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All Along the Watchtower

By Chelsea McNerney-Martinez

The UFO Watchtower, on the west side of Colo. Hwy. 17 just north of Hooper, and an hour south of Salida, is a unique trip, camping destination or a must-stop along the way to other San Luis Valley attractions.

Judy Messoline, the founder of the Watchtower, along with her partner Stan, who did a considerable amount of the construction of the tower by hand, are celebrating its 20th anniversary this year. Although gathering restrictions postponed the planned anniversary party until Memorial Day weekend 2021 and canceled the annual Cosmic Highway conference, the tower is now open for campers and visitors wearing masks and practicing appropriate social distancing.

Messoline originally bought the land in 1994. “It was nothing but sagebrush then,” she said. The idea for the Watchtower expanded over the coming years before construction began in 1999 and the area was opened for visitors in May of 2000. Some skylights have been replaced since, but much of the tower’s structure otherwise has stayed the same, the expansions have come to the campgrounds and to the décor in the garden and surrounding the tower.

The world famous tower has been featured in numerous publications over the years, and Messoline noted she has about 15,000 mentions on YouTube and has been featured on possibly hundreds of television appearances. Denver-based television reporter Kevin Torres has featured the Watchtower multiple times in his work and filmed there again in June of this year.

Judy Messoline takes a break from greeting visitors and assigning camping spots outside the UFO Watchtower.

Visitors have been coming in from around the country; about 20-30 families have been signing the guestbook daily. Out-of-state visitors from as far as Connecticut, California, Minnesota and Arizona have already visited this year. However, the Watchtower is also joining many of Colorado’s other attractions, bringing in a noticeable number of in-state tourists this year who are looking for day-trips or options closer to home and that don’t require air travel or other uncertainties as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. In the last week, visitors from in the state came from Denver, Colorado Springs and Boulder. Messoline stated there has been an increase in locals from the San Luis Valley as well, many for the first time, eager to see a destination they have driven by but haven’t experienced firsthand.

“I’ve had to kick people out of the Watchtower briefly for the first time,” Messoline said, “for having over 10 people in here.” Messoline cited the success of businesses cooperating to promote each other through the COVID-19 restrictions and closures to the influx of people. The attractions on Colo. Hwy. 17, including Colorado Gators, and the Sand Dunes Swimming Pool (hot springs), have always worked well together to encourage visitors to spend time with their neighbors.

The Watchtower is a premier destination to view unidentified flying objects, with a virtually uninterrupted 360 degree view of the open sky and amazing views of the Sangre de Cristo mountains to the east. Messoline stated there have been 227 documented sightings at the tower, 28 of which she has personally witnessed. One of the most distinct she recalls was a cigar-shaped UFO, which descended rapidly from the mountains and then flew away at a speed unknown to match any other craft, with about 12 people witnessing it. UFO sightings in the area have been known since the 1560s, Messoline pointed out. The tower is also home to unique art made by documentarians and novice fans, photos of sightings in the area and explanations of UFO categories from the Mutual UFO Network (MUFON). UFO sightings happen more frequently in the summer, Messoline noted, adding that is likely attributed to the frequency of people camping and because they are often easier to see at night, but the watchtower also features several photos of distinctive craft sightings from the daytime as well. When asked if she is concerned about potential development harming her unparalleled views and dark night sky, Messoline stated she owns much of the land across from and surrounding the Watchtower, and has no plans to allow anything that could hinder the beauty of the natural landscape.

Another feature that draws visitors are the vortexes just east of the tower, now home to a garden of sorts. Over 25 psychics have confirmed the presence of the two vortexes, one of which spins clockwise and one counterclockwise, both portals to parallel universes. The intersection of the vortexes is called The Vesica Pisces. The vortexes are said to be protected by benevolent beings with healing energy with many coming to make requests of them, leaving a symbol of their energy as an offering in return. The vortexes and other spots around the garden are thus marked with offerings as various as the people who come seeking their energy. Some leave notes, others tokens of where they have been/come from, including license plates from faraway states and other countries, cassette tapes, CDs, key chains, jewelry, shoes, hubcaps and trinkets of all shapes and sizes. Messoline pointed out that despite the Valley’s high winds, with the exception of unsecured pieces of paper, the offerings never leave the place where they are left.

Messoline enjoys seeing how the visitors react to the energy of the vortexes, and enjoys watching their reactions as they travel through the garden, offering their contributions to the museum of human experiences. She also enjoys hearing the stories visitors bring, whether they have personal experiences with UFOS or came as skeptics wanting to learn more. She has also witnessed the healing energy of the vortexes firsthand, recalling a man who visited from Sedona, Arizona, stating the energy at the Watchtower was stronger than what is found in that famous region. He entered with a cane and threw it away on his way out. Another visitor from Colorado Springs stated she believed her cancer was cured as a result of her visit to the garden. “I don’t care if it’s aliens, angels or God himself, as long as people feel helped, that’s what counts,” Messoline added.

An unexplained phenomenon near the counter-clockwise vortex also causes distortion for both physical and phone-based compasses, shifting north to west.

Whether you decide to visit because you’re drawn by the power of the vortexes and seek personal or spiritual healing, want to answer some of life’s questions about how (not) alone humans are in the universe, you’re an amateur or professional anthropologist of the 21st century and want to see the offerings in the garden or you simply want a breath of fresh air and a great view of the stars, the UFO Watchtower has answers for you, but only if you heed Messoline’s advice: “What’s really important is to look up.”