Funny, you don’t really hear much about UFO sightings anymore. Once the mass-paranoia of the 1950s and ’60s, the craze over little green men invading our planet seems to have subsided, and with it has gone the kitschy, crazy, and downright entertaining stories that came with it. Thank God for Florida.
Even though the golden age of extraterrestrial encounters might have ended with the Cold War, there’s still hope! Many sites around America commemorate, celebrate, and even display artifacts from the years when people regularly mistook military aircraft for Martians. We chatted with Alanna Smith, the paranormal expert and content editor for Travel Pirates, and she hipped us to some of the coolest places around America for UFO tourism.
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Since trying to get into Area 51 will land you a lengthy prison stay for trespassing onto a government installation, the nearby town of Rachel is the 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 range to test 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, of course, the autopsies of the Roswell aliens taking place underground.
Since then it has become the icon of American UFO legends, including episodes of The X-Files, scenes from Independence Day, and mentions in pretty much every reference ever to extraterrestrials. Rachel hasn’t missed a beat, 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 borders of Area 51 and show you alleged famous alien sites through the fences.
Any jackalope with two eyes and operable feet can make a pilgrimage to Sedona for the red rocks, desert art scene, adobe architecture, and other quaint things the town has going for it. 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 siting UFOs. Hell, even former governor Fife Symington claims to have seen an “enormous and inexplicable” flying object here. So it would reason someone would make a business out of it. And that someone is former alien abductee Miranda Leslie.
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, and satellites, and let you try and figure out what those high-speed lights are moving across the sky. No word, however, on whether the waiver includes liability for possible abductions.
Before the advent of commercial aircraft, seeing ANYTHING flying in the sky that didn’t have feathers must have seemed insanely weird, even in Texas. So you can imagine how dumbfounded the people of Aurora must have been when they saw a big flying ship “shaped like a cigar” crash into a windmill belonging to one of the local judges. It was May 1897, and this tiny town northwest of Fort Worth became the 19th-century version of internet famous for a brief shining moment as the only place in America with a recorded UFO crash.
The “pilot” of the ship was allegedly removed and buried in the local cemetery, where his grave site is still adorned with etchings of the supposed ship. It stands as the only extraterrestrial gravesite in America, though the city doesn’t exactly highlight it on tourism brochures. This is a marked change from 120 years ago, when some theorized the town invented the crash as a way to draw visitors during a lean agricultural year. The wreckage of the ship was never found, though some claim it was tossed down a well.
Lincoln, New Hampshire
UFO sightings are one thing — often easily explained as spying Americans not wanting to admit Russian surveillance, or just bad acid. 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.
Their story goes: Barney looked through his binoculars and claimed he could see windows on the object and people inside. The couple returned home to find 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’s watch was operative. After Betty began experiencing repeated nightmares, the couple underwent intense hypnotherapy during which they remembered being forced onto a ship and examined by “strange men.” The figures they described had bald heads and slanted eyes, and are the model for what many aliens in popular culture look like today. The story was ultimately turned into a book and TV movie starring James Earl Jones and Estelle Parsons.
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 says the ship landed has a big alien mural on the wall, and hosts the “First Rest Room Museum Dedicated to Alien Abduction.” Roswell it is not. But it’s also perhaps the most important stretch of road in American Ufology.
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 the universe. The UFO Welcome Center is equipped with showers, cable TV, and air conditioning. In case those hot Carolina summers are a little too rough for our extra-terrestrial visitors.
The place is the brainchild of Jody Pendarvis, who built this ramshackle structure out of wood, metal, and other random stuff 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 the amenities and will likely be rented as a “standard room.” You can pay a fee to tour the center, which we’re guessing has to be the best thing to do in Bowman, South Carolina. It might not have any historical importance now, but just wait till the aliens arrive.
Roswell, New Mexico
Perhaps the most notable UFO crash in American history came on June 14, 1947. That night, a farmer named Mac Brazel was driving about 80 miles outside Roswell, and came across a flaming heap of rubber, foil, and sticks. He contacted local authorities, who contacted the military, who ultimately came to the site and issued a public statement that a flying saucer had landed in Roswell.
Now, in 1947 UFO sightings were about as common as reality TV show “star” sightings are today, but the country was still whipped up into a frenzy. The government changed its tune and deemed the UFO a “weather balloon,” but many suspect the object was a device intended to spy on Russian nuclear development.
Though Roswell may not have been the land of first contact, the town has since leaned into the notoriety and become the greatest alien theme 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, the town is a goofy, cheezy place and a fantastic slice of Americana.
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. (This was back in more innocent times, when shapes like that were still compared to acorns.)
As soon as the object landed, the military came with flatbed trucks and hauled it away, never releasing an official statement. Some onlookers thought it was a Russian satellite. Others saw the 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, 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 great mysteries to ever fall out of the skies.
You know those grainy black-and-white pictures you see on B-rolls of every TV show you’ve ever seen about flying saucers? There’s a good chance those photos came from McMinnville, a small town in the heart of Oregon wine country that’s 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, sort of the 1950 equivalent of being a “featured post” on Instagram. They became the iconic photos of the era’s UFO craze. And unlike most theories, stories, and abduction claims of the time, these pictures have never been debunked.
For their part, the Trents 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.