Travel

The Best Places in America to See UFOs

The truth is out there.

Cheri Alguire/Shutterstock
Cheri Alguire/Shutterstock
Cheri Alguire/Shutterstock

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.

MyLoupe/Universal Images Group/Getty Images
MyLoupe/Universal Images Group/Getty Images
MyLoupe/Universal Images Group/Getty Images

Rachel, Nevada

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.

LMPark Photos/Shutterstock
LMPark Photos/Shutterstock
LMPark Photos/Shutterstock

Aurora, Texas

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.)

Faina Gurevich/Shutterstock
Faina Gurevich/Shutterstock
Faina Gurevich/Shutterstock

Alamosa, Colorado

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.

 Unsplash/Jesse Gardner
Unsplash/Jesse Gardner
Unsplash/Jesse Gardner

Sedona, Arizona

Anybody can make a pilgrimage to Sedona for the red rocks, art scene, and energy vortex vibes. You wanna do something much cooler? Head here for the UFO tours.

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.”

Flickr/Nan Palmero
Flickr/Nan Palmero
Flickr/Nan Palmero

Marfa, Texas

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.

James R Poston/Shutterstock
James R Poston/Shutterstock
James R Poston/Shutterstock

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.

ocphoto/Shutterstock
ocphoto/Shutterstock
ocphoto/Shutterstock

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.

Chicago Tribune/Tribune News Service/Getty Images
Chicago Tribune/Tribune News Service/Getty Images
Chicago Tribune/Tribune News Service/Getty Images

Kecksburg, Pennsylvania

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.

Dee Browning/Shutterstock
Dee Browning/Shutterstock
Dee Browning/Shutterstock

McMinnville, Oregon

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.Want more Thrillist? Follow us on Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest, YouTube, TikTok, and Snapchat.

Matt Meltzer is a contributing writer to Thrillist whose favorite UFO is in Tampa. You know what I mean. Follow him on Instagram @meltrez1.

Vanita Salisbury is Thrillist’s Senior Travel Writer. Beam her up, Scotty (Nicki Minaj version).

Travel

Ditch your Phone for ‘Dome Life’ in this Pastoral Paradise Outside Port Macquarie 

A responsible, sustainable travel choice for escaping big city life for a few days.

nature domes port macquarie
Photo: Nature Domes

The urge to get as far away as possible from the incessant noise and pressures of ‘big city life’ has witnessed increasingly more of us turn to off-grid adventures for our holidays: Booking.com polled travellers at the start of 2023 and 55% of us wanted to spend our holidays ‘off-grid’.  Achieving total disconnection from the unyielding demands of our digitised lives via some kind of off-grid nature time—soft or adventurous—is positioned not only as a holiday but, indeed, a necessity for our mental health. 

Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, an accommodation collection of geodesic domes dotted across a lush rural property in Greater Port Macquarie (a few hours’ drive from Sydney, NSW), offers a travel experience that is truly ‘off-grid’. In the figurative ‘wellness travel’ sense of the word, and literally, they run on their own independent power supply—bolstered by solar—and rely not on the town grid. 

Ten minutes before you arrive at the gates for a stay at Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, your phone goes into ‘SOS ONLY’. Apple Maps gives up, and you’re pushed out of your comfort zone, driving down unsealed roads in the dark, dodging dozens of dozing cows. Then, you must ditch your car altogether and hoist yourself into an open-air, all-terrain 4WD with gargantuan wheels. It’s great fun being driven through muddy gullies in this buggy; you feel like Laura Dern and Jeff Goldblum in Jurassic Park.  As your buggy pulls in front of your personal Nature Dome, it’s not far off that “Welcome…to Jurassic Park” jaw-dropping moment—your futuristic-looking home is completely engulfed by thriving native bushland; beyond the outdoor campfire lie expansive hills and valleys of green farmland, dotted with sheep and trees. You’re almost waiting to see a roaming brachiosaurus glide past, munching on a towering gum tree…instead, a few inquisitive llamas trot past your Dome to check out their new visitor. 

