As evening descends over the UFO Watchtower in south-central Colorado, the heavens transform into a mesmerizing black canvas sprinkled by twinkling stars and distant galaxies too numerous to imagine. With it comes overwhelming stillness and a profound sense of isolation.
I’ve never seen a UFO. No rotating saucers or strange objects zigzagging and speeding across the sky. The only aliens I’ve encountered are the plastic figures shrouded in darkness below me, but they aren’t giving up any secrets.
Standing along the viewing platform, I focus my attention on a large swath of sky above the Sangre de Cristo mountain range and Great Sand Dunes National Park where many unexplained sightings have been witnessed. Then, I wait.
An hour goes by. Nothing happens. My thoughts drift to little green men with big eyes, Scully and Mulder, encounters, and abductions. Are the stories true? Are we being visited by travelers from faraway corners of the universe? It’s like Carl Sagan once said: “If it’s just us, seems like an awful waste of space.”
I rest my feet on the platform’s metal railing to get comfortable. Another hour goes by. Just as I get up to stretch, a thin white light, maybe a quarter mile to the east, blinks on and off moving low and quick across the sky. There’s no sound.
Tourists from outer space
Judy Messoline’s UFO Watchtower is located two miles north of Hooper, Colorado. If it weren’t for the “Ride the Cosmic Highway” signs or green aliens along Highway 17 pointing the way, her quirky roadside attraction resembling a spaceship might be lost to the vastness of the San Luis Valley altogether. But earlier in the afternoon, as I sit with Messoline at a table just a few steps from her small gift shop, the place is busy.
“We were closed for four months because of the [corona]virus,” she says, lighting a cigarette. Her voice is soft, and small wrinkles appear around her eyes as she squints in the midday sun. Her gold-sparkle nail polish glistens and she wears multicolored alien head socks. “But now that we’re open, it’s been kind of a zoo. Lots of people.”
Some call the San Luis Valley “The Bermuda Triangle of the West.” It has been a hotspot for mysterious sightings dating back to the Spanish Conquistadors in the 1560s, and now, Messoline’s place lies almost smack dab in the middle of it. For her, however, all of this started as one big joke.
“I came here to raise cattle in 1995,” Messoline says, chuckling. “When I met the locals, they were all telling me UFO stories and I’d just giggle, saying we needed a watchtower. Well, I struggled with cows for four and a half years, because they don’t eat sand very well, and had to sell the herd. Then one day I ran into one of the farmers here at the gas station and he said I should build that watchtower I always laughed about. So, I did. Initially, this was just gonna be a little ol’ mom-and-pop business to catch tourist traffic. Well, we had other tourist traffic come around, too.”
Since opening in May 2000, 231 “tourists” from outer space have allegedly visited the area.
“I’ve seen 28 myself,” Messoline says. “The closest one was between here and the mountains. It was narrow and really long and zipped across the sky. Eleven o’clock at night and we had over a dozen people here who saw it. We had two last night, too. They come in spurts.”
In 20 years, the watchtower has attracted more than 30,000 (human) visitors. I first visited in 2017. Most, like myself, are curious passers-by. Some have claimed to be actual beings from Pluto and Sirius. One was a high-ranking government official who, according to Messoline, “pulled out his cellphone and showed me a picture of [a being] coming out of the ocean.” No matter who visits, this one-time skeptical rancher has created a safe place for people to share their experiences. She’s heard too many stories to brush things aside.
“People don’t get made fun of here,” she says. “Folks will walk up, and I’ll ask if they’ve seen anything. A lot of them just hang their head, so I’ll let it go. But after they’ve been here a bit, they’ll open up and tell me about what they’ve seen. Not all those people are crazy.”
Not far from us, kids pose for pictures with the alien figures in what Messoline calls her “healing garden.” Here, numerous psychics have reaffirmed the existence of two large beings protecting two spinning vortexes. Those beings are “here to protect the vortexes,” but also help people in times of need. As a result, Messoline requests that people leave something behind to “receive good energy.” Now, everything from photos and business cards to pens, keys, toys, and even personal items of lost loved ones fill the garden.
Soon, our conversation takes us into the gift shop. Newspaper clippings, shot glasses, photos taken of objects nearby, and even Messoline’s own book, The Crazy Lady Down the Road, are on display. Near the register are two binders full of sightings—written accounts of dancing lights, disk-shaped crafts, and even a few detailed drawings—each witnessed here on the property. Sensing my interest, Messoline mentions what various psychics have told her over the years.
“They’d each stand in the same spot in the shop and ask, ‘Why did you put this here?’” she says. “I told them it just felt right. Well, then they would say, ‘You know that there’s a crashed ship under here.’ I just thought, yeah right, but when you hear it over and over, then you start thinking [it might be true].”
When Messoline pressed one particular psychic for more answers, asking just how big the ship was, the answer astonished her. “She said, ‘It’s a mothership. It’s a mile long.’”
Messoline grabs another binder and opens it. Inside are detailed drawings that the psychic made for her that day, each depicting a large disc-shaped object with a dome in the center.
“One day a group from the Navy came here,” she says. “My son said not to tell them about the crashed ship no matter what. Well, I did. And you know, they didn’t seem surprised!”
I leave Messoline wondering whether any of the stories she tells me are actually true. I can’t say for sure, but I’m certainly open to such possibilities. Now, as I squint into the darkness surrounding the watchtower, trying to follow the strange white light, I don’t know what to think.
As it travels south, I look down at the supposed mothership buried deep in the ground below me. When I look up again, the light’s course, low and straight, doesn’t change for another 15 seconds. Then, just as quickly as it appeared, it blinks one last time and disappears.