Friday, March 24, 2017

Following the Southwestern UFO Trail

An area of paranormal research that has come into its own just over the past seven decades-or-so — and one that has increasingly drawn my interest since moving from Virginia to Texas nearly eight years ago — is the investigation of Unidentified Flying Objects, more commonly known as UFOs. “UFO” has, in fact, become an iconic term in its own right and, while the phrase it is derived from does not imply the origin of the objects in question, has become associated in the minds of many with extraterrestrials.
          A little research will quickly reveal that UFOs have been spotted in every state and hundreds of cities, town, and small communities around the United States and, no matter where you live, you don’t need to travel too far to find some local incident to examine. For my money, however, three of the most significant, interesting, and compelling UFO sites can be found in the American Southwest. Each of these is worthy of a pilgrimage for anyone serious about ufology — and in the course of my work as a paranormal investigator I have visited all of them at least once and written about them in various books and articles — and anyone who is especially dedicated could visit them all in a single, 1,400-mile roadtrip starting in Dallas-Fort Worth and ending in Las Vegas (or vice versa).

Aurora, Texas
On April 17, 1897 — almost 50 years exactly before the famous Roswell UFO incident and 500 miles due east of it — a mysterious airship that people had apparently spotted in other locations throughout the country crashed in the little town of Aurora, Texas, just northwest of Fort Worth. And, at the dawn of ufology though this incident was, it was nonetheless associated with aliens.
          “The airship … was traveling due north [and] evidently some of the machinery was out of order, for it was making a speed of only 10 or 12 miles an hour and gradually settling toward the earth,” wrote Aurora resident S.E. Haydon in a story published in the Dallas Morning News two days after the incident. “It sailed directly over the public square and, when it reached the north part of town, collided with the tower of Judge Proctor’s windmill and went to pieces with a terrific explosion, scattering debris over several acres of ground, wrecking the windmill and water tank, and destroying the judge’s flower garden.
          The pilot of the ship is supposed to have been the only one on board, and while his remains are badly disfigured, enough of the original has been picked up to show that he was not an inhabitant of this world. … Papers found on this person — evidently the record of his travels — are written in some unknown hieroglyphics, and cannot be deciphered.
          The ship was too badly wrecked to form any conclusion as to its construction or motive power. It was built of an unknown metal, resembling somewhat a mixture of aluminum and silver, and it must have weighed several tons.”
          This pilot was reportedly buried the next day in the Aurora Cemetery, an event that is briefly mentioned on a Texas Historical Commission marker erected there in 1976: “This site is also well known because of the legend that a spaceship crashed nearby in 1897 and the pilot, killed in the crash, was buried here.” This is particularly interesting in that officialdom generally prefers to ignore peculiar events of this sort rather than enhancing the attention they receive by commemorating them. Modern-day residents of Aurora in general are rather dismissive of the incident and the owner of the land with the sealed well into which the remains of the airship were dumped has been very limited in his cooperation with investigators. Aurora Cemetery is open to the public, however, and is a good place to begin investigating the largely-unknown early history of ufology in America. 

Roswell, New Mexico
In the summer of 1947, something happened near Roswell, New Mexico, that is believed by many to have involved the crash of an alien spacecraft and the death of its extraterrestrial crew. It was one of the earliest UFO episodes of the modern era and, over the ensuing years, has become the most famous and iconic of them, and the subject of innumerable conspiracy theories and fevered conjectures as to its true nature.
          On July 8, 1947, the public information office at Roswell Army Air Field released a statement saying that personnel at the base had recovered a crashed aircraft some 30 miles outside of Roswell.
          “The many rumors regarding the flying disc became a reality yesterday when the intelligence office of the 509th Bomb group of the Eighth Air Force, Roswell Army Air Field, was fortunate enough to gain possession of a disc through the cooperation of one of the local ranchers and the sheriff’s office of Chaves County,” the military press release stated. “The flying object landed on a ranch near Roswell sometime last week. Not having phone facilities, the rancher stored the disc until such time as he was able to contact the sheriff’s office, who in turn notified Maj. Jesse A. Marcel of the 509th Bomb Group Intelligence Office. Action was immediately taken and the disc was picked up at the rancher’s home. It was inspected at the Roswell Army Air Field and subsequently loaned by Major Marcel to higher headquarters.”
          Within 24 hours, however, the service retracted this report and claimed instead that the debris was simply a radar-tracking weather balloon. That was pretty much the end of the story until the late 1970s, when new claims from people involved with the incident drew attention to it once again. And the rest, as they say, is history (albeit a fantastic, lurid history that has included supposed firsthand accounts of alien autopsies).
          Today, a good first place for paranormal investigators interested in this incident to visit is the UFO Museum and Research Center in downtown Roswell. Its exhibits are a little melodramatic and at times a bit redundant but the place really is a labor of love and its organizers have done a terrific job with it, and the associated research library is a bona fide public service to anyone interested in doing any sort of in-depth study into ufology in general or the Roswell incident in particular.

