Why Utah's Brandon Fugal Bought an Otherworldly Ranch, and What He's Seen There: Part 1
Header Image: Brandon Fugal with a trimeter, an investigative tool used on The Secret of Skinwalker Ranch. Season two premiers Tuesday May 4th at 10/9c on The HISTORY Channel.
Editor's Note: This is part one of a two part series.
Multi-billion dollar real estate development. Iconic movie props. Priceless books. Supercars. And his own firsthand encounter with a UFO.
Brandon Fugal isn't lacking for chit-chat topics around the water cooler.
Fugal has a reputation in Utah. If you've driven the I-15 corridor anywhere from Ogden to Provo, you've seen his name on a sign or building, advertising commercial real estate. As the co-founder and owner of Coldwell Banker Commercial Advisors, “his leadership was critical to the firm being recognized for 14 years in a row as the number one office internationally for the Coldwell Banker Commercial brand (out of 220 offices),” according to the company site. “He was recognized as the #1 agent globally for many years”. Since an acquisition by Colliers International in 2018, Fugal's office has continued to be the #1 commercial real estate firm in the Intermountain West.
But in the last year, Fugal has become known to another community, one that reaches far beyond the Beehive State. In 2020, Fugal came forward as the owner of the infamous "Skinwalker Ranch", a notorious hotspot for paranormal activity in a remote region of Uintah County in Eastern Utah. The area came to prominence in 2006 when a book was published about numerous unexplained sightings and encounters. "Hunt for the Skinwalker" catalogues the allegedly true story of an unassuming family; a rancher, his wife, and their two children, who purchased approximately 512 acres of cattle grazing land in the late nineties. They immediately began seeing and experiencing things they couldn't explain. It wasn’t just the ranching family. Other owners and visitors across the years have reported countless strange experiences. The name of the ranch itself comes from the Native American belief in a type of shape-shifting witch, always malevolent. The Navajo of the area stayed away from this land, saying it was “in the path of the skinwalker.” To this day, the strange phenomena remain a mystery. From encounters with mythical animals, to numerous cattle mutilations, poltergeist activity, crop circles, sightings of glowing orbs, and even flying saucers, virtually everything you might call "paranormal" has been reported at the ranch and surrounding properties.
Now, Brandon Fugal is the proud sole owner of this patch of land that is, for lack of a better word, haunted.
The ranch has seen renewed interest from the 2018 documentary film "Hunt for the Skinwalker" recounting the same story as the 2006 book. Fugal participated in the documentary, but did so anonymously. In his on-camera interview, his voice was distorted, and the camera showed only his dark silhouette. More recently Fugal has stepped into the spotlight with the debut of "The Secret of Skinwalker Ranch" on the HISTORY Channel. Fugal plays a central role, on and off camera, in the HISTORY Channel series.
Fugal isn’t one for half-interest. He goes all-in. He’s a rabid movie buff, with a strong penchant for 80s and 90s action films. The movie memorabilia collection in his Salt Lake Colliers office could fill a modest film museum, and that office doesn’t even house his full collection. He’s also a die-hard 80s music fan, posting to social media frequently about Depeche Mode and other favorites from the era. Not to be confined to pop media, Fugal also has a collection of rare historical books that constitute an irreplaceable fortune. From his first printings of scriptural and doctrinal tomes of the LDS Church, to his Shakespeare folio and History of Stonehenge owned by King Charles II in 1655, Fugal’s bookshelf is formidable.
He also collects supercars — Ferraris, Lamborghinis, Porsches, and more.
The man has many interests, boundless energy, and entrepreneurial ambition that would seem overly audacious were it not for his seemingly endless stream of professional accomplishments.
We sat down with Brandon Fugal to hear why he purchased a mysterious ranch, so very different from his commercial ventures, what his views are on the paranormal, what it is like to work on the HISTORY Channel series, and whether he'll have more ventures exploring the paranormal in his future.
Note: This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.
Brandon Fugal (BF): My journey is unique — going from focusing exclusively on building the largest commercial real estate operation in the Intermountain West, to funding efforts regarding frontier science efforts. It has been an interesting chapter in my development as an entrepreneur. I launched my career in 1991 at age 18 right out of high school focusing on corporate real estate with an emphasis on building what was at that time a proprietary database tracking the market and utilizing technology in order to forecast the future. To grow from that point to present day where we've had the privilege of representing so many notable companies and developers has been a great privilege.
