UFO field investigator Chuck Zukowski likes to think of himself as a skeptic.
He won't throw his UFO detective gear in his truck (license plate: UFONUT) and drive out to the middle of nowhere just because someone says they saw a few glowing orbs over a field.
"Cattle mutilations I'll go out for, but orbs? They have to have some sort of documentation - a photo, a video," he said recently as he pulled his Nissan Xterra up to Ute Valley Park.
There was something at the park the he felt was definitely worth a closer look.
Zukowski is nationally known in sky-watching circles as a meticulous documenter of the unexplainable. In 20 years as a UFO investigator he has helped organize archeological digs at UFO hot spots near Roswell, N.M. (Conclusion: Sites need more study.)
He has inspected a strange stone found in the New Mexico desert, expertly carved with a design that also appeared in a crop circle in England. (Conclusion: Stone needs more study.) He has appeared as an expert on the Sci Fi Channel and the super late night paranormal radio show Coast to Coast a.m.
More importantly, he says he has seen UFOs himself.
Ask him when the black van is coming for him and he chuckles and says, "I've seen them around."
Despite his license plate, Zukowski doesn't consider himself a nut.
"My thing is I'm always looking for proof," he said. "If something can be explained by science, great. But if it can't ...."
He trailed off, leaving listeners to infer their own silent replay of the theme from "The Twilight Zone."
Zukowski was at Ute Valley to investigate something strange - maybe related to aliens, maybe not. He found two grotesque faces carved in the park's crumbly sandstone.
"These kids, teenagers, contacted me a while ago when some they saw lights hovering above the park on a number of occasions," he said, pushing through the scratchy brush while searching for the site.
Near the point where the kids said they saw the lights, Zukowski stumbled on the two faces carved into the stone.
One looks a bit like the grinning Janus mask that high school drama clubs always put on their T-shirts. The other's crude features looked a bit more tribal - almost like an Easter Island head.
To the average park hiker, both seemed to be recently carved, probably by a contemporary neighbor, possibly while high.
But you don't get to be a nationally known UFO field investigator by settling for the most likely explanation.
"Sure, these could be recent," said Zukowski, who in his day job designs microchips for everything from cell phones to spy satellites. "But how do we know? How do we know until they are thoroughly investigated?"
He has brought rock art experts and a city parks official to the site. Both, he said, indicated they would get back to him, then never did. Frustrated, he e-mailed The Gazette, hoping to uncover some answers.
Zukowski doesn't think the carvings have anything to do with aliens - at least directly.
They are more likely Ute, he said. "Though the style seems more Aztec or Mayan, so who knows?"
It may be an American Indian record of an extraterrestrial encounter. He even says the high neighbor theory is plausible. He wants scientists to take a look and decide for themselves.
"We just won't know until we study this more," he said.
For now, he'll keep Ute Valley in his unsolved mysteries file, right next to an incident that happened a few days later.
"I got a report a dark grayish triangular object was spotted last night flying SW to NE," he e-mailed. "I'm going to contact the Sheriff's department this afternoon and see if anyone else called this in."
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