Area 51
Located in the desert wilderness about 100 miles north of Las Vegas, Area 51 is certainly one of the most famous and highly mythologized of all sites associated with UFOs. So well known is the area around this spooky government facility for UFO sightings, in fact, that in 1996 Nevada officially designated its State Route 375 — which runs along the northern edge of Nellis Area Force Base, on which Area 51 is located — as the “Extraterrestrial Highway.” Whether any of the strange aircraft seen in the sky really originate directly or indirectly from an otherworldly source, however, is an open question, and it may simply be that they are test aircraft operating out of the top-secret base.
          A number of unmarked dirt roads head south off of SR 375 into Area 51 and those who are brave enough can follow them until reaching signs informing them that they are subject to being shot if they continue any further. At that point, visitors can generally also see uniformed guards watching them with field glasses from nearby hilltops.
          Somewhat less nerve is required to visit the Little A’Le’Inn, a bar, restaurant, motel, and souvenir shop located in Rachel, Nevada, a hamlet of less than 100 people and the community nearest to the approaches to Area 51. It is also the watering hole for local resident, author, and UFO investigator Chuck Clark, who has appeared on numerous television shows about UFOs, Area 51, and related topics.
          Another feature of note in the area is a commuter lot located east of Rachel at the intersection of SR 375 and Highway 93, where some Area 51 employees park in the morning and then get transported into the facility in a bus with blacked-out windows. 

And, in the vast stretches between the sites described here, there are almost as many UFO sightings, incidents, and stories as there are stars in the sky (I have got too many of my own to list them all here). The truth is out there — and the 1,400-mile “UFO Trail” that runs from northern Texas to southern Nevada is a great place to start looking for it. 

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Comicpalooza 2016 'Paranormal Track' Events

As the coordinator for the Paranormal Track of the Comicpalooza fan convention, I am responsible for developing interesting programming related to ghosthunting and similar subjects. For the past few years I have done this in conjunction with two great Houston-area groups, Dawn Paranormal and the Pasadena Paranormal Research Team, and with the assistance of the America's Haunted Road Trip series of travel guides. Following is the terrific lineup of events we will be presenting at the convention this year. All except for one, the Investigation at Discovery Green, are set to run for up to 90 minutes and will take place in a dedicated panel room at the George R. Brown Convention Center. 

Paranormal 101: Introduction to Ghosthunting (1 p.m.)
Join author Michael Varhola, editor of the “America’s Haunted Road Trip” series of travel guides, Christy Briones of Dawn Paranormal, and Kristen Stout of the Pasadena Paranormal Research Team for an interactive introduction to the subject of ghosthunting that will examine the basics of this popular phenomena and answer questions from attendees.

Paranormal 101: Opening Up with Meditation (2:30 p.m.)
Perr Mittelstaedt and Darcy Tarrillion of the Pasadena Paranormal Research Team will provide a basic introduction on learning meditation and using it as a tool for paranormal investigation. "I have been investigating and learning about the paranormal, meditation, and metaphysics for more than 40 years and have done many different types of investigations, classes, and events," Mittelstaedt says. "I have also given many presentations on UFO research, philosophical topics, and mind expansion. Learning to be quiet internally will allow people to have much better paranormal investigations ... you become your greatest tool, allowing the experience to flow from you to your equipment instead of the conventional vice/versa. Stay open, learn, understand, and experience the amazing worlds that surround us all."

Paranormal 101: Ghosthunting Around the United States (4 p.m.)
Rody Speake, Kay Finlayson, Chris Finlayson, and Darcy Tarrillion of the Pasadena Paranormal Research Team will discuss well-known haunted locations throughout the United States, some of which they have personally investigated. 

