One day Jeff Willes hopes to be abducted by aliens.
Who knows? He may have already been aboard an extraterrestrial spacecraft and just doesn’t remember the encounter.
“What I know about UFO abduction phenomenon is they erase your memory of the abduction and you’re left waking up in the morning knowing something happened the night before but not sure what it was,” he says. “So I don’t know if I have been abducted — I may have been and not known. I’ve had a lot of experiences in my life where I look back at it and think maybe I might have been.”
On March 13, 1997, thousands of Phoenix residents witnessed a massive string of glowing orbs hovering over the Valley skies. The mysterious Phoenix Lights passed silently over a 300-mile corridor from the Nevada line through Phoenix to the northern edge of Tucson, for a three-hour period, between 7:30 p.m. and 10:30 p.m.
Willes is the self-declared “original UFO hunter.” Since 1995, the shaggy-haired, 41-year-old landscaper has been observing the Valley skies for three to four hours each day in search of photographic evidence of unidentified flying objects. Using a daytime videography technique, he’s captured hundreds of images of blurry black-and-white dots and shimmering lights he claims are proof of alien activity — most of which were filmed, conveniently, in the back yard of his Glendale home.
It’s not difficult to spot an alien spacecraft in the Valley, Willes says. Arizona is, after all, one of the world’s premier destinations for intergalactic visitors.
“Phoenix has always been a hotspot for UFOs,” he says. “If you spend maybe two or three hours watching the sky, you’ll see something — whether it’s in the daytime or the nighttime. It may take a couple of hours, but it’s well worth it when you finally spot something.”
It’s been 15 years since the appearance of the Phoenix Lights made world news as one of the most widely witnessed UFO sightings in history. Since then, hundreds of other sightings have been reported in Arizona, making the Valley one of the top places on the planet for purported alien activity, according to reports compiled by the Mutual UFO Network, one of the country’s largest UFO organizations.
The sightings have attracted an emerging group of extraterrestrial investigators who monitor Valley skies, prospecting for proof of alien life. While the UFOlogists often clash over their theories, many, like Willes, are on a quest for a close encounter.
ALIENS IN THE SKY
A massive string of glowing orbs hovered over Valley skies on March 13, 1997. The V-shaped formation passed silently over a 300-mile corridor from the Nevada line through Phoenix to the northern edge of Tucson, for a three-hour period, between 7:30 p.m. and 10:30 p.m.
The lights were witnessed by thousands and photographed by hundreds; police departments, news stations and the local Air Force base were inundated with calls from spectators. The military later claimed the triangle of lights was nothing more than flares dropped over the Valley during a training exercise, but UFO believers are convinced it was a visit from extraterrestrials.
Few reported UFO sightings have generated more passion, publicity, controversy and debate than the Phoenix Lights, says Dr. Lynne Kitei, a Paradise Valley UFO expert, who quite literally wrote the book on the Phoenix Lights.
“It changed people’s lives forever, ’til this day. People were touched in such a deep, rich, wondrous way by this,” says Kitei, a former physician who pushed her medical practice aside to study the phenomenon.
The mass sighting solidified Arizona’s place in UFO lore, alongside Roswell, N.M., says Tom Dongo, a Sedona UFO paranormal researcher and author.
“The result of the Phoenix Lights was that it opened a lot of people’s minds to the possibility of UFOs,” says Dongo, who is recognized as one of America’s leading authorities on UFOs. “It got the most publicity, but there have been more sightings that have been more pronounced. There have been many, many sightings in Arizona and across the globe.”
In 2009, Phoenix moved into the No. 1 spot for UFO sightings with 193 reports filed, according to the Mutual UFO Network. Last year that number increased to 238.
Investigators also say the Phoenix Lights reappeared in 2007, 2008 and 2011, but there were fewer documented viewers.
Arizonans who have never been privy to a UFO encounter may wonder how they’ve overlooked the dozens of UFOs supposedly flying overhead day and night. The answer, Dongo says, is simple: Most people just aren’t looking.
“I have this saying: ‘People just don’t look up.’” he says.
Worldwide, UFO sightings have been steadily increasing since 2005, with a drastic spike in the last few years. More than 6,000 reports were received from across the globe in 2009, reports the Mutual UFO Network. Of those, only 4,000 were eventually explained.
Researchers say most supposed sighting can be explained as natural phenomenon or something man-made. Satellites and planes are commonly mistaken for UFOs, and small percentages of sightings are actually hoaxes. But some unidentified flying objects simply can’t be identified, Kitei says.
