Uncovering the secret of Skinwalker Ranch

Real estate mogul Brandon Fugal and his team are on a mission to find out if Skinwalker Ranch is a paranormal hotspot or plain ol’ cattle ranch

“How do you quantify a ghost?” Bryant Arnold, also known as “Dragon,” asks me as we stand in Homestead 2, a reportedly paranormal hotspot on Skinwalker Ranch.

I’ve come to the ranch in Gusher, Utah, to learn why it's world-renowned among UFO enthusiasts, ghost hunters and viewers of the History Channel program “The Secret of Skinwalker Ranch.” My heart is racing as I scan the room, expecting dark figures to pop out of corners at any moment. I’d asked Arnold if he thought the spot was haunted, hoping his answer would put me at ease.

It didn’t.

Arnold serves as head of security on the ranch in the heart of the Uintah Basin. The property is owned by the enigmatic real estate mogul and Pleasant Grove native Brandon Fugal, who agreed to show me around the place just weeks before Halloween. He’s dressed in his signature black suit, designer boots and long, black coat for our day of Jeeping through dusty roads. I’m feeling underdressed in my jeans and dirty sneakers. I’m not sure which of us is best attired for alien spotting. Probably neither.

Fugal and I have flown to the ranch on a helicopter piloted by Fugal’s brother. During the 40-minute flight from his hangar in Provo, Utah, as he’s chatting through the microphone headsets, the gregarious Fugal tells me the team will meet us at the ranch. “The team” is a group of experts and scientists, as seen on the show, whom Fugal has hired to uncover the cause of a number of mysterious and inexplicable events that have occurred over the decades.

Flying high with Utah’s most mysterious mogul

Viewers of the History Channel series know them well. Cow mutilations. Dire wolf sightings. Mysterious illnesses and injuries. Unidentified aerial phenomena. Dark specters that walk through walls. Messages seemingly from the beyond sent through electronic devices.

The show has become one of the top-rated programs on the History Channel, and one of the most-viewed cable programs on Tuesday nights. Millions of viewers, it seems, are anxious to discover the secret of Skinwalker Ranch. Fugal and his team have been working to reveal that secret for years, not by relying on ghost stories or myth material, but instead by collecting data and following where it leads.

Because you can’t, after all, quantify a ghost.

Brandon Fugal, owner of Skinwalker Ranch, poses for a photo at the ranch in rural Uintah County on Thursday, Oct. 5, 2023. | Spenser Heaps, Deseret News

What has happened at Skinwalker Ranch?

As we approach the ranch, passing over a stunning autumn landscape blanketed in yellow, red and orange trees, Cameron Fugal, the helicopter pilot, offers a prayer for our safety. After we all say “Amen,” he advises us to enter the property with a spirit of reverence and humility.

As we land, the team greets us and leads us into the command center for a briefing. Each man — principal investigator Erik Bard, superintendent Thomas Winterton, ranch manager Jim Morse, and security officer Kaleb Bench — share their stories of encounters with what they call a “malevolent force.”

Many of these stories center on technological malfunctions. Like the night the security cameras on the ranch went down, so Bard sent Winterton to investigate.

Winterton says that when he pulled up to the command center, the cameras returned online. Winterton and his wife went into the command center and then heard what they thought was the sound of someone running into a back room. But when Winterton went to look for the intruder, he found nothing.

Then, he says, he and his wife heard a voice say, “You need to leave now.” They obeyed, as anyone in their right mind would, and as they got into their car, they noticed their phones were frozen. It wasn’t until they were off the property that the devices began to work again.

Erik Bard, principal investigator at Skinwalker Ranch, is photographed at the ranch in rural Uintah County on Thursday, Oct. 5, 2023. | Spenser Heaps, Deseret News

There were more stories to come.

Like the night when Bard’s phone buzzed with a notification indicating movement had been detected in the center of the control room, where a number of obscenely expensive computers run systems that monitor the ranch.

