UFO Convention Brings Skeptics, Scientists (and a Few Loonies) to Arizona

Joe Arpaio may be notorious for pursuing illegal aliens, but Arizona played home to those hunting a different type of alien -- or at least their spaceships -- this past weekend.

The Radisson Fort McDowell Resort, just north of Fountain Hills on SR-87, was the host of the 20th annual International UFO Congress between Wednesday and Sunday, drawing hundreds of amateur Fox Mulders and Dana Scullys from around the world.

More than twenty speakers graced the stage over the five-day event with stories of crop circles, extraterrestrial contact, government cover-ups, and even Stan Romanek -- the self-claimed most abducted American in history.

A vendor's area filled up a ballroom of the hotel, with folks selling all of the paranormal staples -- crystal skulls, DVDs of UFO footage, alien-themed jewelry and clothing, homeopathic remedies, and authors peddling their expertise and experience to anyone willing to listen.

There were no tinfoil-hat salesmen or alien implants for purchase, but there was some serious stuff going on in that vendor's room.

We came across Ben Hansen, of the SyFy channel show "Fact or Faked: Paranormal Files," and he was a little pissed off.

Apparently a UFO debunker well known in the flying-saucer circles was making his rounds through the convention, trying to disprove everyone's alleged evidence.

He's not the typical skeptic like most UFO debunkers, Hansen says, and just goes out of his way to personally attack any and all research in the field.

Hansen gave us the detailed description of the guy -- heavyset, long-ish hair, glasses, and a bright t-shirt -- and told us to be on the lookout for him.

Aside from that, the UFO ladies loved Hansen, and they took as much of his time and autographed glossy pictures as he could bear.

Aside from the one hardcore debunker, Hansen was a happy guy, and he's stoked for the second season of "Fact or Faked," which starts its second season on March 23.

The book authors were just as diverse as the rest.

There was former aerospace engineer T.L. Keller and his book, "The Total Novice's Guide to UFOs," and investigative journalist Leslie Kean -- who raked in one of the largest presentation crowds of the conference -- presented stories from her text, "UFOs: Generals, Pilots and Government Officials Go On the Record."

During Kean's presentation at the conference Saturday, she drew gasps from the crowd when she displayed a yet-unreleased photograph of an alleged UFO from the Chilean government.

But the convention wasn't just about selling things and watching speakers at the podium.

On Friday night, local UFO hunter Jeff Willes headed a sky watch out in the desert a few miles down a dirt road from the hotel.

There was a television set up with a feed from some high-tech video cameras on site, as well as some pairs of night-vision goggles being passed around to look toward the skies.

vercast in the sky and some technological issues set back the search for finding proof of extraterrestrial crafts above, but stories were shared amongst the dozens of people who made the trip.

Willes was showing some of his footage on the TV screen while cameras were being set up, and a light argument started between two men over the best locations to spot UFOs.

One man tells a new acquaintance nearby about how he often spots UFOs near his house in the mountains.

The man counters with his story, when he claims to have seen one overhead while driving on an interstate highway.

"I've never seen one float down the freeway!" the man replies to him, and they continue their discourse of UFO hotspots.

Other people at the site of the sky watch were just visiting the area, unaware that their location had just been overrun with UFO hopefuls.

But Willes - the king of Arizona UFO hunting, with more than 20 years of experience watching the skies and more than 250 hours of claimed UFO footage -- had skeptics and onlookers entertained past midnight.

Back at the hotel, there were "experiencer sessions" just about every day, although off-limits to media members, we'd heard from some conference-goers that sighting and abduction stories were rampant.

Add in the film festival screenings that took place every night at the hotel and the sweet Roswell t-shirts we bought from a vendor; the 20th annual International UFO Congress -- in its first year in Arizona -- wasn't that nerdy.

Okay, yes it was.

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