Paranormal 102: Ghosthunting San Antonio, Austin, & Texas Hill Country (1 p.m.)
Join author Michael O. Varhola for an exploration of some of the most fascinating haunted sites in San Antonio, Austin, and the Texas Hill Country and get a first-look preview of some of the things that will be appearing in his upcoming book on the subject. 

Paranormal 102: Investigative Equipment (2:30 p.m.)
Experts from the local Pasadena Paranormal Research Team will conduct this hands-on workshop that introduces attendees to the various sorts of equipment used by ghosthunters and other paranormal investigators, including cameras, recorders, EMF meters, digital thermometers, laser grids, and night-vision devices. 

Paranormal 102: Ghosthunting Texas and Louisiana (4 p.m.)
Join experts Christy Briones, Denise Hardin, and Megan Mozelle from the local Dawn Paranormal investigative group for this seminar on a number of the most interesting haunted sites they have investigated in Texas and Louisiana — along with things they have personally experienced at some of them! 

Paranormal 102: Protection Techniques (5:30 p.m.)
Join experts Christy Briones, Denise Hardin, and Megan Mozelle from the local Dawn Paranormal investigative group for a discussion on how to psychically and physically protect yourself before, during, and after an investigation. They will also discuss everyday psychic protection techniques for yourself and your home. 

Paranormal 102: Investigation at Discovery Green (7 p.m.)
Investigators from the local Pasadena Paranormal Research Team will guide attendees on a very special firsthand investigation of Discovery Green, the park located across from the George R. Brown Convention Center! Everyone will meet in the Paranormal Track panel room, where they will receive an orientation and be formed up into groups. They will then proceed across the street to the park for an investigation that will run until between 9 and 10 p.m. There may be limited spaces available so, just in case, feel free to show up a little early to get signed up. 

Paranormal 103: Reviewing Evidence After an Investigation (1 p.m.)
Rody Speake, Katrina Cooper, Kay Finlayson, and Chris Finlayson of the Pasadena Paranormal Research Team explain how to review and then debunk or validate any possible evidence gathered from an investigation using cameras, audio recordings, video recordings, and personal feelings/senses. Specific examples will include any possible evidence gathered during the investigation at Discovery Green being run on Saturday! 

Paranormal 103: Science and the Paranormal (2:30 p.m.)
Christy Briones, Denise Hardin, and Megan Mozelle of the Dawn Paranormal investigative examine how certain environmental conditions may affect how people perceive various sorts of paranormal activity. 

Paranormal 103: Open Forum Q&A (4 p.m.)
Anything goes at this open forum with a panel of professional paranormal investigators from America's Haunted Road Trip, Dawn Paranormal, and the Pasadena Paranormal Research Team! Our experts will address questions about anything related to ghosthunting and other aspects of paranormal investigation. 

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

An Annual Halloween-ish Ghosthunt

Each year I like to return to a site near my home, the 19th-century haunted German burying ground known as the Bremer Cemetery, and conduct a mini paranormal investigation there. I usually do this right on Halloween, shoot for getting there a little before midnight and then staying as long as I need to, and am by myself. This year, however, my friend Brendan flew out to spend the weekend before Halloween workshopping a number of things for our Skirmisher Publishing and d-Infinity, and so I decided to push up the excursion so that we could do it together. 

It rained all day Saturday and did not let up until around 2 a.m. on Sunday morning, at which point we set out and made the 15-minute hike down into the wooded valley below the ridge my home sits on. 

He took all of the following photos and achieved some interesting effects with them by leaving his aperture open for periods of six to 20 seconds, making it look as if some of these were taken during the daytime, rather than the middle of a dark and very overcast night. None of them have been modified in any way. The first three are of the little fenced cemetery itself, and in the first one can see a red dot of some sort in the upper left quarter of the image, but I am not sure whether this qualifies as an anomaly of some sort. The fourth image is of me at the base of a tree around which I have detected paranormal activity during previous visits. 

All in all, our nighttime adventure did not produce any dramatic results but was a good training run and an enjoyable break from our labors! 

Monday, November 9, 2015

Ghost of a Chance (New Braunfels Herald-Zeitung)

Following is a feature article that appeared in the October 31, 2015, edition of the New Braunfels Herald-Zeitung, one of the local newspapers in the title area of my new Ghosthunting San Antonio, Austin, and Texas Hill Country travel guide. 


