F is for Fire in the Sky


I never believed close encounters of the third kind were possible…until one terrifying story changed my mind.

November 5, 1975

Twenty-two-year-old Travis Walton was working for a logging company in Arizona’s Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest when he and his six colleagues saw a bright light in the sky on their way home. When they drove closer to investigate, they reportedly saw a large golden disk hovering above a clearing.

Walton, 1975

Walton, 1975

Ignoring the warnings from his friends, Walton jumped out of the truck and ran up to the craft. A blue-green beam of light shot Walton in the chest and he fell to the ground. His friends and co-workers drove off in terror (nice friends!) before getting a conscience and coming back a few minutes later.

By the time they returned, both Walton and the mysterious object were gone. The men searched for their friend for a while, and then–realizing it was hopeless–went to the police.

Deputy Sheriff Chuck Ellison met the crew at a shopping center. All of the men were distraught as they related the tale to him (two were in tears), and though he was somewhat skeptical of the fantastic account, Ellison would later reflect, “If they were acting, they were awfully good at it.”

The guys were so freaked out that only a few agreed to help the police search for Walton the following day. When the authorities found no sign of Walton (although some reports say there was a large circle of burnt grass in the clearing), they grew suspicious that the other men had murdered Walton and were using a crazy UFO story as a cover-up.

Frustrated by the accusations, all of the men agreed to take a polygraph, and every single one of them passed, except for Allen Dallis, who stormed out of the examining room, leaving his test unfinished and therefore inconclusive.

Tensions were high by the time Walton reappeared five days later. The young logger was noticeably thinner and weaker, disoriented and confused. He only remembered two hours of the five days he’d been gone, but what he remembered was incredible. He’d not only encountered aliens, but strange, humanlike creatures who had led him into some kind of hangar and then knocked him out with a type of gas.

A hypnotherapist and a medical doctor examined Walton soon after his return. The hypnotherapist found that Walton’s conscious memories of the incident were remarkably similar to his subconscious ones, while the doctor noted a strange needle mark that wasn’t near a vein, and the absence of ketones in his urine. The doctor found this strange, as Walton’s body should have begun breaking down fats to survive during the five days with little-to-no food.

Aided by this and the persistent presence of skeptics and the National Inquirer, public opinion turned against Walton and the other men. There are numerous reasons people still believe Walton’s encounter was a hoax.

  • Walton failed his initial polygraph, but the examiner was confrontative and offensive, deliberately provoking Walton in order to get a reaction. Walton did pass subsequent polygraphs.
  • The men were behind on their work with the logging company, and some believed the abduction was staged to release them from their contract without penalty. But the crew never tried to get out of their contract, even after Walton went missing, and they’d fallen behind on other projects for the same company, only to be hired again.
  • Walton’s brother once casually remarked to police that Walton was a UFO buff. Walton denied that he ever was, but the damage was done.
  • Police felt Walton’s mother was too stoic about her son’s disappearance, but many others reported seeing her very upset, and said an initial stoic reaction was just part of the woman’s personality.
  • A television movie about an alien abduction was broadcast weeks before Walton’s disappearance. Skeptics say this gave Walton the idea for his elaborate hoax.
  • Walton also apparently failed a polygraph on the television game show “The Moment of Truth.” But, had he passed, the game show would have owed him a lot of money, so I’m not sure how reliable that was. Plus, it was a Fox show. Enough said.

I think there’s another reason people doubt Walton’s story, and I hope, on the rare chance he ever stumbles across this post, he will forgive me, but…

Walton today


Walton is creepy. When you watch interviews with him, something just isn’t right. He looks into the camera without flinching, but his affect is unnervingly flat and monotone. He doesn’t come across as a likeable guy, and I’ve seen public opinion turn against people like him time and time again. People can tell the truth until they’re blue in the face, and if we don’t like them, we won’t believe them.

The biggest thing driving the hoax accusations is that old claim–“They did it for attention!” or “They did it for money!”

Steve Pierce. This guy doesn't look like he's had a happy life.

Steve Pierce. This guy doesn’t look like he’s had a happy life.

Several of the men have spoken publicly about how this incident ruined their lives. These men have to go through the rest of their lives knowing that many of the people they meet have decided they are liars. Some, like Steve Pierce, were and are devastated by this.

Yes, Walton wrote a book about his experience, but if I’d had people call me a liar for three years, I’d want to publish my side of the story too. And who knows how easy it was for Walton to get work after his abduction? I’m guessing it was a struggle.

As for money, Steve Pierce was offered $10,000 to admit the entire thing was a hoax.

He refused.

What do you think? Are Walton and the rest of the crew telling the truth?

As for me, I believe them. I’m not sure Walton was actually examined by extraterrestrials, but I do believe something strange happened to him on that night in 1975, and I believe the men who witnessed it are absolutely telling the truth.


  1. Caris

    I live in Stephenville, TX where UFOs have been sighted with regularity for the past several years. I’ve never seen “the lights” as they are often called in this area. But some members of my husband’s family have. They were rattled by what they saw, and they’ve never sought any type of attention for it. In fact, they seem uncomfortable talking about it. Theories range from aliens, to a top-secret government project, to time travel. I hope if it’s time travel, it’s future me coming back to stir things up in present me’s life. I like a good mystery 😉

    • JH

      Welcome, Caris, and thanks so much for sharing your story. It’s timely, because I was going to ask in this post why we never get reports of UFO sightings or aliens anymore. Now that everyone has smartphones, we should be seeing some amazing photos, right? 😉

      I can’t even imagine what it’s like to see something like that. It must be very spooky.

