by Kerry Ross Boren
Any attempt to write the complete history and phenomena of the Skinwalker Ranch would require volumes. This article attempts only to detail the known history briefly together with some accounts – especially from the Ute perspective – of the Ranch and its environs. No judgment is implied as to the causes of the phenomena that has come to rank the ranch and its environs as the seat of the most supernatural location in the world.
The Skinwalker Ranch is located about 3.5 miles southwest of Fort Duchesne, Utah, and borders the Ute Indian reservation. The ranch is replete with stories of mysteries, including UFOs, aliens, cattle mutilations, crop circles, and Navajo witches called Skinwalkers.
The Uintah Valley Reservation was created for the Ute in October 1861 by executive order of President Abraham Lincoln. The Uncompahgre Reservation was created in January 1882, and in 1886 the two reservations were merged to become the Uintah and Ouray Reservation. For more than 150 years, the Ute have lived here on the reservation that covers over 4.5 million acres.
The Utes have long maintained that the bordering ranch is on the “path of the Skinwalker” and for that reason they have long been forbidden to go near the property. The Skinwalker is a malevolent shapeshifting witch of the Navajo people, and the Ute people take it very seriously.
The Utes were a fierce and warlike people before their confinement to the reservation. Their homeland was primarily in Utah, Colorado, and New Mexico. As neighbors to the Navajo who lived near the present three-corners region of the above mentioned states, the Utes often fought as allies of the Navajo against their common enemies. However, when the Utes first acquired horses from the Spanish, they began to abduct Navajo people to sell them into slavery in New Mexico.
Somewhat later the Utes joined with Kit Carson in a military campaign against the Navajo, which ended in the Navajo being expelled from their native lands and forced to march to a reservation in Fort Sumner, New Mexico. This march was ever after known as the “Long Walk of the Navajo.” Several years later the Navajo were allowed to return to their homelands in the Four Corners region, but the Utes believed that the Navajo people put a curse on the Ute tribe for their previous transgressions against them. In a short time, the skinwalkers began to plague the Ute people.
The Utes declare that the Skinwalker presence in the Uintah Basin extends back at least 15 generations. According to the Ute elders the skinwalkers (and there is more than one) don't live on the ranch, but rather in a cave in nearby Dark Canyon. Dark Canyon has a long history with the Utes. According to their traditions, it was a branch of the old Spanish Trail, and the Spaniards often procured Navajo slave women and children from the Utes and transported them to Taos, New Mexico, for resale into slavery among the Spaniards. Therefore, according to the Utes, it was the ideal choice of the skinwalkers as their habitation. Because of this, Utes were, and still are, strictly forbidden to go there.
There are numerous reports of sightings of the Skinwalker by the Utes. There have been sightings near the ranch, on the road to Fort Duchesne, and at various locations on the reservation. The accounts vary from their looking like humans with dog heads smoking cigarettes, large black hairy humanoid figures that ran very fast. They are also described as having unusually large “coal red” eyes. Photos have been taken of their tracks which are said to be very large.
The Skinwalker Ranch, named for these shape-shifting witches, was first homesteaded by the Myers family in 1905 and then consisted of a few small buildings on the northwest corner of the ranch at the foot of Skinwalker Ridge. Later, the original homestead was abandoned and the Myers established a new home on the eastern side of the ranch. By the 1930s it was occupied by Kenneth John Myers and his wife Edith Child Myers. They lived on the property until 1987. If the Myers had any encounters or saw any strange occurrences, they never reported it, although some of their neighbors did.
In the 1950s a new phenomenon made its appearance in the Uintah Basin – UFOs. Sightings continued frequently throughout the next two decades. Yet, these were not the first UFO sightings in the Basin. The Utes have traditions of flying objects being seen in the sky by their grandfathers. As early as 1776, when Fathers Silvestre Vélez de Escalante and Francisco Atanasio Domínguez led the expedition from California through Colorado, Utah and part of northern Arizona, establishing what became the Old Spanish Trail and made the first encounters with the Utes, reported seeing flying objects above their campfires at night.