He checked the camera feed, and like Winterton before, found nothing. But the notifications continued to ping.

For five hours.

And for five hours, nothing unusual appeared on the camera feed. Until Bard, out of frustration said aloud, “If you have something to show me, show me. If you have something to tell me, tell me.”

Bard says that immediately after making that statement, the pixels on the camera feed screen began to melt downward. A quick-thinking Bard took a screenshot. At first glance, the image appears to be one of a typical malfunctioning software program. But in the bottom right of the screen, the words “Camera 1 LIVING ROOM” had dissolved into “I LIVING,” with the text moving upward while everything else on the screen migrated downward.

“We have consulted numerous technologists about the incident,” Fugal tells me. “None can provide an explanation.”

A screenshot taken by Skinwalker Ranch Principal Investigator Erik Bard.

But perhaps the most significant encounter is the one Fugal claims to have had just six months after purchasing the ranch in 2016. As he tells it, he looked up at the mesa that borders the ranch and saw an object, silver and about 50 feet wide, hovering in the sky. It was not a speck in the horizon, seen only through magnifying equipment or sensors, he explains. It was large, near and making its appearance in the light of day. It was that experience, Fugal says, that made him an “undeniable witness.”

Why did Brandon Fugal buy Skinwalker Ranch?

Fugal claims that when he bought the ranch from the secretive billionaire Robert Bigelow, who had previously acquired the property from the Sherman family, he did so believing that despite the inherited narrative of hauntings, extraterrestrial encounters and far too many cattle mutilated with surgeon-like precision, there was a natural explanation for all of it.

Or at least 99% of him believed that.

The other 1% believed that the phenomena on the ranch defied any earthly explanation, and if that 1% was right, an investigation into the strange and incredible occurrences could change the way human beings view their world. After spotting that object above the mesa, that 1% became 100%. So he invested in the equipment and personnel required to conduct an investigation. Not long after, the History Channel came calling.

During a lunch with network executives during negotiations for “The Secret of Skinwalker Ranch,” one of the producers asked Fugal, “Are you a believer?” to which Fugal responded, “I’m not a believer. I’m an experiencer.”

Bryant “Dragon” Arnold, head of security at Skinwalker Ranch, and the property’s owner, Brandon Fugal, walk through the ranch in rural Uintah County on Thursday, Oct. 5, 2023. | Spenser Heaps, Deseret News

What is the ‘Triangle’ at Skinwalker Ranch?

This is the second time I’ve visited Skinwalker Ranch. On my first trip, in 2020, the team had a number of theories, but no consensus, on why the property seems to be a paranormal hotbed. Perhaps it was gilsonite, produced nearby, or tectonic shifts causing mass hallucinations. Perhaps the Skinwalkers of local Navajo legend were responsible. Perhaps extraterrestrial beings were using the area as a type of experimental laboratory. Perhaps the property held portals to another dimension.

But now, three years later, the team has narrowed their scope. During our briefing, Bard explains that since the inception of the investigation, he’s been collecting data. Instead of viewing the data through any sort of agenda-driven lens, he says he’s simply observed it with the best surveillance technology available, categorized it and analyzed it to see where it leads. It’s led to the “Triangle.”

The triangle is a spot of land between the control center and the homesteads, just feet away from the mesa, demarcated by dirt paths intersecting at three corners. And it’s the epicenter of “high strangeness.” Fugal, with mischief in his eyes, explains that there seems to be some sort of entity within the triangle.

Most of the last season of “The Secret of Skinwalker Ranch” featured the team of investigators conducting experiments in the triangle and on the mesa. They’ve shot rockets, dropped objects from the helicopter, attempted to fly drones through the area, drilled into the mesa, and measured every measurable element, seen or unseen.

What, or who, it is exactly in, above or below the triangle Fugal doesn’t know. Or if he does, he will not say. Yet. What he will say is that there appears to be a diversity of entities with different origins and agendas converging on the ranch. “I was raised to believe we’re not alone in the universe,” Fugal says, adding that he believes other dimensions exist alongside our reality. He makes these statements as matter-of-factly as he would if he were talking about the acreage of a real estate prospect. Talking about Skinwalker Ranch is as commonplace for him as talking about business.