To fully capture the awe of inhabiting a geodesic dome for a few days, a little history of these futuristic-looking spherical structures helps. Consisting of interlocking triangular skeletal struts supported by (often transparent) light walls, geodesic domes were developed in the 20th century by American engineer and architect R. Buckminster Fuller, and were used for arenas. Smaller incarnations have evolved into a ‘future-proof’ form of modern housing: domes are able to withstand harsh elements due to the stability provided by the durable materials of their construction and their large surface area to volume ratio (which helps minimize wind impact and prevents the structure from collapsing). As housing, they’re also hugely energy efficient – their curved shape helps to conserve heat and reduce energy costs, making them less susceptible to temperature changes outside. The ample light let in by their panels further reduces the need for artificial power. 

Due to their low environmental impact, they’re an ideal sustainable travel choice. Of course, Tom’s Creek Nature Domes’ owner-operators, Cardia and Lee Forsyth, know all this, which is why they have set up their one-of-a-kind Nature Domes experience for the modern traveller. It’s also no surprise to learn that owner Lee is an electrical engineer—experienced in renewable energy—and that he designed the whole set-up. As well as the off-grid power supply, rainwater tanks are used, and the outdoor hot tub is heated by a wood fire—your campfire heats up your tub water via a large metal coil. Like most places in regional Australia, the nights get cold – but rather than blast a heater, the Domes provide you with hot water bottles, warm blankets, lush robes and heavy curtains to ward off the chill.

nature domes port macquarie
Photo: Nature Domes

You’ll need to be self-sufficient during your stay at the Domes, bringing your own food. Support local businesses and stock up in the town of Wauchope on your drive-in (and grab some pastries and coffee at Baked Culture while you’re at it). There’s a stovetop, fridge (stocked as per a mini bar), BBQs, lanterns and mozzie coils, and you can even order DIY S’More packs for fireside fun. The interiors of the Domes have a cosy, stylish fit-out, with a modern bathroom (and a proper flushing toilet—none of that drop bush toilet stuff). As there’s no mobile reception, pack a good book or make the most of treasures that lie waiting to be discovered at every turn: a bed chest full of board games, a cupboard crammed with retro DVDs, a stargazing telescope (the skies are ablaze come night time). Many of these activities are ideal for couples, but there’s plenty on offer for solo travellers, such as yoga mats, locally-made face masks and bath bombs for hot tub soaks. 

It’s these thoughtful human touches that reinforce the benefit of making a responsible travel choice by booking local and giving your money to a tourism operator in the Greater Port Macquarie Region, such as Tom’s Creek Nature Domes. The owners are still working on the property following the setbacks of COVID-19, and flooding in the region —a new series of Domes designed with families and groups in mind is under construction, along with an open-air, barn-style dining hall and garden stage. Once ready, the venue will be ideal for wedding celebrations, with wedding parties able to book out the property. They’ve already got one couple—who honeymooned at the Domes—ready and waiting. Just need to train up the llamas for ring-bearer duties! 

An abundance of favourite moments come to mind from my two-night stay at Tom’s Creek: sipping champagne and gourmet picnicking at the top of a hill on a giant swing under a tree, with a bird’s eye view of the entire property (the ‘Mountain Top picnic’ is a must-do activity add on during your stay), lying on a deckchair at night wrapped in a blanket gazing up at starry constellations and eating hot melted marshmallows, to revelling in the joys of travellers before me, scrawled on notes in a jar of wishes left by the telescope (you’re encouraged to write your own to add to the jar). But I’ll leave you with a gratitude journal entry I made while staying there. I will preface this by saying that I don’t actually keep a gratitude journal, but Tom’s Creek Nature Domes is just the kind of place that makes you want to start one. And so, waking up on my second morning at Tom’s —lacking any 4G bars to facilitate my bad habit of a morning Instagram scroll—I finally opened up a notebook and made my first journal entry:

‘I am grateful to wake up after a deep sleep and breathe in the biggest breaths of this clean air, purified by nature and scented with eucalyptus and rain. I am grateful for this steaming hot coffee brewed on a fire. I feel accomplished at having made myself. I am grateful for the skittish sheep that made me laugh as I enjoyed a long nature walk at dawn and the animated billy goats and friendly llamas overlooking my shoulder as I write this: agreeable company for any solo traveller. I’m grateful for total peace, absolute stillness.” 

Off-grid holiday status: unlocked.

Where: Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, Port Macquarie, 2001 Toms Creek Rd
Price: $450 per night, book at the Natura Domes website.

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