What Is Skinwalker Ranch, and What’s Really Going on There?

By Brian Higgins
March 17, 2023

Did you know that one of the most uniquely mysterious places in the world is right here in Utah? Rumors of UFOs and extraterrestrial beings have been swirling around this area for years, but despite the stories, no hard evidence has ever been released to show what’s really going on there. In fact, the world may never know …

But enough about the big U2 claw outside of Loveland Aquarium. Let’s talk about Utah’s second-most mysterious site, Skinwalker Ranch. Located in the Uinta Basin, this paranormal hotspot boasts claims of flying saucers, mysterious lights, unknown illnesses, shape-shifting monsters and just about everything else you can think of. It’s so well known, in fact, that there have been several books written about the property, and it’s even the subject of a History Channel show. 

But just how did this patch of land in eastern Utah gain worldwide notoriety, and how many of its strange stories are worth believing? The first question is easy to answer, but we’ll let you make up your own mind on the second one.

History of Skinwalker Ranch

The Utes and the Navajo

The earliest known inhabitants of this land played a big part in its ominous name. The property lies on land traditionally inhabited by the Ute Tribe, but the term “skin-walker” comes from Navajo legend, and translates to “by means of it, it goes on all fours.” 

In Navajo culture, skin-walkers are evil witches with the ability to shapeshift into any animal or human. The skin-walker legend is not well understood outside of Navajo culture, but what little is known about it by outsiders is enough to inspire scary stories of all varieties. One such story involves the Ute tribe. The legend goes that during a time of hostility between the Utes and Navajo, members of the Navajo decided to unleash skin-walkers upon their enemies, and those skin-walkers still stalk the land today … 

The Shermans

The idea of shapeshifting witches in the present-day Uinta Basin might be hard for some to believe, but not for the Sherman family, who purchased the ranch in 1994 with the intention of settling down and relaxing in their new country home. 

If that sounds like the beginning of a horror movie, it’s for good reason. The Shermans experienced a lot of spooky goings-on during their time at the ranch, most notably with something matching the description of a skin-walker. 

One night, Terry Sherman heard a noise outside and was startled to see a wolf in his yard — one much larger than any he had ever seen. Terry grabbed his gun from inside and shot the wolf several times, but his bullets appeared to do no damage whatsoever. Although the wolf did take off eventually, its tracks disappeared entirely as Terry chased it, as if it had simply vanished into thin air. 

Could it have been an ancient skin-walker that scared them that night? One thing’s for certain, it was far from the only scare that the Shermans got during their time there. During their years at the ranch, they reported seeing various kinds of flashing lights and mysterious objects in the sky, strange circles in their fields, mysterious voices floating overhead and countless cattle mutilations. 

Unlike those families in horror movies, the Shermans decided to dump the property before it was too late. They sold the ranch in 1996, just two years after they had bought it. 

Robert Bigelow and NIDSci 

Who would be stupid enough to buy a haunted ranch? Someone with a lot of money who’s into that kind of thing, of course. And boy was Robert Bigelow into that kind of thing. Just a year earlier, in 1995, he had founded the National Institute for Discovery Science to fund research on UFOs and the paranormal. The Shermans’ nightmare ranch was Bigelow’s playground, and in 1996 the eccentric millionaire bought Skinwalker Ranch and made it a research hub of NIDSci.

Of course, one of the main points that skeptics will make about Skinwalker is that most of the evidence for paranormal activity on the ranch comes from the Shermans, who sold the ranch to a millionaire known for his interest in UFO research. Could they have faked cow mutilations and invented tales of wolf men to entice Bigelow or another buyer? 

It’s an interesting theory, however, the Shermans didn’t exactly milk Bigelow for all he was worth. They sold the ranch for around $200,000, which was an average price for a home in that day, and certainly a low one for a 500-acre ranch. Their behavior seems less in line with people trying to turn a profit, and more like folks who were trying to get the heck out of dodge.

So what did Bigelow and NIDSci find? Well, if they found any definitive, world-changing evidence of UFOs or alien life, they kept it to themselves. What they did find — that we know of — was much the same as the Shermans. NIDSCi researchers have shared stories of mysterious creatures with otherworldly eyes that shone through the dark. They also found cattle mutilations, including one that occurred in broad daylight, less than an hour after they had seen the cow alive and healthy. This was also noteworthy because there was a complete lack of blood surrounding the cow, even though it had been almost completely disemboweled.

NIDSci’s stories definitely add to the mystery of Skinwalker, but with years of research and millions in funding, you might expect something more. Well, their lack of evidence could serve as evidence itself. On many occasions, their expensive audio and visual equipment failed to capture what several eyewitnesses had clearly seen, from large mysterious animals to flying orbs in the sky.

NIDSci disbanded in 2004, but maintained ownership of the property until 2016. When Skinwalker finally did change hands, it was passed off to a group that would experience a lot of the same anomalies (and frustrations) as NIDSci.

