The Best Places in America to See UFOs
The truth is out there.
For a minute there, it seemed like society's obsession with aliens had become a thing of the past. Once the source of mass paranoia in the ‘50s and ’60s—a glorious, unforgettable time during which houses were even built to look like flying saucers—the craze over little green men briefly disappeared, taking with it the kitschy, bizarre, and downright wild urban legends we came to know and love.
Luckily, with the release of the government’s report on Unexplained Aerial Phenomena earlier this year (results “inconclusive” … sure), we’ve seen quite the resurgence of interest in UFOs—and in the people who never stopped believing the truth was out there.
All this time, these towns around America have kept hope alive, commemorating, celebrating, and even displaying artifacts from the years when people regularly mistook military aircraft for Martians. In a few spots, you may even see some unexplained phenomena for yourself. Here are some of the best places in the US to search for aliens, UFOs, and all things extraterrestrial.
Since trying to get into Area 51 will land you a lengthy prison stay, the nearby town of Rachel is the best place to learn about one of the most famous UFO sites in America. In the 1950s, reported sightings of UFOs around the Nevada Test and Training Range were a daily occurrence. This was mostly because the military used the area to trial military aircraft that flew higher than normal jets, and had oddly colored lights. A sensible explanation didn’t stop people from spreading rumors about a disappearing runway and the autopsies of the Roswell aliens taking place underground.
Since then, Area 51 has become a staple of UFO legends. Rachel hasn’t missed a beat, either, boasting a local motel/restaurant called the Little A’Le’Inn that serves a pretty decent burger. The town also has plenty of folks who, for a fee, will take you around the perimeter of Area 51 and point out famous alleged alien sites through the fences.
Your first stop when you get to Aurora, Texas, a small town about 30 miles from Fort Worth, has to be the cemetery. There, you’ll find the gravesite of an unusual individual: the humanoid pilot of a cigar-shaped object which, in May 1897—50 years before the crash at Roswell—fell from the sky and crashed into a windmill belonging to one of the local judges. Today, it stands as the only extraterrestrial gravesite in America.
Was the navigator—who they call Ned—from Mars? That’s what locals believed at the time and technically, they still haven’t been proven wrong, even after researchers tested metal from the crash site, found results inconclusive, and attempted to exhume Ned’s grave. (They were prohibited from doing so because in order to exhume a grave you have to notify the next of kin.)
When former rancher Judy Messoline first settled down in Colorado’s San Luis Valley, she had no clue it had such a rich paranormal tapestry—but in fact, the first supposed alien mutilation happened here in 1967. (The victim? Snippy the Horse, nicknamed so because his head and neck were…snipped.) Soon after, more and more people emerged with stories of close encounters, abductions, and unexplained phenomena, and the area became legendary.
Now, Messoline herself has reported witnessing dozens of unusual occurrences, including inexplicable cigar-shaped entities and hovering lights. In 2000, she gave up raising cattle and constructed the UFO Watchtower—a ten-foot-high metal viewing platform with a spaceship-like adobe gift shop—to accommodate the extraterrestrial enthusiasts that often stopped by her Rocky Mountain ranch for a chance at a sighting.
Messoline's watchtower has since become a kind of water cooler where true believers congregate, with visitors’ stories recorded in a binder for all to peruse. There’s also a sign-in book for aliens, though no word on how many have thrown their John Hancock in there.
The clear skies of the high Arizona desert—possibly combined with a population that may or may not indulge in the occasional hallucinogen—has made Sedona one of the most popular sites in America for sighting UFOs. Hell, even former Arizona governor Fife Symington claims to have seen an “enormous and inexplicable” flying object here. That being said, it was only a matter of time until someone made a business out of it—and that someone is former alien abductee Melinda Leslie.
At the Center for the New Age, Leslie will happily tell you about her experiences being abducted by aliens, after which she’ll take you to a clear, unlit area just outside of town, where you’ll don military-grade night vision goggles and look for UFOs in the sky. She’ll explain how to tell legit UFOs from commercial jets, military planes, or satellites, and she'll let you try and figure out what those high-speed lights moving across the sky actually are. No word on whether the waiver includes liability for possible abductions.
Lincoln, New Hampshire
Alleged UFO sightings are one thing. But alien abductions? A little harder to debunk. The most famous (and still not disproven) abduction case involved Betty and Barney Hill, a Portsmouth couple who were driving back from Canada one night when they reported seeing a cigar-shaped object speeding through the sky.
Through his binoculars, Barney claimed he could see people through the object's windows. Upon returning home, the couple found mysterious scuffs on Barney’s shoes and tears and stains on Betty’s dress; they also realized they’d lost about two hours of time they couldn’t account for, and neither of their watches was operative. After Betty began experiencing recurring nightmares, the couple underwent intense hypnotherapy during which they remembered being forced onto a ship and examined by “strange men” with bald heads and slanted eyes—the model for what many aliens in popular culture look like today.
The state of New Hampshire erected a plaque on the road near Lincoln to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the abduction, the only official government marker dedicated to an alien encounter. The gas station that now stands on the farm where Hill said the ship landed has a big alien mural on the wall, as well as the “First Restroom Museum Dedicated to Alien Abduction.”
Picture it: It’s 1883 in West Texas. You’re a cowhand named Robert Reed Ellison. You’re minding your business, doing cowhand things when suddenly, off in the distance you spot bright orbs of white, yellow, pink, blue, and red dancing above the Chinati Mountains. To save your sanity, you “mistake” them for an Apache campfire. But upon investigating the next morning, you find no evidence of human activity.
