There might be something extraterrestrial going on in Colorado’s San Luis Valley – at least that what some of the long-term residents will tell you.

This part of the state is a vast high-altitude valley, spanning 8,000 square miles in south-central Colorado at an average elevation of 7,664 feet above sea-level – approximately 120 miles long and 75 miles wide. It’s home to the Great Sand Dunes and is drained by the iconic Rio Grande River, created by the Rio Grande Rift, which is thought to have occurred 26 million years ago. It’s unique, it’s beautiful, and it’s a great part of the state to find yourself during a warm summer weekend.

However, what’s especially intriguing about this valley is what allegedly goes on above it. UFO sightings are a common occurrence here, where there’s no light pollution to cloud the skies and the reaches of the stars seem to stretch for an eternity. A flat plot of land full of mystery, welcome to “The Bermuda Triangle of the West.”

The Bermuda Triangle of the West

The word “vast” is an understatement when describing the San Luis Valley.

In seemingly every direction, the San Luis Valley stretches flat for miles, eventually encircled by a sharp ridgeline of mountains reaching heights above 14,000-feet in the distance. Prehistorically speaking, the area used to be a massive lake – and it’s easy to see how that could be the case while standing on the valley floor. The valley is essentially a large basin that lost its once-trapped water over time.

There are several small towns scattered about – Del Norte, Alamosa, Crestone – but it’s easy to feel isolated here, especially at night. Unnatural sounds are rarely heard once off the main highway that travels through the space and even rarer can be spotting another soul while you’re exploring certain areas in this slice of the state. There’s a population of just 47,000 in the San Luis Valley, according to 2010 census data, equating to roughly 5.6 people per square mile. Keep in mind that Colorado Springs has 2,426 people per square mile, and Denver has 4,674. There’s really not even a comparison to be made.

The San Luis Valley is one of the spots where it’s truly possible to feel alone – despite the booming outdoor recreation industry in Colorado. Cell phone reception is sparse. Drives between the nearest destinations can seem long, and after night falls, everyone seems to sleep.

Of course, not everyone sleeps – but you’d never be able to tell. There’s not much light to draw attention to a small group of lurking UFO enthusiasts that inhabit the area. After all, too much light would be detrimental to their ongoing mission of spotting something odd zip across a star-filled sky.

The Hunt for UFOs

According to a 2011 Huffington Post article, an estimated 20,000 people have traveled to visit an attraction called the UFO Watchtower between the publishing date and when it was built in 2000. Many more have visited in the years to follow.

The “tower” is a humble deck-like platform made of metal that is raised 10 feet from the ground in Hooper, Colorado in the midst of a barren swath of land.

In 2011, owner Judy Messoline claimed that UFOs had been spotted from her UFO watchtower at least 59 times. There have been dozens of additional sightings since.

In an interview conducted by Vice, owner Judy Messoline states that she originally moved to the valley to raise cattle with little-to-no previous interest in UFOs. Upon her arrival, she started to hear numerous local stories about the frequent sightings in the valley. After a few years passed, she stepped away from the cattle industry and opened her watchtower to cater to other curious minds.

According to a poll conducted by National Geographic in 2012, approximately 36 percent of the US population believes that UFOs exist, with one in 10 respondents claiming that they’ve personally seen one. Of course, this also means that 64 percent of Americans don’t believe in UFOs and that 90% of Americans have never encountered one. Thus the great UFO debate continues.

Local Sightings and Unexplained Occurrences

Sighting reports in the area come in a wide variety, with some consisting of reported dots of light moving at impossible speeds in erratic directions and other sightings of objects that resemble floating metallic balloons. 

Frequent reports of potential abductions in the area have also surfaced over the years, from one hunter that suddenly realized he was missing three hours of memory to a tale told by a truck driver headed through the valley that approached a bright light before losing four hours of a well-logged day. Following that instance, the driver allegedly experienced claustrophobia and violent nightmares.

Another odd story that’s gotten passed around the valley for decades is that of a horse named Snippy. According to Alamosa News, a local source, Snippy was found dead in September of 1967, lying on her side with her head stripped bare to the bone via strangely precise cuts. Upon her discovery, a strong chemical scent still floated through the air.

Some think the horse died of natural causes, stripped by ground-faring meat eaters, while others think something more nefarious occurred.

Despite the body of the horse decaying over some time, scavenging birds avoided the carcass. Also odd was a nearby plot of bushes that had been flattened to the ground. Burn marks were also found in the area, similar to an exhaust mark. Adding to the strangeness was the lack of prints within 100 feet of where the horse was found. Even odder, further inspection revealed that the brain and several organs of the horse had been cut out by someone quite experienced. Spinal matter was also missing – though no blood was found at the scene.