Hundreds of UFO reports were filed during the fifties and sixties, ranging from strange fireballs, and aircraft that ranged in size from 20-30 feet across to as large as the size of a football field. They were described variously as round, oval, cigar-shaped, and triangular. Some were surrounded by a glowing green light, others emitted wavy red beams, and others appeared to shoot colored lights from their underbellies. By the 1970s the Utah Highway Patrol was getting so many UFO calls that the troopers stopped filling out incident reports. Over the years, many of the eyewitnesses saw living beings in the windows or portholes of UFOs. At the same time, local ranchers also began to report bizarre cattle mutilations.
In 1974, Frank Salisbury, a plant physiologist and a professor of plant science at the University of Utah, wrote a popular book on the history of the UFO phenomena in the Uintah Basin, co-authored by Joseph “Junior” Hicks, of whom more later. Salisbury titled his book The Utah UFO Display. He wrote a compelling account indicating that local residents were witnessing something very weird and quite genuine. Salisbury refrained from wild speculations and stuck to the facts, and his book stands as a landmark study of the Uintah Basin UFO phenomenon.
I had the distinct pleasure of meeting Frank Boyer Salisbury in 1975, barely a year after his UFO book debut. I had founded the National Center and Association for Outlaw-Lawman History at Utah State University in 1975, and when Dr. Everett Cooley introduced me to Frank Salisbury, former associate professor of history at Utah State University, I was ecstatic. I had the opportunity to interview Salisbury at length regarding his investigations into the Uintah Basin UFO phenomena. He told me fascinating stories about Basin residents who had not only seen UFOs first hand, but some of whom had been abducted by them! I asked him if he truly believed the accounts of those people – and there were hundreds of them – and his answer was a definite “Absolutely; without question.”
There was no reason to doubt Frank Salisbury's veracity. His credits were well established and his accomplishments were legion. He was an avid author, writing 23 books and innumerable papers. He also wrote religious books published by Deseret Book twice and several books after retirement pointing out the problems with the molecular basis of evolution and genetic diversity accounting for the world we live in. He had visited most of the countries on Earth, often as a featured scientific speaker with an interest in growing plants in space or on other planets. He was an experimenter who grew wheat on the Russian space station MIR, and his work is continued at USU to this day.
The Myers vacated the ranch in 1987, and it was uninhabited for seven years before it was purchased by Terry and Gwen Sherman in 1994. They moved in with their two children and were surprised to find that the previous owners had placed deadbolt locks on all the doors and windows, including those inside the house. Some these had deadbolts on both the inside and the outside of the house, and even the kitchen cabinets had bolts on them. At both ends of the house, iron stakes and heavy chains had been installed, which Sherman guessed were used by the previous tenants for large guard dogs.
On the very day they took possession, the family spotted a large wolf in one of their pastures. This was unusual because the last sighting of a wolf in Utah was in 1929. The wolf approached stealthily, making its way to a livestock pen, where it grabbed a calf by the nose, trying to drag it through the corral bars. Terry Sherman and his father began to beat the animal in an effort to make it release the calf without success. When that failed, Sherman shot the animal with a .357 magnum at point-blank range, but still, the wolf held onto the calf. After a second shot, the wolf released the calf and stood there calmly looking at the men. After a few more shots, the animal trotted off. Amazingly, there was no blood or sign of injury in the animal. The men followed the tracks of the animal for about a mile before they suddenly ended, as if it had simply vanished.
A few weeks later, when Gwen Sherman was in her car, she encountered a wolf that was so large, its back was parallel with the top of her window. The large wolf was accompanied by a dog-like animal that she couldn’t identify.
During the next two years, the Shermans, reported seeing a number of strange animals in the area, including exotic, multicolored birds not native to the region, and tall dark beast that resembled Bigfoot or Sasquatch. On one occasion, the Shermans saw a strange hyena-like creature attacking one of their horses, which they described as “low to the ground, heavily muscled, weighing perhaps 200 pounds, with curly red hair and a bushy tail.” As Mr. Sherman approached the animal, it vanished before his eyes. Afterward, they checked the horse and found numerous claw marks on its legs. A few months later, a neighbor reported seeing a similar beast running across their property.
The Shermans and their neighbors also saw strange lights and flying objects, including more than a dozen on one evening. On many of the occasions they also experienced the death or disappearance of seven of their best cows. Four disappeared without a trace and three more were found dead and partially mutilated.
