Skinwalker Ranch insider donates photograph collection for research

Mysteries

(Collection of the University of Maryland Art Gallery / Christopher M. Bartel)

MYSTERY WIRE — One of the strangest places in the world carries the nickname ‘Skinwalker Ranch.’

It’s an alleged paranormal hot spot in Utah that’s been and intensely studied by private investigators and government scientists. Soon, the public will get a unique look inside the ranch.

Over a six year period, military veteran and security officer Chris Bartel carried his camera everywhere as he patrolled the ranch. It is his photographs that he has donated to the University of Maryland Art Gallery and are being transformed into a curated collection.

“The photographs build upon the university’s collection of art documenting the American West and will further scholarly understanding of this art historical genre,” said University of Maryland Art Gallery Associate Director Taras Matla. 

The stories about weird phenomena inside Utah’s Uintah basin stretch back more than two centuries. This ranch has been at the center of public interest for decades and has been featured in books, films, and a tv show.

It’s more than just legend and lore giving credibility to the ranch. The United States government secretly funded scientific research at the ranch. Aerospace entrepreneur Robert Bigelow purchased Skinwalker in 1996, formed the National Institute of Discovery Science (NIDS), and paid scientists to study what was going on at the ranch.

UFOs, orbs, animal mutilations, and other unexplained activity have all been documented at the ranch.

“There are some stories that (Chris) definitely just cannot explain,” Matla told Mystery Wire in a recent interview. “And so they kind of know on one hand it helps add to the story of Skinwalker Ranch, but also validate many things that have already been attested to by witnesses.”

The collection, which has only now been announced, will at first need to be prepared and cataloged. And even then, according to Matla, the collection will mainly be used for research.

Matla explained there’s one thing you won’t see in this collection, and that’s definitive proof of paranormal or other unknown activity at the ranch. He said what you will see is the ranch through the eyes of a man who knows not only the recent activity documented at the ranch, but also its history.

“One of the wonderful things about Chris’s work is I think it harnesses four important components to the Skinwalker Ranch story,” Matla told Mystery Wire. “Number one is its rich history in Native American culture and Native American lore. Number two is, you know, the interest in the government in using it as a site to possibly research UFO and other kinds of paranormal phenomena. Number three is just the sheer grandeur and beauty of the spaces and environment. There’s a climate as an ecosystem. And then number four is Chris’s personal experience.”

So what exactly is a skinwalker? It’s based on a Navajo culture and beliefs about evil deeds. The entity, according to legend, can take the form of different creatures including shape-shifting witches.

One legend says that the Ute tribe was cursed by Navajos, and that skinwalkers are known to inhabit an area near the ranch that bears their name. Mysterious events at the ranch in Utah’s Uinta Basin date back at least as far as white settlers’ first entry onto the scene.

Reports of underground explosions and rumbling appeared first, followed by UFO reports as early as 1944, and peaking around 1968. Scientists have studied the magnetic field in the region, and at one time NASA built an observation post nearby.

Some believe that there are “portals” in the area that connect to other places, and possibly other times.

There is also a feeling many have that after visiting and leaving the ranch, the ranch stays with you.

Matla described Bartel’s experience with this phenomena this way, “He has definitely told me that when you’re on the ranch, you feel as though you’re being watched.” Bartel also told Matla, “During his daily patrols, he felt that there was something there, something observing him, something maybe even guiding him.”

Matla added Bartel expressed he had a feeling of something he couldn’t explain, but just something that he could feel. It’s the feel of the photographs telling one story of the west Matla said he thinks will come through in the collection.

He said Bartel’s favorite photograph is being used to promote the collection. It shows a large storm rumbling across the ranch. “It kind of encapsulates the experience of being and encountering Skinwalker Ranch, all in one. It’s basically a storm kind of coming in and he said that, I’m paraphrasing here, something to the effect of the image describes Skinwalker to a tee. Where it’s calm one minute and chaos the next. So here you have the serenity of the flat lands and landscape and then just this humongous storm rolling in. And Chris was able to capture that perfectly.”

Matla said he hopes that in late January of 2021, the University of Maryland will be able to share some of the photographs in an exhibition and through an exhibition catalogue. The initial exhibition is titled ‘Christopher Bartel: The Skinwalker Ranch Portfolio, 2010-2016’

It will be a selection of 80 images that both Bartel and Matla have chosen to encapsulate the entire Skinwalker Ranch archive.


Many reports on Skinwalker Ranch cross over into accounts about government-funded studies involving UFOs. More coverage shows up in coverage of missing person cases and paranormal research:


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