This was the first recorded sighting of the now-famous Marfa Lights, which appear about 30 times a year. Some say they’re UFOs. Others believe they’re ghosts. And others still have tried to explain them away with science, claiming they’re the result of small fires or car headlights. (Sure, maybe dancing cars. And what about that first sighting in 1883?)
Whatever they are, Marfa happily leans into the lore: About 9 miles from town off US-90 there’s a viewing platform complete with binoculars, and each fall, the area celebrates the phenomenon with live music, food, and a parade at the Marfa Lights Festival.
Bowman, South Carolina
Though there hasn’t been a notable UFO sighting or alien abduction anywhere near Bowman, it is home to—as far as we know—the only intergalactic highway rest stop in our neck of the universe. The spaceship-shaped UFO Welcome Center is equipped with showers, cable TV, and air conditioning (you know, in case those Carolina summers are a little too hot for our extraterrestrial visitors).
The place is the brainchild of Jody Pendarvis, who built the ramshackle structure out of wood, metal, and other random materials as an intended first place of rest for any spaceship landing on Earth. A second UFO sits on top of the main welcome center, though it lacks amenities. You can pay a fee to tour the center, which you'd better do ASAP: the joint might not have any historical significance now, but the prices will skyrocket once the aliens arrive.
Roswell, New Mexico
Perhaps the most notable UFO crash in American history went down on the night of June 14, 1947. A farmer named Mac Brazel was driving around about 80 miles outside Roswell when he came across a flaming heap of rubber, foil, and sticks. He contacted local authorities, who contacted the military, who came to the site and publicly declared that a flying saucer had landed in Roswell.
The country was whipped up into a frenzy, and soon after, the government changed its tune and redesignated the UFO a “weather balloon.” Many suspect the object was actually a device intended to spy on Russian nuclear development.
Though Roswell may not have truly been the land of first contact, the town has since leaned into the notoriety and become the greatest alien-themed town on the planet. It’s home to the International UFO Museum and Research Center. It has a McDonald’s shaped like a UFO. The city hosts an annual UFO Festival that’s become a pilgrimage for self-proclaimed “UFOlogists.” Whether you believe in aliens or not, Roswell is an utterly fantastic, highly kitsch slice of Americana.
In December 1965, a streaking green object fell through the skies over Ontario, Ohio, and western Pennsylvania before making a dramatic crash just outside of Kecksburg. Thousands of people in six US states and Canada said they saw a giant fireball shaped like an acorn.
As soon as the object landed, the military came in and hauled it away, never releasing an official statement. Some onlookers thought it was a Russian satellite. Others saw hieroglyphics on the side and said it was an otherworldly craft. One witness even claimed to have seen a lizard-like body rolled away on a gurney next to the wreckage.
The event was featured on Unsolved Mysteries, and the town acquired the show’s mock-up of the “acorn.” It now stands in front of the local volunteer fire department. Each July, the city holds an annual UFO Festival to commemorate Kecksburg’s place in UFO history, a celebration full of alien-themed games, music, and events. Recently it’s been theorized the object was a US satellite sent to spy on the Russians, and that our government denied this in the name of national security. Satellite or spaceship, the Kecksburg UFO is one of the greatest mysteries to ever fall out of the skies.
You know those grainy black-and-white photos you see on B-rolls of every TV show you’ve ever seen about flying saucers? There’s a good chance they came from McMinnville, a town in the heart of Oregon wine country known just as well for its UFOs as its pinot noir.
Long before the days of Photoshop, Paul and Evelyn Trent shot pictures of flying saucers outside their farmhouse near McMinnville. The pictures were so dramatic, they were published by Life and became an icon of the era’s UFO craze. And unlike most theories, stories, and abduction claims of the time, these pictures have never been debunked. The Trents also held true to their story, never claiming the pictures to be a joke or a stunt to make money.
Today, their former hometown hosts the second-largest UFO festival in America, where people dress up like aliens and astronauts for a weekend of photo-proven fun. The city is also home to the Evergreen Aviation and Space Museum, which, while not affiliated at all with the Trents and their famous photos, is still worth a visit if you’re in town.
Cedar City and Vernal, Utah
Aliens are drawn to the otherworldly rock formations of Utah, it seems. Located at the base of Dinosaur National Monument, the city of Ballard is home to the infamous Skinwalker Ranch, where plenty of aliens (and Post Malone) have made appearances over the last 50 years.
Although Skinwalker isn’t usually open to the public, the first annual Phenomecon festival in nearby Vernal featured speakers including scientists from the ranch and award-winning journalist George Knapp—co-author of 2005’s Hunt for the Skinwalker—as well as a highly-coveted escorted trip to the property. (Skinwalker also has its own documentary series, if you can’t make the festival.)
Enthusiasm for aliens abounds all throughout the state, so much that they had to create an even bigger celebration about six hours south along the stretch of road called the Extraterrestrial Highway. Every June since 2016, researchers and enthusiasts alike have come together in Cedar City for the free Utah UFO Festival, a weekend of beer tastings, costume contests, and lectures by everyone from scientists and former CIA employees to abductees.
To distinguish themselves from the better-known festival in McMinnville, the Utah festival emphasizes its proximity to Area 51—so much so that the festivities include a caravan to the top-secret site (or as close as one can get without getting arrested and/or shot). The jury is out on whether you’ll actually see paranormal activity, but at the very least, you’ll definitely hear some amazing stories. The next festival is slated for August 2022; you have until then to get your tin foil hat ready.