One of the dead cows had a peculiar hole in the center of its left eyeball but was otherwise untouched. Another was found with a similar hole in its left eye and a 6-inch hole, about an inch deep, had been carved out of its rectum. The last cow to be killed and mutilated had been seen alive by the Shermans’ son just five minutes earlier. It had a 6-inch wide, 18-inch deep hole cored out of its rectum that extended into the body cavity. In all three cases, there was no trace of blood found. A chemical odor was present, and no evidence of predators, footprints or tire tracks.
Of the cattle that disappeared, one seemed to have been magically lifted from the snow. Its hoof prints led into a field and then just simply stopped. The ground was littered with broken twigs and branches and the tops of the trees appeared to have been cut off.
Other strange events also occurred during these years. Pastures unexplainedly lit up at night, and the sounds of heavy machinery could be heard emanating from under the earth. Poltergeist activities occurred, such as items disappearing only to reappear later, and strange disembodied voices, often speaking an unfamiliar language, were heard from above. Crop circles of flattened grass were found on the ranch.
“For a long time,” said Terry Sherman, “we wondered what we were seeing if it was something to with a top secret project. I don't know really what to think about it.”
In May 1996 Sherman was outside with his three dogs when a notinced a blue orb darting around a field near the ranch house. He sent his dogs to go after it and they chased and barked at the orb as they followed it into a stand of thick brush. Sherman heard them make tree terrible yelps and he called for them but they didn't respond. The next morning he set out to looks for his dogs but found only three rounds greasy lumps near what appeared to be a large scorched spot. The dogs were never seen again.
The Shermans, their teenage son and 10-year-old daughter, saw three specific types of UFOs repeatedly – a small boxlike craft with a white light, a 40 foot long object and a huge ship the size of several football fields. One craft emitted a wavy red ray or light beam as it flew along, and they witnessed other airborne lights, some of which emerged from orange, circular doorways that seem to appear in midair. They managed to videotape two of the sightings.
Terry and his son believe they may have communicated with an alien craft. As they traveled west on the ranch road one evening, they saw a lighted object duck behind the rock ridge as if to avoid them. Moments later they managed to sneak up on the object. Before it could hide again, they stood and waved their arms at it. The light flashed on and off three times, as if signaling them, and then disappeared.
After two years of being terrified by these events, the Shermans began to speak out publicly. Their story first appeared in the Deseret News of Salt Lake City, and not long after in the alternative weekly Las Vegas Mercury as a series of article by journalist George Knapp.
George Knapp and co-author, Colm Kelleher, subsequently authored a book in which they detailed the investigations into alleged UFO sightings in the Uintah County region, the vanishing and mutilated cattle, large animals with piercing red eyes that were not injured when struck by bullets, invisible objects emitting destructive magnetic fields, crops circles, bigfoot-like creatures, and poltergeist activity.
Not long after, Robert Bigelow, a millionaire businessman, read about the events in the newspapers. Bigelow, a firm believer in ufology, and founder of the National Institute for Discovery Science, offered to buy the property. Bigelow bought the ranch for $200,000 contingent on a non-disclosure agreement with the Shermans, who agreed not to talk further about the events on the ranch. He then established a compound with high-tech sensing equipment, PhD-level field investigators, scientists, and a security detail which guarded the property 24 hours a day. The investigators were tasked with collecting evidence, interviewing witnesses, and searching for explanations.
Whatever discoveries were made by Bigelow during ensuing years were not revealed, but the National Institute of Discovery Science was disbanded in 2004. However, the organization was quickly replaced by the Bigelow Aerospace Advanced Space Studies (BAASS), which was even more secretive and was apparently working towards having a government sponsor. In 2007, the Advanced Aviation Threat Identification Program (AATIP), a secret investigatory effort funded by the United States Defense Department to study unidentified flying objects, established itself on Skinwalker Ranch.
During the next several years, $22 million were spent on the program, which investigated reports of unidentified flying objects and was run by a military intelligence official, Luis Elizondo from the Pentagon. The shadowy program was largely funded at the request of Harry Reid, the Nevada Democrat who was the Senate majority leader at the time and who has long had an interest in space phenomena. He was also a longtime friend of Robert Bigelow. This information was kept secret from the public until it was released by the New York Times in 2017. When the story broke, a Department of Defense official confirmed the government-funded program and Senator Harry Reid admitted his complicity. Today, parts of the study still remain classified and the Department of Defense has never officially acknowledged the existence of the program, but, interestingly, it does admit that the program was shut down in 2012.