Homestead Two, one of several building sites at Skinwalker Ranch in rural Uintah County, is pictured on Thursday, Oct. 5, 2023. | Spenser Heaps, Deseret News

After showing us the triangle, Fugal and Dragon take us to the homesteads, specifically Homestead 2 and 3, where guests of the ranch have reported acute medical episodes, experienced severe temperature drops, and claimed to have seen specters walk through walls. Fugal’s wife, Kristen, won’t set foot near Homestead 3 for the terror she feels.

In 2021, famed singer Post Malone, with Fugal’s permission, brought a convoy of black SUVs to the ranch where he met with Fugal and his team throughout the day with plans to spend the night investigating Homestead 2. But a few hours past dark, Dragon, who was working security that night, witnessed Malone and his group abruptly leave the ranch after they experienced what Fugal calls unexplained, disturbing paranormal activity in Homestead 2.

The homesteads are dilapidated houses with caved-in ceilings and only scarce remains of floorboards. As we explore the remnants of kitchens and discarded furniture, Fugal notices the disappointment on my face. As much as my heart is racing and my nerves are on edge as I wait for shadows to scurry across the room, the adrenaline is borne more of excitement than fear. I was hoping for a spooky encounter that I could tell people about for years. But I haven’t felt so much as a vibe shift other than my own anxiety. Fugal says that the lack of paranormal activity during our visit can be explained by our attitudes. We entered the ranch with a spirit of positivity. The malevolent forces tend to prey on the downtrodden, he says.

“Whatever mechanism is at work appears to amplify consciousness and even intent,” he says, then explains that while some encounters have felt spiritual or even healing to some visitors, others have felt terror and vowed never to return.

A believer and an experiencer

The past few years have primed the American public to be increasingly receptive to the idea of life beyond our planet.

In 2020, the Department of Defense authorized the release of two Navy videos — one from 2004 and one from 2015 — which appear to show unidentified aerial phenomena.

In February of this year, in the wake of three objects being shot down by the military, President Joe Biden established an interagency team to investigate reports of unidentified objects in U.S. airspace. As of last week, the team has received 800 reports and are expecting hundreds more.

In July, a former Navy commander, a former Navy pilot and a former intelligence official testified before a congressional committee that they believe the U.S. government is withholding information about UFOs from the public. They claim to have seen unidentified anomalous phenomena and say that the government has spent decades concealing a UAP crash and nonhuman biologics retrieved from it.

“Recent acknowledgment by our government and congressional hearings regarding the reality (of extraterrestrial life) has underscored the fact that Skinwalker Ranch has been the center of gravity for bringing these topics forward,” Fugal tells me. But he acknowledges there’s still a stigma to any talk of the paranormal and belief in it. “Being involved in these topics is not for the faint of heart,” he says. “It takes courage.”

Fugal admits that he’s had moments where he’s second-guessed himself, the work being done on the ranch, and how it might affect his reputation. But he remains steadfast in his belief that continued study and collection of hard data on the ranch will confirm that the nature of reality is far more complex than it seems.

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He is both believer and experiencer.

During our flight back to Salt Lake City, as we pass over the rest of the ranch, which still houses cattle and some of the most stunning foliage I’ve witnessed in all of the state, Fugal asks me, “What do you think about all this?”

I answer honestly. I’ve been to Skinwalker Ranch twice and haven’t encountered a single specter, ghost, UFO, murdered cow or even a technological malfunction. But just because I didn’t experience these things doesn’t mean they haven’t happened. And it’s more fun to live believing that they do. Even if ghosts can’t be quantified.

Brandon Fugal will present the closing keynote presentation at the Utah Business Forward conference on Nov. 16. His topic will be “The Secrets of Skinwalker Ranch.”

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