Deep in the Rocky Mountains, you will find the lush and fruitful San Luis Valley; home to the small city Alamosa, which is an agricultural hub in South-Western Colorado. This area is home to some of the best stargazing on the planet. The views are so spectacular that Alamosa has taken measures to protect its view of the cosmos by becoming a “Dark Sky” city. Which is a series of measures taken by the community to limit the amount of light pollution that is emitted from their city. This makes for a dark city at night, with vivid views of the stars above. This was a fact I was unaware of when I arrived in Alamosa late one evening. I hoped to find a grocery store before I made my way to a local hotel, but thought they were all closed due to the lack of exterior lighting. Fortunately, I noticed people still flowing in and out of a local store, despite there being no parking lot lights or exterior lights; outside of a few downward-facing lamps on the side of the building. It was eerie until the local store clerk explained to me how a Dark Sky city works. Once explained, I was enthusiastic about the idea, despite the dark alleys and shady parking lots.
I came to visit the otherworldly Great Sand Dunes National Park, which was amazing. However; I found myself captivated by the locals' enthusiasm for stargazing and UFO spotting. After all the San Luis Valley is the highest alpine valley on the planet and, depending on who you’re asking, it’s a prime spot for witnessing paranormal activity, such as mystical portals, UFOs, and other strange occurrences. Much of the sightings surround a remote section of Highway 17, or as the locals refer to it, “The Cosmic Highway”. And in case this fact was lost on you, it is hard to miss the little-green-men-signs that dot the roadway and make you aware of the coming attraction. Whether you’re an avid believer in visitors from other worlds or an avid skeptic, it doesn’t change the fact that there’s been a lot of strange things reported in the San Luis Valley. These happenings and sightings stretch from South-Western Colorado to Northern New Mexico and the stories date back to the Spanish Conquistadors expeditions into the area. Some call the San Luis Valley “The Bermuda Triangle of the West.” The sprawling expanses west of the Great Sand Dunes and its preserved lands are interrupted only by Highway 17. This vast emptiness, scored only by the roadway, has numerous sightings. Ranging from strange lights to otherworldly aircraft, the sheer amount of reports is notable, regardless of what side of the UFO debate you’re on.
If you were to follow highway 17 North, just outside of Alamosa you will find a small burg called Hooper. Which is home to what is arguably Colorado's most unique roadside attraction, the “UFO Watchtower”. Which is a place that invites curious minds and extraterrestrial seekers for a chance to spot a UFO or alien. Allegedly this location is a frequent host to numerous UFO sightings, Which is likely thanks to Alamosa’s vast and unfiltered view of the night’s sky.
The UFO Watchtower in Hooper consists of a brick dome and 10-foot high metal rafters. Which is flanked by a gigantic alien-themed folk art which consists of thousands of trinkets that have been left by visitors over the years. There is one rule for placing an item, it must be an item that has use or has some significance to you. The art piece sits on what is believed to be a portal to another dimension. Admittedly, we are getting into territory that is somewhat hokey, but would you expect any less from a good ol’ fashioned roadside attraction? (more on that later)
The proprietor of the watchtower; Judy Messoline, tried her hand at cattle ranching with little success. Saying, “I struggled with cows for four and a half years, because they don’t eat sand very well, and had to sell the herd”. A local farmer suggested that Judy build a UFO watchtower to better spot the otherworldly craft that regularly flew over the area. Admittedly, Judy opened the UFO watchtower as a joke, after moving to the valley over two decades ago and hearing the strange stories from her neighbors. However; after experiencing over 30 encounters herself, the watchtower has taken on a renewed purpose. One that is much more serious than mere roadside entertainment. She has crafted a place where people can gather, mingle, camp, and a place where “people don’t get made fun of” for talking about these types of things.
For more than 20-years and over 30,000 visitors later, the UFO Watchtower has evolved far past its original roots. It’s a place where people of all walks of life are comfortable sharing experiences that would be considered unbelievable anywhere else. The UFO watchtower exists to affirm believers and entertain or amuse everyone else. It’s a perfect blend of roadside attraction and a like-minded gathering place. Though Messoline still tries to keep a sense of humor; for example, providing a separate guest sign-in book for extraterrestrials (and several visitors have claimed to be aliens).
I was fortunate to be one of the first visitors since the watchtower reopened after the covid-19 pandemic showed improvement. During my conversation with Judy, she expressed concerns about being able to stay open and sustain after the closure. However; this was the quiet before the storm as the watchtower has become very busy with "post-pandemic" travelers. An added boost in notoriety came from people who, during the lockdown, found an old 2013 Vice news article that featured Judy and her attraction. The reemergence of this article, coupled with pent-up travel has made for a banner year at the attraction.
Since opening in 2000, there have been 231 reports of visitors from other worlds (30 of which Judy witnessed first-hand). Meaning she averages seeing one sighting each year, since moving here in ‘95. Messoline described one such sighting in 2017, saying; “The closest one was between here and the mountains. It was narrow and long and zipped across the sky… we had over a dozen people here who saw it”. This is just one of the countless sightings that have accumulated, some of which Judy documents on her website; which is ridiculously outdated; but comes with a certain late 90’s charm that I hope it never loses.
The website also goes into detail about what I referred to earlier as “folk art”. However, Judy and a group of psychics think it is much more than art and refer to it as the “Healing Garden”. Numerous psychics have affirmed a belief that two “beings” reside in the garden and exist to protect a series of spinning vortexes... (admittedly, I have no clue what that means; but if nothing else it is fascinating folklore). Because of this Judy requests that people leave something behind to “receive good energy” from the vortexes/beings. Again, the item cannot be just a random piece of garbage, it must be an item that has meaning to you or is useful.
As a casual visitor, the Healing Garden offers you a feast for the eyes. Ranging from the mundane; such as pens, lighters, Altoids containers to wildly creative items, toys, photos, and thoughtful mementos. I spent over an hour exploring the maze to find the right place to put a memento of my own. Judy explained that many of the larger items were donated by enthusiasts and locals; such as the satellite dishes or statues. Although she did not mention it during our conversation, her website has a list of requested items. The list includes the expected items; chairs, picnic tables, or playground equipment and is packed with unexpected, and somewhat humorous items; like moon rocks, lasers, and jet packs.
Eventually, I made my way to the dome of the watchtower which acts as a mini-museum/gift shop. Where you can pick up a copy of Judy’s Book, “The Crazy Lady Down the Road” or more casual souvenirs; like Alien googly eyes. She is happy to help guide visitors through a plethora of binders, photos, and documents that Judy has collected over the years. I could have spent hours pouring through the handwritten accounts, photos, and news cuttings.
I left this place surprised just how much fun it was and I appreciated the roadside attraction that Judy Messoline has crafted over the past 21-years. If you find yourself in the San Luis Valley, I highly encourage you to visit The UFO Watchtower. You can visit from 10:00 am - 4:00 pm; admission is $5 per car or $2 per person and you can camp for only $15 per tent! Places like this are becoming rarer and rarer as the roadside attractions of the past close one by one. Help keep this attraction open and enjoy a stay at the UFO watchtower!
UFO Watchtower Photos:
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