That same year, the Bigelow Aerospace Advanced Space Studies lost its funding from the Department of Defense, as the Advanced Aviation Threat Identification Program contract expired and was not renewed. Luis Elizonodo’s explained that officials feared the public might learn about the program and see it as misappropriation of taxpayer funds.
In 2016, the ranch was sold for rumored amount of 4.5 million dollars to Adamantium Holdings. Bigelow’s company then disbanded its security team, but it was quickly replaced by the new owners. That same year, the Hicken Ranch Road, a Uintah County public road, which bisected the Skinwalker Ranch, was illegally gated. Later that year, a representative of Adamantium Real Estate approached the county for a road vacation, claiming rampant trespassing issues led the owners to make the road private. The request was granted. Today there is no access to the property, and gates block the entrance with large warning signs. In 2018, Adamantium Real Estate, LLC was issued a trademark for the name “Skinwalker Ranch.”
These high-tech scientific investigations, instead of debunking the Skinwalker legend, appear to have confirmed it. While tight-lipped about their investigations and discoveries, they firmly believe that the Navajo Skinwalkers were once benevolent medicine men who achieved the highest level of priesthood, but chose to use their power to inflict pain.
According to Navajo culture, a skinwalker (Navajo: yee naaldlooshii) is a type of harmful witch who has the ability to turn into, possess, or disguise themselves as an animal. In the Navajo language, yee naaldlooshii translates to “by means of it, it goes on all fours”. The legend of the skinwalkers is not well understood outside of Navajo culture, mostly due to reluctance to discuss the subject with outsiders. Navajo people are reluctant to reveal skinwalker lore to non-Navajos, or to discuss it at all among those they do not trust.
In an extensive examination of the Navajo skinwalker, Legends of America writes: In order to become a Skinwalker, he or she must be initiated by a secret society that requires the evilest of deeds – the killing of a close family member, most often a sibling. After this task has been completed, the individual then acquires supernatural powers, which gives them the ability to shape-shift into animals. Most often, they are seen in the form of coyotes, wolves, foxes, cougars, dogs, and bears, but can take the shape of any animal. They then wear the skins of the animals they transform into, hence, the name Skinwalker. Sometimes, they also wore animal skulls or antlers atop their heads, which brought them more power. They choose what animal they wanted to turn into, depending on the abilities needed for a particular task, such as speed, strength, endurance, stealth, claws, and teeth, etc. They may transform again if trying to escape from pursuers.
The research also shows that native American lore maintain that skinwalkers are able to take possession of humans if a person locks eyes with them. After taking control, the witch can make its victims do and say things that they wouldn’t otherwise.
A retired science teacher named Joseph “Junior” Hicks from Roosevelt, Utah, investigated more than 400 UFO sightings in the Uintah Basin. He found that the UFO appearances often coincided with the cattle mutilations.
Junior Hicks was not just a ufologist. He also had an abiding interest in the old Spanish mines of the High Uintahs. He was thoroughly convinced of the existence of the famous Lost Rhoades Mines, and in about 1970 I met with him at the Frontier Grill in Roosevelt, Utah, to interview him about the mines for a proposed book with my cousin, Gale Rhoades, titled Footprints in the Wilderness. Before long our conversation about the mines turned into a discussion on UFOs in the Uintah Basin.
I shared with him my experience which had occurred in the summer of 1965. I walked out of my house about five miles southeast of the little town of Manila, Utah, to enjoy the warm night air. Four or five miles east of my home was the massive Flaming Gorge Reservoir, and my eyes were drawn upward above the body of water by several moving lights. I watched intently and saw a large light high up in the sky which did not appear to be a star and, being stationary, I knew it was not a plane or other flying vehicle.
Suddenly, from beneath the large light there emerged a smaller light which seemed to break away or come out of the larger light. The smaller light dropped downward and then suddenly stopped and became motionless. A few minutes later, another small light came down from the large light and stopped motionless not far from the first light. This repeated itself until six small lights were lined up in the sky beneath the larger light.
