994, the ranch was bought by the Sherman family who allegedly purchased the land to live a quiet and settled life. But, so the story goes, their gentle plans were disturbed by a series of “terrifying” otherworldly encounters with the paranormal.
The family claims to have witnessed werewolf-like beings, as well as strange lights in the sky, crop-circle-like markings in their fields, disembodied voices floating in the air, and many cattle mutilations. These experiences were all too much for the family who sold the property in 1996 and moved on.
The Shermans sold the preternatural property to Robert Bigelow, a wealthy UFO enthusiast who, in 1995, had founded the National Institute for Discovery Science (NIDSCi) to fund research into the spooky more generally.
Skinwalker Ranch became Bigelow’s personal playground and NIDSCi claimed to have experienced many disturbing events and encounters like the Shermans throughout the time that they owned it. Importantly, despite all their apparent efforts, the team did not manage to provide any actual evidence for any of it. According to Colm Kelleher, a co-author of the 2005 book Hunt for the Skinwalker, who was part of the NIDSCi effort:
“After several years of [Sherman] family trauma and of focused NIDS investigation, we managed to obtain very little physical evidence of anomalous phenomena, at least no physical evidence that could be considered as conclusive proof of anything.”
So far so questionable, but credulity takes another turn soon after. In 2016, the ranch was sold to Brandon Fugal, a real estate investor who gave the History Channel’s film crew access to the property for their “investigations”. The show is presented as attempting to bring a scientific approach to prove the existence of all the things that have apparently occurred at the ranch. And while it may be very entertaining to watch and has caused much excitement on social media, the team have yet to provide anything to back up their supposed experiences.
There are also claims that the Pentagon were interested in Skinwalker Ranch for its unexplained phenomenon. The Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program (ATTIP) was set up in 2007 to investigate UFOs by the then Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. It received $22 million in funding over five years. Although ATTIP stopped operating in 2012, the US government’s interest in UFOs did not and is being run by the Unidentified Aerial Phenomenon Task Force.
ATTIP’s interest in Skinwalker Ranch is often cited as proof of something weird going on, but, as Robert Sheaffer, a freelance writer and UFO skeptic, has pointed out, “very little seems to have happened.” For Sheaffer, AATIP’s documents amount to “weird science” that do not “directly relate to investigating UFO reports.” Ultimately, he concludes, “the ‘phenomenon’ at Skinwalker is almost certainly illusory”.
Significantly, the family who owned the property before the Shermans lived there for over 60 years and denied ever experiencing anything akin to the strangeness that it has become known for ever since. It seems most of the original unusual phenomenon only affected Terry Sherman, who subsequently worked on the ranch as a caretaker after Bigelow bought it.