The West Files: Aliens

The fifth and final story in a series on Arizona legends, unsolved mysteries and ghost towns
By Michela Wilson


First documentation

In 1947, a significant, yet little-known event established Arizona as a hotspot for UFO activity.

On July 7, William Rhodes took some of the first-known photographs of an unidentifiable flying object over his home in Phoenix. His two photographs are simple, but clearly show a disc-shaped object in the sky.

In a 1998 interview with Fox 10 Phoenix, Rhodes said that after the photos were published in the Arizona Republic, government agents “borrowed” the negatives but never returned them.

The year 1947 was a prominent one for UFOs in the United States and Arizona. In addition to the Rhodes photos, rumor has it there was a UFO crash in Phoenix later that year, not long after the more famous Roswell, New Mexico, crash. Some people believe the Dreamy Draw Dam was built to cover up the wreckage, according to Alejandro Rojas of

Alien abduction

The Travis Walton abduction of 1975 made Arizona the site of perhaps the most famous alien encounter story ever.

Walton recounted his abduction experience as a 22-year-old logger, near Snowflake, Arizona, in an interview with HuffPost in 2015. Walton and the rest of the crew got out of their car to check out a hovering saucer when Walton was knocked unconscious and taken into the craft. After a five-day search, Walton was found in Heber, Arizona.

“Travis Walton is a well-respected colleague,” Stacey Wright said, co-director of Mutual UFO Network Phoenix. “He’s a very believable fellow. We’ve never heard Travis’s story change in any way.”

Wright said she’s sat around the firepit in her backyard with Walton many times, and he now believes the abduction was an unplanned “ambulance call” after he was unintentionally knocked unconscious by the craft powering up to leave.

“He’s thankful to them for saving him,” Wright said.

The story spawned a book by Walton, a 1993 movie called “Fire in the Sky,” and most recently, a documentary, “Travis: The True Story of Travis Walton.”

“On the issue of kook, the scientific evidence of the likelihood of intelligent life in our vicinity has become so overwhelming that the people who believe we’re alone in the universe, those are the kooks,” Walton said in the interview.

When he returned to society, he passed a polygraph, a psychiatric evaluation and drug tests. The logging crew, who witnessed the abduction, also passed lie detector tests at the time. In 2008, Walton failed a polygraph on the TV game show “The Moment of Truth,” when asked ‘Were you abducted by a UFO on Nov. 5, 1975?’

On the evening of March 13, 1997, Wright said there was thousands of calls to 911. People across the state saw lights in a V-formation moving slowly and silently.

“We still get reports on the Phoenix Lights,” Wright said. “People say they saw it back in ‘97. I’ve got to say there was easily tens of thousands of witnesses.

Wright added that witnesses reported the lights created almost a numbing effect, or that they were overcome with a sense of calm.

The combined sightings created a flight of path that went from Henderson, Nevada, to Phoenix, where they were visible for about 30 minutes before disappearing. A pilot at Sky Harbor Airport, who recently revealed himself to be Kurt Russell, spotted the lights and alerted the control tower, who replied they weren’t registering anything.

Wright said there are many reports of the Phoenix Lights that people never hear about, including ones from the Navajo Reservation for a couple of days before March 13. She guesses there were seven to eight crafts throughout the state, not just during the night, but during the day as well.

The Air Force eventually stated that the lights were flares dropped at Luke Air Force Base, west of Phoenix. This may explain some sightings, but it doesn’t address the vast range of locations the lights were seen, although Wright said most of the footage found online is of flares.

Rosemary Schiano, who was in the Air Force in the early 1980s, said she has seen a number of lights or moving objects over the course of her life that weren’t any aircraft she was familiar with.

“I was told, ‘Yes, the US Air Force’s policy is that there aren’t UFOs, but we do have UFO tracking stations,’ ” Schiano said. “Usually the military won’t disclose something because they see it as a tactical and strategic advantage. If it was, say, outer space aliens, or if it was advanced technology. The military has a reason why they can’t share that information with the public.”

In Tempe, the Arizona Historical Society Museum teamed up with MUFON to create an exhibit dedicated to the Phoenix Lights.

“It’s a really good boon for us, they’re saying this actually did happen,” Wright said. “It’s a really a nice exhibit, with a timeline, a monitor with film footage and the 911 calls.”

MUFON has meetings once a month at the Museum that feature a guest speaker. The next one is from noon to 3 p.m., Dec. 8. More information can be found at

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