The six small lights then suddenly began to fly in formation, first up, then down, and back up again. They did this numerous times. I was so enthralled with this spectacle that I woke my wife and several children to come out and watch it with me. We watched for several hours as the light performed precision flying high above our heads in the night time sky. My family soon grew weary and returned to their beds, but I climbed up on a high ledge near my house and sat and watched enthralled at the spectacle above my head for half the night.
The lights were fascinating to watch. At first they moved in formation, an equal distance apart, sometimes upward near the large light which had given birth to them, and sometimes just moving across the sky for some distance and then returning to their place of origin.
Then, about two o'clock in the morning, the lights suddenly left their formation and began flying independently about the night time sky. It was amazing to watch. They began to dart about the sky at rapid speed, skirting to and fro, dashing down, then flying upwards at high speed and stopping instantly. It was obvious that these were not earthly vehicles for no known aircraft could manage such mach speeds and rapid stops.
Finally, about three o'clock, the six smaller flying lights returned one by one to their former formation and halted there for an extended time. Then, slowly one of them merged with another of the lights, and then others, one by one, also merged until they formed a single light, which slowly elevated upwards and joined the large light (which I dubbed the “Mother Ship”). The large light remained there, motionless, until I finally tired of watching and returned to my bed for a few hours sleep, my thoughts filled the wonders I had just watched.
Early the following morning, I arose from my bed and went outside and looked up into the sky where I have viewed the phenomena of the night before. The morning sun was just rising in the east and it illuminated the morning sky. I turned my gaze upward to the location where I had seen the activity of the night before, not expecting to see anything; but there it was! The morning sun was illuminating some large metallic (I presumed) object high above the lake. This, I realized, was the “Mother Ship” I had viewed the night before. I watched it spellbound for about an hour, cursing myself for not having a camera or binoculars to capture it, when suddenly, like a shooting star, it accelerated upward and out of sight in the blink of an eye!
At my interview with Junior Hicks, I related this event to him in detail and he sat silent, listening, occasionally nodding his head a little, until I was finished. Then he spoke.
“I don't doubt it for a minute,” he said at last. “The first UFO sighting I recorded happened back in 1951. It was cigar shaped, sitting on the ground during daylight, and was seen by thirty students and their teacher from about fifty feet away.”
Hicks had taught for 33 years at Alterra High School and West Junior High in Uintah County, creating many lasting relationships with students and faculty. He was well known for a most exceptional science classroom that contained unique displays of electrical gadgets, minerals, fossils, biological specimens and many hands-on learning marvels. He took it upon himself to follow up on the UFO case and separately interviewed all of the kids who had seen the object. He quickly concluded that the kids had not made it up.
The case so intrigued him that he began to actively pursue other reports of UFOs in the Basin. Typically, he would contact witnesses at their homes, arrange to meet them in a quiet and comfortable setting, then interview them, face-to-face, for several hours. Hicks never divulged the identity of the witnesses without their permission. As word of his trustworthiness spread, Hicks began to receive more and more calls about the mysterious objects that seemed to hold a fascination for people of the Uintah Basin.
Hicks would eventually catalog more than four hundred impressive cases, and this was after he had eliminated the thousands of reports of “lights in the sky.” Hicks’s database was heavily skewed toward close encounters simply because he was too busy to investigate anything but the more spectacular cases. Hicks’s case files helped form the core of Salisbury’s book.
This strange legacy of the Uintah Basin goes back centuries, Hicks told us in an interview in 2003. “Father Escalante may have seen a UFO when he was here in 1776,” he said. “The records from his trip show that while encamped at El Rey, a strange fireball came across the sky above his camp. The UFOs seen here since I’ve been collecting stories range in size from twenty to thirty feet across, all the way to the size of a football field. Some are round, some oval, some cigar shaped, some triangular. The largest one, a triangle, was seen back in the sixties. We had one resident, an Indian, who took a shot at a UFO with his rifle and heard a ricochet ping as the bullet bounced off the metal ship. The people who see them include lawyers, bankers, ranchers, people I’ve known my whole life.”
Because he taught school for so many years, Hicks had a personal relationship with most of the people who live in the area and had been able to talk openly with them about their experiences, whereas some outside investigators who’ve asked questions have been stymied by mistrust among the local residents, many of whom are understandably wary of being ridiculed by big-city strangers.