My journey relative to Skinwalker Ranch started over a decade ago. I acquired the ranch in April of 2016 with the intention of never revealing my identity as the owner of the property. I didn’t want my ownership and involvement with Skinwalker Ranch to ever distract from or compromise the integrity of my primary business activities and focus in the community. It was only this past year that I reluctantly agreed to go public with my identity, in conjunction with the investigative series on the HISTORY Channel, The Secret of Skinwalker Ranch, which for the first time, allowed television cameras behind the gates to document for months, the hour-to-hour, day-to-day activities of the team that I assembled nearly five years ago, to really advance the scientific work and study regarding this very unique piece of property.
You know, Skinwalker Ranch is the most scientifically studied paranormal hotspot on the planet, comprising 512 acres situated in the heart of the Uintah basin. The property has for decades been the subject of not only numerous books and articles, but has a rich history going back nearly 100 years of accounts involving everything from unidentified flying objects, to cattle mutilations in broad daylight, to strange orbs, and shape-shifting demonic entities known as “skinwalkers” that come from Native American tradition. When I acquired it in April of 2016 from the elusive billionaire Robert Bigelow of Bigelow Aerospace, I acquired the property as a healthy skeptic. I had never seen a UFO, ghost, or anything of the sort, and actually believed that there was most likely a prosaic natural explanation for that which had been reported on the property for decades. I felt that by bringing a new level of scientific rigor and investigation to the property, we would discover the true origin of the extraordinary events and claims that had been reported.
In short, I felt there was a 95% probability that we would not only reveal that there was a conventional explanation, but also that it could very well be revealed as nothing more than a scientific snipe hunt. No disrespect to my predecessors, or the incredible people that had been involved with the property previously.
Dozens of PhD-level scientists, coupled with military operatives, had been involved with the property for many years. I'm not meaning to dismiss or discount any of their activities. But I felt that we see circumstances, especially those dealing with controversial topics, where people have a tendency to report events or convince themselves of things that are either the product of groupthink, or potentially frontloaded. And I felt that there may be a possibility that that was part of what had occurred previously at Skinwalker Ranch.
I was wrong.
Although I did not witness anything personally of an extraordinary nature in the first six months of owning the property, that quickly changed, and changed my entire perspective relative to... not only the nature of the claims and the phenomena, but also the the level of serious commitment that was required in order to truly understand what was at play on this very unique piece of property.
I first inspected the property days before closing on it, having arrived by private helicopter, and being escorted by Bigelow's private security to inspect the site. I was stunned by the striking beauty and diversity of the landscape, which includes a dramatic mesa plateau that runs the entire expanse of the property from east to west, to four 100 year old or older pioneer homesteads that still stand on the property. There are also cave systems and waterways that are found on the property that add additional interest and intrigue.
It's common knowledge that Robert Bigelow acquired the property in 1996 from the Sherman family, who had acquired the property in 1994 for the purpose simply ranching and farming. In fact, they were very well respected.
The Skinwalker Ranch Legend
TechBuzz (TB): Did the Sherman's publicize this or have any kind of public life?
BF: No. They want nothing to do with the property. They’ve distanced themselves for decades from the property and have asked to be left alone. The Sherman's drew the attention of the Deseret News. You can just say the Sherman family drew the attention of newspapers that documented their claims of extreme paranormal activity on the property, which included having a notable percentage of their cattle mutilated in broad daylight. These mutilations occurred with surgical precision, with the blood being completely drained from the animals and no trace of predator activity or origin. The newspaper reports made their way to aerospace billionaire Robert Bigelow, who at the time was funding the National Institute for Discovery Science, or NIDS.
Cattle mutilations were well documented during and after the Sherman family’s tenure on the ranch. The area came to national prominence after reporting from the Deseret News explored the phenomena in a series of articles. That drew the attention of Robert Bigelow, who ultimately purchased the ranch from the Sherman family to conduct further research.
Mr. Bigelow quickly flew on his private jet to the Uintah basin to meet with the Sherman family and determine whether there was legitimacy to the reports of UFO activity and high strangeness. He was immediately convinced of their credibility and the authenticity of the claims, and acquired the property for the purpose of conducting a focused scientific investigation to determine the nature of the phenomenon. Bigelow brought a very respected team of scientists and experts to the effort and proceeded to lock down the property, install security, surveillance, and scientific equipment in service to discovery. In 2005, his chief scientist Dr. Colm Kelleher, joined with investigative journalist George Knapp in publishing the book "Hunt for the Skinwalker," that profiled the history of the ranch and their scientific investigation of the property. By 2008 Bigelow's effort and activity at the ranch captured the attention of the United States government and the Pentagon. The project and Mr. Bigelow subsequently entered into a partnership regarding a Pentagon funded black budget program investigating the strange phenomenon and activity reported on the ranch.