Friday, October 9, 2015

Event Report: Wimberley Village Library 'Lunch & Learn'

It is kind of fun to talk about one of my books and the research I did for it in the heart of the area it is about! On Wednesday, October 7, I had the pleasure of giving a "lunch and learn" presentation on my just-released Ghosthunting San Antonio, Austin, and Texas Hill Country to a couple dozen people at Wimberley VillageLibrary in Wimberley, Texas. 

Suffice it to say that my one-hour lecture, PowerPoint presentation, and question-and-answer session went very well. Several attendees asked great questions and about half the people came were engaged enough by the subject that they decided to pick up a copy of the new book. 

Thanks very much to everyone who came to this event and to Sarah Davis, the library assistant for circulation and programs, for setting it up! This was my first presentation in historic and haunted Wimberley and I certainly hope it won't be my last. 

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Our Haunted Hill Country

Of the three title areas I cover in my just-released travel guide, Ghosthunting San Antonio, Austin, and Texas Hill Country, the last is undoubtedly my favorite for a number of reasons, one being because it is where I live. This 25-county area is full of historic towns and villages, wilderness areas, lots of ranchland surrounded by fences hung with unwelcoming signage — and numerous haunted places. Following are a handful of my favorites, all of them publicly accessible. 

The Devil's Backbone, aka Ranch-to-Market Road 32, is a haunted highway that corresponds to a ridgeline used by Spanish explorers travelling inland and later by ranchers driving cattle. Parts of this road seem mysterious and haunted under the best of conditions and it is little wonder that it should have so much ghostly lore associated with it, to include an ominous "White Lady" that causes car wrecks. One spot along the highway travelers might want to visit is the Devil's Backbone Tavern, a haunted watering hole located on the site of an old Indian campground and what was once a stagecoach stop. 

Enchanted Rock State Natural Area has been part of the Texas state park system was designated as a Recorded Texas Historic Landmark in 1936. Native Americans believed the site was a portal to the otherworld and there are countless legends, ghost stories, and paranormal phenomena associated with this wondrous natural site, whose name is not arbitrary or just meant to be colorful. 

Jacob's Well is an artesian spring located just north of Wimberley. Peering into the mysterious and ominously beautiful depths of Jacob's Well, it is almost hard to believe that it is not haunted. Native Indians certainly held this natural artesian spring, which rises up through a limestone tube from the unmeasured depths of the underworld, to be sacred and inhabited by elemental spirits of the land. Beyond its appearance and hallowed nature, however, it is also the site of numerous drownings and there are those who believe the ghosts of those who have perished at this spot continue to haunt it.

James Kiehl River Bend Park is a pleasant recreational area situated along the banks of the Guadalupe River. Paranormal phenomena like strange mists, orbs, and EVPs have been noted both at it and a disused SA&AP railway bridge located nearby. There are also four small cemeteries dating at least as far back as the 1800s in the vicinity of the park.

The Treue Der Union Monument in the historic village of Comfort marks one of the strangest, bloodiest, and most heartbreaking episodes in the saga of a violent state, the Nueces Massacre, which took place during the Civil War. There is every reason to think the "Loyalty to the Union" monument might be haunted by the spirits of those whose deaths it memorializes and whose remains it marks.

Wimberley started as a trading post near Cypress Creek in 1848, the year Hays County was organized, and its original gristmill was expanded over the years to process lumber, shingles, flour, molasses, and cotton. The mill was shut down in 1925 but the community has continued to grow in more recent times into a resort town and destination for tourists and ghosthunters alike. Virtually every historic building in the town is reputed to be haunted and late author Bert Wall wrote numerous books specifically about the ghosts and legends of Wimberley and the surrounding area.

Other Hill Country sites with haunted lore associated with them include Fort Martin Scott in Fredericksburg, the Kerr County Courthouse in Kerrville, the Lover's Leap overlook outside of Junction, Schreiner University (notably its Delaney Hall), and the Y.O. Ranch Hotel & Conference Center. There are many more beyond these and if you ask the staff at any two establishments in historic communities in this area chances are at least one of them will have a ghost story associated with it.

And anyone who wants to learn more about haunted places in our area can find my book in stores and at sites like and can follow my Ghosthunting San Antonio, Austin, and Texas Hill Country Blog!

I wrote the above article for the West Comal County Chronicle, a publication I write for off and on that is published by the Bulverde/Spring Branch Library, at which I periodically do educational lectures.