Hicks said there was a time in the 1960s and 1970s when the Utah Highway Patrol was getting so many UFO calls that the troopers simply stopped filling out reports on the incidents. The UFO stories have predictably attracted a steady stream of journalists, TV crews, and UFO faithful over the years, but they generally stay for only a few days, he said, and the reports they produce rarely do more than skim the surface of what is really unfolding in the Basin.
Hicks had his own sighting back in the mid- 1970s. He watched an orange ball fly over the town of Roosevelt at a high rate of speed, then make an abrupt right-angle turn. The ball hovered in the air over the town before zipping out of sight at an incredible speed. In at least six of the cases he investigated, the witnesses said they saw not only spaceships but also the occupants of the craft. A rancher, whose father had been a Native American medicine man, told Hicks that a silver saucer landed on his land and that five short human-like beings could be seen walking around inside the craft. The saucer had a row of windows, the witness said, and the beings inside appeared to be wearing white overalls. At least one UFO witness he interviewed claimed to have seen alien beings as they collected samples of native plant life.
“They seem to put on displays for people,” Hicks said, “as if it’s a psychological study. I think we are being visited by beings from another world or some other place and it’s for research and exploration.” Hicks had investigated two incidents in which local residents claimed to have been abducted by aliens.
But along with the aerial displays by UFOs have come more frightening intrusions. Beginning in the 1960s and continuing into the 1970s, local ranchers reported the bizarre mutilations of their cattle. Similar mutilations have been reported in other parts of the world. The motives and methods of the mutilators, none of whom have ever been caught in the act, remain a complete mystery. Hicks said he had personal knowledge of twelve to fifteen mutilation cases.
As if checking off a laundry list of every modern paranormal mystery, Hicks further alleged that local residents have frequently reported sightings of creatures that resemble the legendary Sasquatch, better known as Bigfoot. Some of the apelike creatures are Sasquatch, the Utes say, while others might be so-called skinwalkers, beings of pure evil that can assume the shape of any animal.
Despite the many reports of UFOs, animal mutilations, and Bigfoot sightings that seem to permeate every corner of the Basin, the greatest concentration of strangeness has always taken place at what became the Sherman’ 480-acre ranch. Junior Hicks said he had worked on the ranch a few times over the years. He helped to repair pumps and performed other small jobs, and during those visits, he and others have seen things that are not easily explained. He had seen compasses spin wildly out of control, as if disturbed by unknown magnetic forces.
“It all seems to be concentrated on the ranch,” Hicks said. “The Utes don’t mess with it. They have stories about the place that go back fifteen generations. They say the ranch is ‘in the path of the Skinwalker.’”
Joseph Junior Hicks, age 92, passed away on Sunday, June 7, 2020, at his home in Roosevelt, Utah. Upon hearing of the death of Joseph “Junior' Hicks the same day, Brandon Fugal posted on Twitter: “Saddened to hear of the passing of Joseph “Junior” Hicks. We remember his visits to Skinwalker Ranch with fondness, captivated by his vast knowledge as the leading area historian. Junior is a Skinwalker Ranch & Uintah Basin Legend if ever there was one. RIP.” Brandon Fugal is the latest owner of the ranch. He purchased the property from North Las Vegas businessman Robert Bigelow.
Junior Hicks had mentioned in our interview that there were Spanish symbols carved into the ledges of Dark Canyon. Dark Canyon, it should be remembered, was the alleged home of the Skinwalker or skinwalkers who ostensibly lived in a cave located there. I asked him for details of the location of the symbols and he said he was uncertain, but he knew a man who knew about them well, a Ute Indian named Waubin Wanzitz. I had heard of Waubin's name before I became acquainted with him personally. His name could be found chiseled into the ledges in near every major canyon in the Uintah Basin.
Waubin Quentin Wanzitz was born 1 May 1902 at Whiterocks, Utah, a son of Andrew Anzitz “Antelope” Wanzitz (1844-1912) and Luella Wanrodes (1865-1902). His mother died in childbirth when he was born. His father, Antelope, was a sub-chief of the Utes, even though his grandfather, Noat “Elk” Alec Wanzitz (1832-1926) was Shoshone. Antelope had been an interpreter for the Ute Chief Ouray and Colorow, and was a man of considerable distinction among the Utes. I went directly to my uncle, Bill Reed, a Ute Indian, for an introduction to Waubin.
