Want a close encounter with a UFO? You’ll have to sing the Cracker Jack song first

At Coyote’s Flying Saucer Retrievals and Repairs Service, no conspiracy theory is too outlandish to be entertained

Photo: Sanna Boman

When I ask Coyote why he opened a UFO scrap yard in the California desert just off Interstate 8, I’m ready for almost any answer except the one I get. He gives me a long stare and growls, “Sing the Cracker Jack song.” 

Coyote, who resembles a grizzled prospector straight out of a John Wayne film, makes it clear that he won’t answer any questions until I sing all of the lyrics from the 1960s jingle about his favorite snack. Since the Cracker Jack jingle is before my time, he patiently coaches me on the words.

“What do you get / When you open the top / And look inside / And smack your lips / And turn it over and spill it out…”

The grounds of Coyote’s Flying Saucer Retrievals and Repairs Service are scattered with bubble-topped saucers that look as if they came from a Cold War-era low-budget alien invasion film. Old couches and chairs face a large white rock on which Coyote occasionally screens sci-fi movies. The rock, he claims, is an asteroid gifted to him by aliens. 

The grounds are littered with alien mannequins and hard-to-interpret conspiracy theory displays with titles that sound like X-Files episodes: “Tell-a-Lie Vision” and “Brain Wash.” 

Performance art

Coyote’s Flying Saucer Retrievals and Repairs is ideally situated just north of the U.S.-Mexico border, in an area full of other wonderfully weird stuff.

I stumble onto the UFO scrap yard by chance on my way to the Desert View Tower. This genuine California Historical Landmark is located just a few hundred yards down the dusty road. The 70-foot-tall tower is best known for its “Boulder Park,” a series of walkways and wind caves. Animals and folk creatures were carved into the quartz granite boulders during the Depression by an unemployed engineer named W.T. Ratcliffe. He was paid one dollar a day plus a jug of wine. His work has no apparent theme, which is one thing Ratcliffe and Coyote have in common.

Coyote next to one of his creations.
Coyote next to one of his saucers. | Photo: Sanna Boman

After I perform the Cracker Jack song as directed, I ask Coyote how he acquired his nickname. He wanders off without answering, munching on candy. 

Whadda you want / When you gotta eat somethin’ / And it’s gotta be sweet / And it’s gotta be a lot / And you gotta have it now.”

I realize that trying to dictate the flow of a conversation with Coyote would be akin to trying to impose order on the desert itself. It’s pointless, so I surrender to his rhythms. When I begin to ignore him, he starts following me around. I lean in to get a closer look at one of his spaceships and I’m startled by his voice just inches behind my left ear, “You can get in that, you know!”

Some permanent visitors at the UFO scrap yard.
Some permanent visitors at the UFO scrap yard. | Photo: Sanna Boman
Coyote draws an alien face on a rock to hand out as a souvenir
Coyote draws an alien face on a rock to hand out as a souvenir. | Photo: Sanna Boman

He has put on a pair of goggles and a bright safety vest. Coyote is a performance artist reminiscent of Andy Kauffman, and his commitment is extraordinary. He never once breaks character; at times, it’s unclear if I am the audience or the performer. I climb into the spaceship, perched atop an old golf cart, and Coyote does a little jig.

Lip-smackin’, whip-crackin’, paddy-whackin’ / knickin’-knackin’, silver-rackin’, scoundrel-whackin’ / cracker-jackin’ Cracker Jack.”

A portal to another world

Coyote set up the repair shop on a friend’s property on a “temporary” basis that has lasted many years. From this high hill, Coyote can watch over his beloved UFOs and there is, allegedly, a portal to another world nearby. In fact, Coyote will tell you that he lives in the Orion Nebula, and just pops in through the portal now and then.

According to Coyote’s version of events, the spaceships at his scrap yard first crashed in the desert, and an alien allowed him to keep a few to spread a message of peace, love, and tranquility. He has taken his theories, along with his saucers, to both Comic-Con and Burning Man.

Aliens welcome
Aliens welcome. | Photo: Sanna Boman
Extraterrestrial influences can be found everywhere.
Extraterrestrial influences can be found everywhere. | Photo: Sanna Boman

A skeptic might look at the UFOs and see a metal cylinder from an old-style satellite dish that’s been attached to a Plexiglas dome and placed on top of a golf cart. An ingenious man like Coyote, who makes his own shoes, can fashion such an object in only a couple of hours. The scrap yard is also home to an old boat, along with several trucks and RVs. 

I decide to be the Mulder rather than the Scully and enjoy Coyote’s stories without judging them. His tales—unbound by traditional time—can go on for hours. If he’s in the right mood, Coyote will take you for a long tour of the area in one of the spaceships or set up a movie screening. He is an excellent host with an obvious love and passion for what he does. The truth may be out there, but Coyote isn’t going to help you find it. You’ll have to discover it on your own—like finding the prize in a Cracker Jack box.

By the time I’m ready to leave, Coyote is sitting in his truck. I rap on the window and thank him for letting me explore. “Stay right there!” he says. 

He bends over the passenger seat in fierce concentration for a few minutes. When he turns back, he’s holding three rocks on which he has drawn alien faces. He hands me one, but before I can grab it, he asks me to sing the Cracker Jack song again.

If you go:

Coyote’s Flying Saucer Retrievals and Repairs Service has no set hours and requires no fee, though donations are accepted. The Desert View Tower is a few hundred yards down the road.