This is the first of a two-part series
They typically come out at night, roaming a secluded ranch south of Fort Duchesne. Flashing lights in the windows and clawing to get into the ranch house, they terrify the elderly couple living there. They make objects on the ranch frequently disappear, never to be seen again or to be found later somewhere else.
And that’s not to mention the supposed creatures these people are roaming the ranch to find.
The Uintah Basin’s Skinwalker Ranch is known worldwide for tales of sometimes-graphic paranormal activity stretching from the mid-1800s to the present day. But activity on the ranch in the past decade has transitioned from the unexplained to the uncivilized – frequent illegal trespassing on private property and around the caretakers’ home. This led the property owner to request that Uintah County vacate the road bisecting the ranch so security could be further heightened and anyone on the road be charged with trespassing.
On July 18, Basin resident Thomas Winterton represented ranch owner Adamantium Real Estate LLC in their request for the vacation of Hicken Ranch Road, which the commission did not approve due to objections from other property owners along the road.
The road is currently gated illegally since it is a public class-D county road, but the owners seek to legitimize the gates by having the road abandoned by the county. The ranch’s previous owner, hotel magnate and aerospace entrepreneur Robert Bigelow, gated the public road to deter trespassers.
The 480-acre ranch purchased by Bigelow, in 1996, was the site of a laboratory for National Institute for Discovery Science (NIDS), an organization Bigelow founded to investigate anomalous activity from a professional, scientific standpoint. Adamantium Real Estate, which acquired the ranch in April 2016, is owned by Bigelow and “an additional individual who, for business purposes, has to remain anonymous,” said Winterton.
“We just have so many problems with trespassers and people down here and vandalism, and it’s very, very scary,” said the elderly woman who, with her husband, is a caretaker for the ranch. “It’s really bad and we really hate it, and we don’t want to be bothered. We’re bothered constantly, day and night.”
That August 2016 interview with the caretaker, who asked not to be named, was cut short by trespassers. “Anyway, I’ve got to go down and check the gate; somebody’s down there right now,” she said.
Security has remained high at the ranch since NIDS ceased operating in 2004, including cameras, motion detectors and 24-hour security personnel who live on the ranch and patrol the grounds nightly. “I was with Bob Bigelow when he made the decision to have the 24-hour security there because it just got out of hand; everyday was a new report of some outrage,” said journalist George Knapp, who in 2002 wrote a two-part “Path of the Skinwalker” article for the Las Vegas Mercury News after being the only reporter Bigelow ever allowed on the property.
In that article, Knapp warned, “Visitors are not welcome at the (Skinwalker 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.” The article also stated, “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.”
Despite his admonitions, Knapp believed his article and subsequent book, “Hunt for the Skinwalker,” brought worldwide notoriety to the ranch and its anomalies, and led to frequent trespassing by UFO enthusiasts, monster hunters and thrill seekers from around the world that has yet to subside.
“I don’t think anybody anticipated that the reaction to the book would be quite what it was,” said Knapp. “But you know, within a year of the book coming out, you had people just being jerks, walking on private property, walking up to the ranch house in the middle of the night, banging on windows, taking flash photos in the windows and scaring the hell out of the people who live there – the foreman and his wife.”
Uintah County Sheriff’s Office spokesman Lt. Brian Fletcher said that a few charges of theft and criminal mischief had stemmed from trespassing on the ranch in recent years, but that many would-be trespassers are shooed away from the ranch during routine patrols.
Bureau of Indian Affairs Fort Duchesne Police Chief Erick Blackburn said that the department occasionally responded to calls on the ranch, but did not mention a prolific problem.
Although reports of anomalous activity at the ranch have been nearly nonexistent since the early 2000s, the property is legendary for its recorded history of unexplained and often frightening events. The most publicized events on the land occurred in the 1990s and include mysterious balls of light, outlandish creatures, UFOs and cattle mutilations, but the lore of the land is far older.
The ranch is surrounded by the Uintah and Ouray Indian Reservation, and bands of the Ute tribe lived in the region for centuries before the arrival of pioneers in the mid-1800s.
According to Joseph “Junior” Hicks, an 89-year-old retired science teacher from Roosevelt, considered an expert on regional UFO sightings, unexplained occurrences and local history, the Utes fought to expel the Navajo from the Basin shortly before the arrival of white settlers. The Navajo eventually left the Basin and its prime hunting to the Utes, but left upon them the curse of a spirit that could take the form of a human, wolf or, some say, any animal.
“The Navajos lost and they, in turn, cursed the Utes with the skinwalker, saying a spiritual person that changes into a wolf will be here to harass you, and they accepted that,” said Hicks. “And so, the skinwalker animal seemed to be on that ridge that they now call the skinwalker ridge.”
Skinwalker Ridge, as it’s informally known, looms to the north of the ranch’s pastures. Its crest is part of the ranch property. “It lives in that area,” said Hicks. “They (Utes) wouldn’t even come by or get near it; they just steer clear of it. They see him moving around on the ridge. They don’t know if he has a home there or what, but quite often he’s there. So they stay away entirely and many people won’t have anything to do with it.”
Hicks said that the Myers family settled the ranch in 1905, making a small homestead of a few buildings on the property’s northwest corner at the foot of Skinwalker Ridge and the edge of their fields. The original homestead was abandoned after the Myers moved to a home on the eastern side of the ranch. Although Hicks said the family didn’t report any strange occurrences, neighbors experienced strange happenings and the next owners of the ranch – the Sherman family – were surprised by what they found when they moved into the home.
When the Sherman family moved to the ranch in 1994 to breed hybrid cattle, they “were curious about the impressive array of bolts that covered the doors and windows of the main house,” Knapp wrote in 2002. “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. [Sherman] guessed the previous tenants had positioned large guard dogs in the front and back of the home, but he had no idea why.”
The family didn’t wonder for long.
Within days, strange animals seemingly immune to being shot were attacking livestock; their tracks inexplicably vanished. Shafts of light rose like pillars from the ground; fields lit up like stadiums; Big Foot-esque beasts terrorized the family; noises of machinery were heard underground; a massive, semi-visible, shapeless entity terrorized the Shermans and visitors; and multiple people often simultaneously heard a deep, incomprehensible, disembodied voice speaking to them, seemingly from above. UFOs the size of large planes were spotted over the property by the Shermans and their neighbors, and small orbs of varying size and opacity floated around the property and seemed to inspect livestock.
“He’d see some of those hybrids (cattle) disappear or be mutilated and he was very much worried about it, so he called on me to look at it,” said Hicks. “Real strange types of things – animals killed, blood was gone, no blood; and certain organs were missing – eyes, nose, genitalia and so on. So that was quite a puzzling thing for them for a while. And then we had some of the strange animals show up when Sherman was there. He tried shooting some of them and, of course, the bullets had no effect.”
Strange disturbances in their home left the family with no safe place and they all slept together, huddled on the floor of one room.
The final straw was when Terry Sherman sent his three dogs to chase glowing blue orbs. The dogs disappeared into the woods after the softball-sized spheres and each yelped loudly before falling silent. The next day, all he found in the woods was scorched ground and three lumps of burnt tar, flesh and hair.
The Shermans put the ranch up for sale in 1996 and Bigelow, who had read about the anomalous events in a June 1996 Deseret News article, bought the property to research the stories. He convinced the Shermans to remain on the ranch for a few more years to aid NIDS researchers in observing and documenting unexplained events. While many thought the influx of researchers would expose the stories as myth, just the opposite seemed to occur.
Learn what the NIDS researches experienced in part two of this story, which will be published next week.