    • JH

      Exactly, C. Lee! These were kids–all in their early 20s, and I find it hard to believe one of them wouldn’t have taken the payout or admitted in the past 40 years that it was a hoax if it really was.

      I don’t think all six of them would continue to lie for Walton for four decades, especially since this incident ruined some friendships. A few of them blamed Walton for destroying their lives.

  2. I believe there is other life in the universe, intelligent life. Whether they’ve progressed enough to make long distance space flight possible or have visited our planet is still a maybe for me. The sightings can’t all be weather balloons but I’m not convinced they are UFOs either.

    As for this story, it’s another case where I want to believe them I’m just not sure that I do. Something happened, this guy was somewhere for 5 days, that’s as much as my brain will let me believe.

    • JH

      I’m with you, Frank. I think if there is life on other planets or universes, which there almost certainly is–it’s a bit conceited and/or narrow-minded to think that we’re the only ones–it’s wouldn’t necessarily be humanoid. And even if they had the technology, why would they come here?

      So I don’t know what really happened to Walton or what those men saw, but I do think they saw what they described and that *something* happened. Maybe it was an elaborate hoax, but not on the part of those men.

  3. I’m inclined to believe that they were not lying. While I personally haven’t experienced or seen ‘anything’, that doesn’t mean that it is not true. Walton may seem creepy but after such an experience I’m not surprised that his gaze is direct and his tone somewhat flat and without affect. Thanks J.H. Interesting!

    • JH

      Thanks for commenting, Susan. I was wondering the same thing–is Walton creepy because of what happened to him, or was he always that way?

      Hard to tell.

  4. Bonnie

    Another thought provoking post. I grew up believing in aliens. My dad believed, so we believed. Twice, I remember him calling us to the patio door to see unusual lights. I never saw what he saw, and I didn’t consider lights to be proof of anything. As I grew up and learned that parents are just people, I questioned this blind belief. Now I love reading stories like these and trying to determine the fact from the fiction. Unfortunately, we never get the whole story, only the subjective views of the reporters.

    It’s loads of fun trying to figure it all out. Until we travel the galaxies comfortably, I don’t think we will really know for sure.

    • JH

      Thanks, Bonnie. Wow, your upbringing was so different from mine! My parents don’t believe in anything remotely supernatural, be it ghosts, UFOs, or sea monsters. It must have been interesting to have a dad who was convinced something was “out there.” Would have made childhood very exciting!

      And aren’t you a sci-fi writer? I think it’s your job to believe, if only a little bit. 😉

      • Bonnie

        Oh my upbringing! There were a few episodes on the Flinstones where an alien observed Fred’s life. Whenever we went camping my Dad would hold up his hand and recount that alien’s interpretation of our daily adventures. We went to bed in stitches every night. (fyi We are strange creatures to cartoon aliens!)

        • JH

          That’s so cute, Bonnie! He sounds like he’s really imaginative and creative. I can see where you got your storytelling skills from.

  5. Interesting story, with lots of facts, it seems, to set it somewhat straight. I would believe they were telling the truth, or remembering it right — as right as the memory would allow it. Great post. Thank you.

    • JH

      Thanks so much, Silvia! And welcome to my blog. I’m glad to see so many people believe the guys, or at least are willing to keep an open mind.

      They’ve resorted to attending UFO conferences, just to be around people who believe them for a change.

    • JH

      Exactly, Patricia! If you watched the clip, the poor guy was really tempted. He had small children and could have used the money.

      Thanks for commenting!

  6. I saw the movie when it came out. While I think most alien abductions are bunk, there is something about this story that causes me to pause. This might be the real deal. A real life X-Files.

    • JH

      I feel the same way, Alex. This one really bugs me. I think because it was so well corroborated. I have a hard time believing six guys in their twenties would keep a lie like that a secret forty years later, especially when some of them stopped talking to the others.

      Thanks so much for the follow! That’s a huge compliment. I really appreciate it.

  7. I’m not sure what happened, but I think *something* anomalous happened to these men. I also think it takes a lot of courage for them to admit it publicly and withstand all the backlash.

    I live a bit north of Stephenville, Texas but like Caris, I’ve heard about those mysterious lights. I hope to see them one day – from a safe distance!

    • JH

      Let me know if you do! I’ll interview you for the blog.

      I agree with you on the courage part. To everyone who says they were doing it for the publicity, I say, “Who on earth would want that kind of publicity?”

      Thanks for commenting, Tui! I’m finding your blog really interesting. Learning lots I didn’t know.

  8. I’m sure life on other planets must exist. Considering there have been newspaper reports of lights in the sky since before there were satellites, I’m inclined to think we’ve been visited for a long time.

    • JH

      It makes sense, but I’m not sure the visits are of the typical grey man/anal probe variety we always hear about. I do think something happened to Travis Walton, though.

  9. Poor guys. I’m sure something happened to them, but we may never know the truth.
    The X-Files did their version of this and didn’t DB Sweeney do a TV movie of this story as well?


    Heather M. Gardner
    Co-host: Blogging from A to Z April Challenge
    Blog: The Waiting is the Hardest Part [http://hmgardner.blogspot.com/]

  10. Mary Aalgaard

    I like how you tell people to keep an open mind. Clearly, something happened. What’s unclear, is exactly what! Those poor guys, they’re haunted by the incident even now as we bring it up again. I wish there was a way for them to know the truth and feel at peace with what happened.

    • JH

      Me too, Mary. I feel really sorry for them. Imagine if something like that happened to you, and no one believed you, even those closest to you. It must feel horrible and isolating.

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