After years of researching UFOs, Jeff Woolwine developed a unique and unusual theory: the aliens aren’t from outer space; they actually live among us inside Arizona’s mountains. According to Woolwine, the creatures emerge from the Valley mountains, usually in the mornings or evenings.
“This is happening at an accelerated pace worldwide. So something is happening, something is trying to wake us up to their presence,” she says. “Just because we don’t have the technology to really define what these things are, it doesn’t mean they are not real.”
ALIENS IN THE SOUTH
In the fall of 1999, Jeff Woolwine, of Tucson, was walking near Camelback Mountain when he heard the chopping sound of a helicopter in the sky.
Donning his trademark backward baseball cap, Woolwine glanced up at a sheriff’s helicopter overhead, when something else caught his eye. Floating about 100 feet above the aircraft was what appeared to be a peculiar, tube-shaped object.
“That was the very first time I was like, ‘What is this? This is weird.’ I was speechless, I couldn’t move. I kept trying to make sense of what I was seeing, but I couldn’t,” he says. “After that I kept seeing things. The more I paid attention to the sky, the more strange things I saw.”
Woolwine became obsessed with researching the origins of the flying objects — which eventually led him to the study of Native American rock art.
Soon he came to a unique and unusual theory about UFOs: the aliens aren’t from outer space; they actually live among us inside Arizona’s mountains.
“For two years I sat in front of South Mountain and I watched all kinds of crazy orbs and flying serpents and a bunch of weird things coming and going,” says Woolwine, who hosts a public-access show on UFOs. “Everyone thinks these spaceships come from a different planet. I can honestly tell you that these things actually live among us. They live here in the mountains of the Valley of the Sun.”
Woolwine’s “petroglyph theory,” however, has not been well received by his peers. He has been picked on by UFOlogists and mocked by debunkers. For his part, Woolwine says the “spacecrafts are from outer space” theory is “hogwash.”
“My petroglyph theory was new, it was fresh — it was something the Phoenix Lights saga had never heard about before. So when the other sky watchers started hearing about this, they started going after me and attacked me,” he says. “I have a hard time with some of these other sky watchers because they want to go with the spacecraft theory and take it to other planets, when what is really going on is these things actually live here.”
Woolwine claims he’s personally seen hundreds of UFOs. The creatures prefer the energy of the mountains, especially South Mountain, and emerge from the rocks around the summer solstice and winter equinox, usually in the mornings or evenings.
“I’ve been seeing them all my life. I see them all the time. No matter where I go, there is always an orb above my head,” he says. “Other people have to be seeing them too, so I know I’m not crazy.”
Self-proclaimed experts may question Woolwine’s assessment of his own sanity; however, he does have many followers.
Regardless of how Woolwine’s theories are received, UFOlogy is riddled with alien-obsessed crackpots, Dongo admits.
“It’s a field that attracts mentally imbalanced,” he says. “Some people do drift off in an incredible fantasy world … I’ve heard so many stories, so many times. I know when its B.S. now.”
But things are changing, Dongo says. Well-respected researchers and legitimate scientists are beginning to transform the perspective of UFOlogy.
Standing on stage in front of a crowd of several hundred people, Yvonne Smith, a renowned alien abductee investigator, recounted one of her first interviews with an alien snatchee. During a hypnosis session, Smith says the man revealed his encounter with a tall humanoid, resembling a preying mantis, dressed in a long black Dracula-style cape.
“That was the first time I thought, ‘What am I getting myself into—these people have to be crazy,’” she says with a laugh as an artist rendering of the creature flashes on the screen behind her.
Jeff Willes, the self-declared “original UFO hunter,” has been observing the Valley skies for three to four hours each day on a search for photographic evidence of unidentified flying objects.
On this Wednesday afternoon in February, Smith, who has researched the phenomenon of UFOs since the ’80s, was giving a lecture at the 22nd annual UFO Congress Convention being held at the Fort McDowell Casino.
During the five-day festival, lecturers explored the idea of crop circles, government cover-ups, UFO abductions and alien probing. Vendors also sold aura photographs, crystal skulls, alien books and UFO DVDs, while other spaceship-spotters participated in an alien film festival and sky-watching event.
On the first day of the festival, Smith lectured about the abduction phenomenon. Using hypnotherapy, Smith has attempted to unlock hidden memories from thousands of purported abductees — including doctors, university professors, engineers and lawyers.
