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.