My Uncle Bill Reed's full name was William Charles Reed (1897-1979). His grandmother was Rachel Wanzitz (1847-1894), the aunt of Waubin Wanzitz, thus making my Uncle Bill and Waubin 2d cousins. Uncle Bill arranged for myself and my cousin Gale Rhoades, who was co-authoring the Rhoades history with me, to meet Waubin at the trading post in Whiterocks.
Waubin was a personable fellow, with a wry grin and a little bowlegged from years in the saddle. We spent considerable time explaining why we wanted to go to Dark Canyon in search of Spanish symbols, but when we asked Waubin to accompany us to point them out, he balked. “I won't go into the canyon with you, but I can take you to the top where the Old Spanish Trail goes down into it, and I'll tell you where you can find the symbols.” We agreed to his terms and were soon on our way in Gale's Jeep to the rim of the canyon.
Waubin became noticeably nervous as we left Fort Duchesne, headed south. A barely passable dirt road led us to the rim of Dark Canyon, on the fringe of the Reservation boundary and not far from the Skinwalker Ranch. Waubin called out for us to stop the Jeep a few hundreds yards from the rim. “This is as far as I can go,” Waubin said. “I'm too damned close already.” He hurriedly told us how to get down the canyon trail and which way to turn in order to find the Spanish symbols. “Whatever you do, stay away from the Skinwalker Cave. Don't say I didn't warn you.” We asked him how he was going to get back. “I know a place a few miles back where I can get a ride. I just hope I'm not in the party that comes to remove your damned carcasses from the canyon.” He didn't inspire much confidence in our success.
Dark Canyon is not a deep canyon; it is more of a valley with precipitous ledges here and there, running gradually from the northwest to southeast. It is heavily wooded with numerous large boulders here and there among the trees. The canyon is called “doo-shane” by the Utes, which means “dark canyon,” and it was the origin of the name “Duchesne” given to the city and county, indicating its importance to the Utes. Later historians have made the erroneous assumption that the name was of French origin and that it was named for some early trapper or explorer.
Gale and I plodded down the well-worn canyon trail, which was part of the Old Spanish Trail from the Uintah Mountains south to Taos, New Mexico. As we worked our way deep into the bottom of the valley, a sense of uneasiness came over both of us. We laughed it off as being a result of Waubin's dramatic warning.
We found the Spanish symbols just as Waubin described, some of them on outcrops of ledges, and others on single large boulders scattered throughout the canyon floor. But the uneasiness never left us. “I feel like we're being watched,” Gale said. I had the same feeling but I passed it off as either false anxiety or perhaps the Utes who carefully watched the area.
At a point nearly half way along the canyon floor the ledges grew higher and suddenly we were confronted with a large overhang cave high on the cliff side. There were tailings fanning down beneath the cave to the canyon floor and we surmised that perhaps this was the workings of an old Spanish mine, and we determined to climb up to explore the cave. We also realized that this must be the fabled Skinwalker Cave. We recalled that Waubin had warned us to stay away from it. We debated the wisdom of our choice, but Gale urged that there might be artifacts in the cave, and so with some trepidation, we continued to scramble up the slope towards the cave opening.
“Did you hear something?” Gale asked, stopping in his tracks. I had heard it. It sounded like a voice, whispering loudly. We couldn't make out what it said, but it unnerved us. At the same moment, a pitch black cloud emanated from the cave entrance and wafted along the canyon side. It was too dark and impalpable to be smoke.
As we watched in awe, a very large and shaggy wolf emerged from the cave and stood on a flat stone directly above us. It was unlike any wolf we had ever seen. At times it rose up slightly, as though attempting to stand on its hind legs.
“The cave must be the wolf's den,” Gale surmised.
“There are no wolves in Utah any longer,” I corrected.
“Then what's that?”
I had no answer, but both of us felt that entering the cave was not a good idea and even being in the canyon had lost its flavor. We traipsed back to the Jeep in silence, watching over our shoulders, and returned to civilization, never to return. It was one of the strangest occurrences we had encountered in our years in the mountains and canyons and we seldom spoke of it, even to one another. How can you explain the unexplainable without sounding mad?