Brandon Fugal and the History Channel

In 2016, Bigelow sold the ranch to a buyer who wished to remain anonymous … for a whopping four years. Brandon Fugal, a Utah real estate mogul, announced in 2020 that he was the mysterious owner, and that the History Channel would be recording a reality TV show on the property titled “The Secret of Skinwalker Ranch.” 

The show portrays Fugal’s attempts to bring scientific approaches to the mysteries surrounding the ranch. Surrounded by a team of experts in a range of scientific disciplines (as well as a guy named Dragon), Fugal seeks answers to the questions that he and countless others have asked over the years. If it sounds a lot lok NIDSCi, that’s because it is — reality TV just wasn’t as popular in 1996.

Like so many investigators before them, the current occupants of Skinwalker Ranch have found more questions than answers. Why does electronic equipment seem to malfunction on the ranch? Why have so many occupants reported unexplained illnesses? Why does the indescribable feeling of strangeness they feel on the ranch seem to follow them home? Why is there a grown man named Dragon? Did he give himself that nickname? Does he make his friends call him Dragon all the time? The search for answers continues.

Other Local Tales

The inhabitants of Skinwalker Ranch may have reported slightly different stories over the years, but they have a few things in common that are hard to shake. Most notable is the strong conviction that what they’re seeing is the real deal. And it’s a conviction shared by many in the area. 

Since the 1950s, there have been hundreds of reports of UFOs and unexplained phenomena in the Uinta Basin, and not just at Skinwalker. Neighbors of the ranch report seeing various types of bright lights in the sky, often appearing as a shape that looks like a doorway or portal. Others report giant flying objects. 

Cattle mutilations are common too; some neighbors have reported seeing cows that appeared to have been struck by lightning with no sign of scorched earth to be found. One group shared a story of trying to spot UFOs one night, only to return to find that their car had been moved without a trace of tire tracks in the desert sand. Perhaps most horrifyingly, however, is the story of a group of History Channel production assistants who have to get coffee for Dragon every day.

So What’s Really Going On?

There are plenty of theories as to what’s going on over at Skinwalker Ranch, and — you guessed it — some of them are pretty out there. But something’s definitely going on, so what’s the harm in venturing a guess?

Theory #1: People Are Lying to Get Money

Subscribers to this theory were likely the same people who raised their hand at the end of class and reminded the teacher that they had homework due. It’s not a fun theory at all, and so it shouldn’t even be considered. 

Theory #2: Extraterrestrial Visitors

Unsurprisingly, this is one of the most popular theories about the anomalies at Skinwalker. It would certainly explain a lot of things, like the bright lights, flying objects, strange voices, electrical disturbances and cattle mutilated with scientific precision. But why would our flying friends be so secretive? Maybe they’re filming a docuseries of their own. 

Theory #3: Interdimensional Visitors

It’s just like Theory #2, but with sort of a “Marvel Cinematic Universe” twist. Rather than believing that UFOs arrived from another planet, subscribers to this theory believe that they arrived from a parallel dimension or universe. Sounds crazy, but this would certainly explain why the lights in the sky sometimes appear to look like portals. And any kind of interdimensional gateway would be bound to cause some anomalies nearby, right? 

Theory #4: Geophysical Processes Causing the Brain to Hallucinate

Hold onto your brain-protecting tin foil hats for this one, cause it’s a doozy. Developed by neuroscientist Michael Persinger, this theory posits that geophysical forces like tectonic shifts, seismic activity, geomagnetic fields and others may affect the part of the brain involved with creating hallucinations. Under this reasoning, everything people experience at Skinwalker is a result of increased seismic activity in the area. So those shapeshifters, UFOs and portals are all just a result of the witnesses’ brains going haywire on account of the imperceptible change to the local environment. It’s all pretty out-there, but this theory has the biggest words in it, so that makes it the most likely. 

Can You Visit Skinwalker Ranch?

Since the ranch is on private property, you can’t visit without being invited by the owners. We don’t recommend trying to sneak in, either, because their head of security is pretty tough. We won’t say who it is, but their name rhymes with Tragon.

If you’re interested in a UFO sighting of your own, there’s a campground just outside the ranch that advertises UFO themed ATV tours that are “the closest you can legally get.” Otherwise, you can try your luck UFO-spotting at one of the state parks in Uinta Basin like Steinaker, Starvation Reservoir or Red Fleet State Parks.

Will you see any flying saucers or mysterious lights as you stare up at the night sky? We can’t make any promises. But we can promise that on a trip to the Uinta Basin you’ll explore some amazing scenery, meet lots of friendly folks and behold a breathtaking blanket of stars, with or without UFOs. 

Because that’s our theory — whoever or whatever is visiting Skinwalker Ranch is doing so because Utah isn’t just the best tourist destination in the world, it’s the best tourist destination in any world.

Where is Skinwalker Ranch?



152 E. 100 N.
Vernal, UT 84078

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