TB: Has any information been released from the government investigation?
BF: No, no. In fact, when I acquired the property, I was told that the documentation was classified and kept confidential from that phase of the investigation, as well as Bigelow keeping most other early investigative work private.
TB: So Colm Kelleher and George Knapp write a tell-all. Robert Bigelow and the US government conduct an investigation. This investigation is now spanning decades. Do we know much about the government investigation?
BF: The New York Times broke the story in 2017, over a year after I had acquired the property. They went public with the information that Skinwalker Ranch had been a center of gravity and a focus of this black budget program investigating the property. But to this day, the details of that study and investigation remain under lock and key. And frankly, I didn't care. I wanted to bring in a new set of eyes and open a new chapter of investigation relative to the ranch, bringing even better technology and resources to document and understand the nature of the strange activity reported.
Brandon Fugal Acquires Skinwalker Ranch and Assembles His Team
TB: It’s been nearly five years since you bought the ranch. How quickly did the investigation start?
BF: I immediately assembled the team in the Spring of 2016, and installed not only dramatically improved security measures — including my head of security, his team, a military grade gated entrance with guard shack, dozens of surveillance cameras, infrared thermographic imaging systems, along with other sensors — but also brought a multidisciplinary team of professionals, many of which I have had relationships with going back decades.
TB: You and Bryant (or should I call him Dragon?) have known each other for a very long time.
BF: We were missionary companions! He was my senior companion. He was my mission trainer, my first mission companion in Hawaii. Yep, we were together for five months, which is an eternity in mission time. So he would be my “father” in mission genealogical terms. We forged a close relationship during that mission experience that continues to this day. Dragon is a licensed armed security expert with the state of Utah, and also an expert marksman who loves the outdoors. Most importantly, I trust him and he is loyal to a fault.
My ranch manager Jim Morse was my first big developer client when I was 18 years old, first launching my career in commercial real estate. At the time, Jim was breaking ground on the Towers at South Towne, a mixed use commercial project which included a new six-story Class A office building in South Jordan, and I had the privilege of representing him regarding the marketing of that project. When provided the opportunity to acquire this most unique piece of real estate, Jim seemed a perfect fit to act as a buffer and liaison with the community. Morse has spent decades raising millions of dollars for Native American charities, including American Indian Services, and has developed close relationships of trust with tribal leaders that I felt would be important in setting the right tone with the community.
Erik Bard has been a trusted physicist and consultant on various projects I’ve funded for over a decade. He has his degree from BYU, numerous patents, and has taken a number of innovations from idea to full commercialization. He is also a skeptic. I'd say he is a hardened skeptic. His critical thinking would prove to be a key part of establishing the right foundation for my scientific investigation at the ranch. We later brought in ranch caretakers Kandus Linde and Tom Lewis, who reside on the property full time, 365 days a year. Linde is a published anthropologist and has spent decades researching historical sites.
TB: You’ve known Kandus Linde for a long time too.
BF: I've known Kandus since I was a teenager at Pleasant Grove Junior High School. We graduated together, class of 91. Tom Lewis also attended Pleasant Grove High School. So having a closely held, trusted team with multidisciplinary expertise has vaulted our investigation to a whole new level, beyond that which Bigelow had in place. Add to that Dr. Travis Taylor, who was brought in initially as part of the investigative series on HISTORY Channel, and has multiple PhDs in physics and worked with NASA and the defense community relative to scientific research, and you really have an unmatched effort. This truly is the most scientifically studied property of its kind. It only continues to build momentum as we improve our infrastructure, strengthen our team, and bring more resources.
It's important to note that all of the infrastructure and facilities shown in season one of The Secret of Skinwalker Ranch were put in place long before any television series was contemplated. Again, I had no desire to reveal my identity as the owner, or open the doors to outside parties.
The second half of our interview with Brandon Fugal will continue tomorrow, when Brandon shares why he came forward as the owner of the ranch, how the dialogue around UFOs/UAPs is changing, and he shares his own firsthand account of witnessing a UFO on the ranch property.