“As I began studying more and more, the similarities in these cases were striking,” she says. “These abductees don’t know each other, but they all describe similar experiences.”
Most abduction claims describe encounters with large-headed, gray-skinned beings who conduct forced medical examinations on their reproductive systems. Some return with triangle-shaped marks on their body; others are implanted with odd metal devices.
Through her research Smith says she’s developed a theory on why humans are being abducted, probed and studied — and it’s a doozy of a theory.
“I do feel now, after 21 years of study, that the central, primary reason these abductions are occurring is they are creating this hybrid race with us — half human, half alien,” she says.
That’s right, she believes aliens are extracting human DNA samples and breeding human half-breeds.
“Twenty-one years ago I would have never imagined myself saying that,” Smith laughs.
While a human-alien hybrid race may sound bizarre — and terrifying — humanity should fear not. Thankfully for Earth’s sake, aliens are not attempting to enslave or conquer our race, according to the prevailing theory among UFO experts. Rather, aliens are actually coming in peace.
“If they wanted to invade us, they could have done it in an hour because of some of the weapons that they have,” Dongo says.
Most experts say the aliens are actually trying to save us from ourselves. Many abductees claim to be receiving psychic warnings about preserving our planet, and they often say the encounter was transformative. This is why many UFO chasers would like to experience a close encounter.
For the 25 years Dongo has been chasing aliens, he says he’s seen more than 400 UFOs, but has always been just footsteps behind actually meeting an extraterrestrial. He has a message for any Martian types who happen to be readers of The Times.
“If any extraterrestrial reads this, my offer still stands — a cup of coffee, just 10 minutes,” he says. “I just want to talk to a real extraterrestrial because they are here. They live among us.”
One famed alien abductee, however, says he wouldn’t recommend the experience.
Aliens are real and live among us, says Tom Dongo, a Sedona UFO paranormal researcher and author. Dongo captured this photo of a UFO sighting at Bradshaw Ranch in Sedona during a UFO tour..
The metallic golden disc hung motionless in the sky, 15 feet above a tangled pile of logs in a dense forest area of Turkey Springs.
From the open window of the pickup truck Travis Walton, a 22-year-old logger, strained his eyes to make sense of the glimmering objects hanging in the air. He glanced at the faces of his fellow loggers in the seat beside him and turned back to the glowing craft in the darkening sky.
On instinct, Walton leapt out of the truck and curiously crept toward the disc.
“Hey, Travis,” his co-workers shouted. “What do you think you’re doing?”
Suddenly, the disc began to wobble from side to side, and a blue-green light emanated from the craft, striking Walton. His body rose about a foot in the air, his arms and legs outstretched and shooting back stiffly.
Terrified and convinced Walton was dead, the other men sped away from the scene and reported the encounter to police.
After a five-day, highly publicized manhunt, a disoriented Walton reappeared on Nov. 10, 1975, with a chilling tale of a spaceship and silent, big-eyed extraterrestrials. He would later write a book about the experience, which was made into the movie Fire in the Sky.
Travis Walton’s experience would become one of the most controversial and well-documented alleged abductions in UFO history. Today, 37 years after the ordeal, the experience continues to haunt him.
“I’ve really tried to live as normally as possible and not let this take over my day-to-day life,” says Walton, who lives in Snowflake with his wife. “But on the other hand, to this day it has had a profound effect. I’ve never ceased with having to deal with it.”
Walton returned from the spacecraft to a disbelieving world of hostile interrogators, exploitative press and debunkers. For years he was plagued by nightmares, and his decision to write a book was intensely criticized.
“If I could have seen the future and how it would affect my life, and it was all up to me really to tell about what happened, I wouldn’t have spoken about the experience,” he says, “because it cost me dearly.”
Over the last three decades Walton has heard from numerous UFO enthusiasts and even members from his own logging crew who say they wish they had been abducted.
“I wouldn’t recommend it, even if they were totally benign,” he says. “For me having had this happen is definitely a negative on my life. I wish it hadn’t happened.”
Still, UFOlogists continue to watch the sky, hoping to make contact.
And who knows? It could happen. Maybe one day Jeff Willes could even father a half-human hybrid.
“If you show an interest in them, they’ll show an interest in you. If you’re out there videotaping and showing an interest in UFOs, they’ll pay attention,” he says. “That’s the easiest way to probably get abducted.”