LOWE-CATION: UFOS AND ALIEN ABDUCTIONS IN ARIZONA

The Ocotillo Trail leads off into the Arizona desert.

The Ocotillo Trail leads off into the Arizona desert. (Photo: Alamy)

LOCATION: Arizona

BACKSTORY: Over the past 70 years, Arizona has been home base for thousands of reports of UFO sightings and alien abductions. While a number of incidents have made headlines, two of the most talked-about events include the reported alien abduction of Travis Walton in 1975, and the Phoenix Lights, an event that took place on March 13, 1997.

  • Travis Walton: As he tells it on his website, and documents in his book Fire in the Sky (originally called The Walton Experience), logger Travis Walton was abducted from his work site in an area within the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest. While many skeptics have said otherwise, Walton has stuck to his story for more than 40 years.
  • Phoenix Lights: On the night of March 13, 1997, at about 8 p.m., a V-shaped formation of lights flew over several Arizona cities, including Phoenix. About two hours later, another light "event" took place over Phoenix. Were there lights? Absolutely. Were there two separate incidents? Yes. However, this is where the lines of agreement between the believers and the skeptics end.

A BELIEVER'S PERSPECTIVE: Jeff Willes, the founder of UFOs Over Phoenix, says that his first paranormal experience—which led to his lifelong passion for researching UFOs and aliens—occurred when he was about six years old. "I was going to bed at night and something grabbed my hand," he says. "It felt like a person grabbing your hand, like a hand on a hand. I turned on the light and nothing was there at all. That's what led me, at a really young age, to realize that there's some physical reality there that can become invisible, or disappear."

Storm clouds settle over Phoenix.

Storm clouds settle over Phoenix. (Photo: Alamy)

Fast-forward to events in recent years, including the Phoenix Lights, and Willes remains a believer—but not one who's particularly surprised. Regarding the vast amount of media attention that has focused on that 1997 night, Willes says, "All it did was get the people's attention on a phenomenon that occurs every day."

THE DEBUNKERS' VIEW: From 1995 to 1999, Tony Ortega lived in Arizona, where he worked at the Phoenix New Times. (He went on to become the editor of The Village Voice and now runs the website The Underground Bunker.) He has written extensively about The Phoenix Lights, and his article "The 'Phoenix Lights' 20 years later, still the same set of planes and flares over Arizona" offers a detailed breakdown that addresses both events from the night of March 13, 1997.

He explains, "There was a 'V' that crossed the entire state at about 8:00 p.m., then there was a string of lights that just fell straight down at 10. It's no question that the 'V' was a formation of airplanes."

With the help of a high-powered telescope, astronomer Mitch Stanley has stood firm, and gone on record to state that the first event was indeed individual airplanes. Ortega cites Stanley's observations with confidence.

As for the second round of mysterious—or not-so-mysterious—lights, it turns out that the Maryland National Guard was engaged in a training exercise that included dropping a series of flares over the Barry M. Goldwater Air Force Range, southwest of Phoenix. "Because news outlets never make this clear, people who saw the planes argue that flares can't explain what they saw, and the people who saw the flares know that they didn't see planes," Ortega says.

"I understand why people are fascinated by this topic, but this particular incident is not a mystery," he says. Still, while believers don't accept Ortega's explanation, they have found some common ground with him. "I've actually had some UFO investigators come to me and thank me and say, 'Listen, we disagree with sort of your point of view, but it's so rare for a reporter to take this stuff seriously. We appreciate that.' "

An alien's-eye view of an irrigated farm in the Arizona desert.

An alien's-eye view of an irrigated farm in the Arizona desert. (Photo: Alamy)

LEARN MORE: From the believers to the skeptics, the available commentary about UFOs and aliens knows no bounds. Here is a (small) sampling of what's out there: UFOs and Disclosure in the Trump Era (Richard Dolan Lecture Series, Volume 2), by Richard M. Dolan; UFOs: Generals, Pilots, and Government Officials Go on the Record, by Leslie Kean; The Close Encounters Man: How One Man Made the World Believe in UFOs, by Mark O'Connell; "The 'Phoenix Lights' 20 years later, still the same set of planes and flares over Arizona" and "The Phoenix Lights Explained (Again)," by Tony Ortega; "The 'Phoenix Lights' Become an 'Incident,'" by Robert Scheaffer; Fire in the Sky (also a 1993 movie), by Travis Walton; and UFOs Over Phoenix, run by Jeff Willes.