Many residents have seen some strange things flying over the Kittitas Valley. A vast number are skeptics and think perhaps what they saw came possibly from the U.S. Army Yakima Training Center. Others are pretty sure what they saw was not from around this neck of the galaxy.
"It is easy to joke about UFOs, until you've seen one," said Ellensburg resident Sue Marvin, who saw three dome-shaped objects over Manastash Ridge on July 31, 2005.
Marvin spotted the objects about eight miles from her house, which sits on a hill overlooking the valley at the north end of Wilson Creek Road. It made a big impact on her, and a few days later she reported it to the National UFO Reporting Center, located in Davenport, Wash.
Washington has the second-highest UFO reporting rate in the nation, after California, according to the center's Web site, nuforc.org. The center has posted 2,464 reports of UFO sightings in Washington, and 16 of those came from the Ellensburg area. Washington's latest report, added March 7, is from Ellensburg.
On that July evening, what caught Marvin's eye were three, extremely bright lights on the horizon. They resembled football field lights, she recalled. After watching them for a few minutes, she grabbed her binoculars. What she saw then was "truly hair-raising," she said.
"There were three dome, top-round objects with lights around the bottoms or centers," she said. "They did not move. At times all three crafts were visible, then one would fade completely out, then another, then one or two would light back up again."
The disks lingered in the area for more than 15 minutes before simply fading away without moving, she said.
The fading and reappearing lights that Marvin saw are not uncommon in UFO reportings.
Thousands of people saw something similar on the night of March 13, 1997, throughout the state of Arizona. The unexplained event, known as The Phoenix Lights, lasted hours and, like Marvin's sighting, those who witnessed it reported lights fading and re-emerging.
Fife Symington, who was governor of Arizona at the time, denied the event and made a joke of it by dressing one of his staff members in an alien costume for a press conference. However, in March, one decade later, he went on record to say that he had in fact seen the objects and thought they were UFOs.
Symington wasn't exactly known for his integrity as a public figure, and that Arizona event has never been explained, although the government claimed the lights were flares dropped from airplanes.
Despite the denials and confusion, the event is to this day the biggest on record in terms of how many witnesses were involved. In most unidentified flying object cases, only one person sees the object.
Such is the case with Ellensburg resident Charlene Schulz, 55, who saw a strange object in the sky from her deck in June of 2005, only a month before Marvin's sighting.
It was on a sunny, cloudless day, Schulz said. She was relaxing on her deck, which overlooks the valley, when she saw something "shaped like a torpedo" appear in the sky.
"It was gray. There was nothing else in the sky," Schulz said. The object didn't look solid, she added, but looked more like a cloud. From where she was sitting, it appeared to be as large as a submarine, and had a similar shape.
"It was just creepy," she said.
The object slowly moved across the horizon in a straight line. Then, suddenly eight helicopters came flying out of the cloud.
"It could have been from the Yakima Training Center, but it was the weirdest thing I've ever seen." Only seconds after the helicopters appeared, the cloud vanished, she said.
Central Washington University physics and astronomy professor Bruce Palmquist agrees that most of the objects people spot in the valley are likely products of the U.S. military.
"There are a lot of test cases, things that the military doesn't want you to find out about. Perhaps it was a dud, and they spent billions of dollars on some type of new aircraft that just doesn't work."
He does believe the chances for life on other planets is likely, and that perhaps some of that life is more technologically advanced than ours.
The chances of life visiting Earth, however, is slim, he said.
"From a statistical standpoint, the chance of alien crafts visiting earth seems slight." The vast, expanding universe is like a beach, and Earth is a grain of sand, he explained.
"What are the odds of them coming here? I mean, just thinking about Roswell, New Mexico, and the alien craft that crashed. That's funny to me, that these aliens could develop craft that could get from their distant planet to ours and then crash in New Mexico and get herded up by small-town police.
"They have the technology to build this craft, and then they're captured by Barney Fife, his pistol and one bullet? That story strikes me as a bit odd."