The mutilation of Snippy the horse remains a mystery today, with theories ranging from secret government projects to flying saucer involvement to an unfortunate lightning strike.

Obviously, a few reports of UFO sightings might not mean anything is going on. UFOs get reported around the world on a regular basis and it always seems like nothing comes of it. That might be the case in the San Luis Valley, but for a moment, humor the idea that some of these stories might be true.

According to the New York Times, UFO sightings aren’t something new to the San Luis Valley area. In fact, reports of UFO sightings in the area can be traced back to settlements of the 1600s – long before anything human-made was taking to the skies. It’s also worth noting that a major uptick in reported sightings occurred during the 1960s – during the time of the space race.

Could this be due to people becoming more interested in interstellar things, thus UFOs were simply on the mind? Or could it be something extraterrestrial sharing in a curiosity about where the new technological developments would take humanity, thus peeking in more brazenly and more frequently than before?

Why the San Luis Valley?

There’s a lot of speculation about why so many UFO sightings occur in the San Luis Valley.

Perhaps the most popular theory is that these UFOs sightings aren’t actually people seeing UFOs. There are a number of reasons people think this might be the case ranging from motives related to increasing tourism in the area to people simply seeing figments of their imagination above the isolated valley floor. Any time UFOs are being discussed, this is one potential that must be included in the conversation.

For a moment, though, let’s approach this conversation with the mindset that people are actually seeing something odd above the valley. Several other possible explanations have formed over the years.

Gazing Up at Darker Skies

One possible reason for the high number of UFO sightings in the San Luis Valley could be that the sky is much more visible here. In fact, this part of the state is one of the darkest places in the country – far from any city capable of producing much light pollution and flanked by high mountain walls on all sides.

This immense darkness is the very reason that Great Sand Dunes National Park holds a title as an International Dark Sky Park from the Dark-Sky Association. The designation was given to the park due to the way natural factors, like the Sangre de Cristo mountain range, shelter the area from “sky glow.” This makes it very easy to see stars above the park on a clear night.

In the same way that stars are easier to see in this area of the valley, it could be assumed that other objects in the night sky might be easier to see, as well. In other words, if there was going to be an ideal environment for spotting a UFO, this might be it.

UFOs Love this Place

Another interesting theory regarding why so many UFO sightings occur in the San Luis Valley is related to the assumption that there are simply more UFOs there than other places in the country.

The “why” behind this reasoning is fascinating, with some believing that UFOs are attracted to the valley’s geothermal pools. In a 2013 Vice Documentary on the subject, Judy Messoline, the owner of the UFO Watchtower, claims that there seems to be a connection between hot spring pools and high levels of UFO activity in various spots around the world, including the San Luis Valley.

These geothermal waters are one of the features that the San Luis Valley is known for. It’s allowed for a few hot spring resorts to pop-up in the area and has made it possible for Colorado Gators Reptile Park to house hundreds of gators on their land year-round, despite the frigid temperatures during colder months of the year.

…But Are They Extraterrestrial UFOs?

Another theory regarding why more UFOs are sighted in this area compared to other parts of the country is the high level of military presence in nearby big cities, like Colorado Springs. Keep in mind that a UFO doesn’t inherently mean something that is extraterrestrial. It simply means that something is airborne that’s also unidentifiable.

There’s speculation that the San Luis Valley has played a role as a testing ground for new types of military aircraft that the public has yet to be informed about.

Of course, at the same time, some locals believe that while these aircraft might be military, that they’re not of an earthly military. Locals have claimed that a secret extraterrestrial base exists in nearby Blanca Peak, a 14,344-foot peak that’s part of the Sangre de Cristo mountain range. This has yet to be proven.

For many, the question remains – are there actually UFOs appearing over San Luis Valley? And if so, why?

In Closing

Instead of sharing what I think about this odd phenomenon, I think it would be best if you planned a trip to the valley to decide for yourself.

Stop by the UFO Watchtower on the clear night. Camp near the Great Sand Dunes in one of the darkest environments you’ll find in the country. Maybe you’ll see something zip across the night sky, stop, and turn on a dime to blast off in the other direction – or maybe not. Either way, you’ll be spending time in one of the most unique regions of the Centennial State.

“In order to understand more, it is imperative that we improve our knowledge before choosing which side of the fence we feel compelled to belong.” – J.P. Robinson, author

Find out more about visiting the UFO Watchtower here.

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