Extraterrestrials in Arizona: The Five Most Infamous Alien Encounters in the State
Sarah2 / Shutterstock.com
Flying saucers in the Phoenix skies. A legendary alien abduction. Perhaps the largest reported mass UFO sighting of all time.
In case you hadn’t heard, Arizona is a popular tourist destination for intergalactic visitors. Why, it seems like only last month that a Sky Harbor Airport employee spotted a massive V-shaped object hovering off the ground, light emanating from the bottom.
(Wait, that was only last month.)
The state consistently ranks among the top areas for reported UFO sightings. In fact, there have been more than 3,000 recorded sightings in Arizona since 1950, according to the Davenport, Washington-based National UFO Reporting Center.
And it isn't just the widely reported 1997 mass sighting of the so-called Phoenix Lights. Historically, some of the strangest, unexplained alien encounters occurred right here in Arizona.
"Arizona has always been a hotbed for UFOs, and the Phoenix Lights really proves that," says UFO hunter Jeff Willes, who runs the website UFOsoverPhoenix.com.
Willes calls himself "the original UFO hunter." Since 1995, the shaggy-haired 45-year-old landscaper has been observing Phoenix skies for hours a day in search of photographic evidence of unidentified flying objects and proof of alien activity.
In consultation with Willes and other UFO enthusiasts, New Times has compiled the top five alien encounters in Arizona.
Without further ado...
The front page of the Arizona Republic, back when men were men and they photographed UFOs with Brownie box cameras.
The Rhodes "Disc" Photos (1947)
On July 7, 1947, a 30-year-old Arizona man took one of the first and most famous photos of flying saucers in the skies over Phoenix.
It was about four in the afternoon when William Rhodes stepped out of the back door of his Phoenix workshop after a summer thunderstorm. The sound of an approaching jet caught his attention, but when he looked to the sky, he saw nothing.
Seconds later, an elliptical gray disk appeared, hovering silently above the horizon toward the northeast. Rhodes later estimated it to be 20 to 30 feet in diameter, with a cockpit and a tail. The object hung about 5,000 feet above the ground before suddenly spiraling downward, dropping 2,000 feet in seconds.
Rhodes ran inside, grabbed his camera, and got off two shots as the disc flew upward toward the clouds. The craft took off at speeds he estimated to be between 400 and 600 miles per hour, then disappeared over the western horizon.
Rhodes told a local reporter in 1998 that after his photo was published in the Arizona Republic, a government agency had asked to "borrow" the negative but never brought it back.
"That is the very first picture of a cylinder-shaped UFO ever — that's really the significance behind that sighting," UFO hunter Jeff Willes says. "Plus, that was one of the first Arizona sightings to be captured on photograph."
Dreamy Draw UFO Crash (1947)
The year 1947 was huge for extraterrestrial activity. Not only did the granddaddy of all reported UFO crashes occur in Roswell, New Mexico, in July of that year, but a few months later, Phoenix was the site of a purported UFO crash.
In October 1947, a 36-foot spacecraft is said to have hurled itself into the sand-strewn mesa of the Dreamy Draw, a desert park next to Piestewa Peak, just south of Highway 51.
According to published accounts, the vessel came to rest at the base of Squaw Peak Mountain, adjacent to downtown Phoenix.
Legend has it that the government built the "useless" 455-foot-long Dreamy Draw Dam in order to hide the wreckage of the spacecraft. (The official version: The dam was built in 1973 for flood-control purposes.)
As related in a 1950 book called Behind the Flying Saucers, the tale features two men who pulled a couple of dead alien corpses from the wreckage and stored them in a freezer until the army picked them up. Another version has the spacecraft crashing miles away, in Cave Creek or Paradise Valley.
"What’s amazing and significant is that there were two UFO crashes, one in Roswell and one in Phoenix, within fairly close proximity, that occurred in the same year," Willes says. "As far as the dam being built over the crash site, that’s a possibility, but I don’t see why the government wouldn't just remove the wreckage and there wouldn't be anything left but desert landscape."
Marana Air Base Sighting (1952)
While waiting for a radio transmission from one of his students, a pilot instructor at the U.S. Air Force base at Marana (now Pinal Airpark), northwest of Tucson, noticed a bright star in the morning sky at about 7:45 a.m. on April 3, 1952.
The instructor didn't say anything about it, but soon two of his colleagues also pointed out the unusual mass hovering in place, according to published reports. Another pilot took off from the base in a plane to get a better look at the strange metallic object.
About 45 minutes after the instructor noticed the UFO, it vanished. "It was real bright and shone like polished aluminum. I have been flying for 25 years and I have never seen anything like it," he said at the time.
There were no military reports about balloons or other craft in the vicinity. To this day, the incident remains unexplained.
The airbase sighting is among those listed in Project Blue Book, the air force’s infamous, top-secret UFO study, which compiled 12,618 sightings across the nation from 1947 to 1969. The 130,000-page report, which was recently declassified and made public, includes hundreds of reports of mysterious flying saucers and glowing spheres over Arizona.
"Project Blue Book was pretty much the government’s attempt to explain away the sightings," Willes says. "And for sightings they couldn’t find a way to explain away, they labeled them as 'unexplained' — like it was no big deal. And then they never told the public what they discovered."
Get the ICYMI: Today's Top Stories Newsletter Our daily newsletter delivers quick clicks to keep you in the know
Catch up on the day's news and stay informed with our daily digest of the most popular news, music, food and arts stories in Phoenix, delivered to your inbox Monday through Friday.