Brent Swancer May 26, 2021
Sprawled over south-central Colorado, with a small portion overlapping into New Mexico, is the San Luis Valley. Comprising over 8,000 square miles of wilderness in a 120-mile-long-by-forty-mile wide tract of semiarid desert scrubland, it is surrounded by the sweeping, jagged peaks of the Sangres de Cristos mountains, which are adorned with pristine wilderness. It is the largest alpine valley in the world, and a remote, sun beaten, sparsely populated badlands, almost inhospitable in its dryness, home to more cattle than people. This is a parched, isolated land long considered sacred by the local Native people, and it also happens to be ground zero for a variety of high strangeness. The San Luis Valley is a hotspot for all manner of UFO phenomena, cattle mutilations, alien abductions, cases of lost time, and other strange anomalies and weirdness. It is also the home of a strange landmark and tourist attraction that has sprung up to capitalize on the UFO phenomena here, and manage to earn a reputation as a paranormal hotspot of its own in the process. Here among the strangeness is a place that has certainly drawn in its fair share of curiosity, and is a roadside landmark chock full of some weird UFO stuff.
San Luis Valley
Driving out along Highway 17, just about 2 miles north of Hooper, Colorado, you will come to a rather odd and unique structure. Standing in the arid landscape is a curious dome and metal rafters, with a deck-like platform made of metal and the whole of it adorned with alien-themed art, toy figures of aliens, and countless newspaper clippings of UFO sightings in the valley. It might just seem to be a quirky little roadside attraction, but this place has a pretty interesting history. What has come to be known as the “UFO Watchtower” had its beginnings back in 1995, when its owner Judy Messoline moved to the region with her husband in the hopes of raising cattle, this didn’t work out quite as well as they had expected, so Messoline took up a job at a gas station in Hooper to help make ends meet. It was here where she would begin to hear about all of the stories of UFOs and high strangeness in the area, and this was the seed of the idea to build it. She says of it:
I came here to raise cattle in 1995. 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.
It basically started out as a joke, but she and her husband dutifully went about constructing it for real, finally finishing it in March of 2000. They then opened it to the public, charging for general admission and even camping on the premises, but it would soon turn out to be beyond jokes when it turned out that there really were UFOs appearing all of the time in the area, the “other tourists” she spoke of. People who came to visit would report seeing all manner of strange things in the sky, and Messoline would have numerous sightings herself, saying of it all:
I’ve seen 28 myself. 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. I don’t think people would lie about this kind of thing. Why would they? So I tend to believe people when they tell me about their experiences. People don’t get made fun of here. 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. I want people to feel comfortable here.
At the UFO Watch Tower
All of these accounts are recorded by Messoline in two rather thick binders she keeps on the premises and which are open for anyone to peruse. Besides all of the UFO sightings that seem to gravitate towards the UFO Watchtower, the place has managed to gather around it other tales as well. Perhaps the most bizarre of these is the story that somewhere under it is buried a giant “alien mothership.” She says she first found out about this from some psychics who visited the watchtower one day and were curious as to why she had built it there. Things would only get stranger from there, and Messoline says:
They’d each stand in the same spot in the shop and ask, ‘Why did you put this here?’ 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. One psychic said, ‘It’s a mothership. It’s a mile long.’ One day a group from the Navy came here. 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!
What in the world is going on with this place? Is it just its fortunate location that allows it to draw in such strangeness? Why is the San Luis Valley so alight with UFO phenomena to begin with? There are a lot of possible answers, but none seem to answer all of the questions. It remains a singularly bizarre place, and if you want to get a piece of that you could probably do worse than booking a campsite at the UFO Watch Tower, which has gone on to become quite the little slice of roadside bizarre Americana.