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All Eyes Are on the Skies Over Topanga Canyon—UFO Hotspot

For 4 years, from 1988, to 1992, I lived in Topanga Canyon, right before one of the most active local UFO “flaps” in history. Huge objects glided silently between the steep slopes of ravines, structured craft hovered over isolated cabins and homes and a rash of abductions startled researchers. Strange, unearthly animals were also sighted. The local Topanga Messenger even featured a story on a local family who had been harassed by a huge “ship” with bright lights.

Often, while driving home from work at 2AM, I got the uneasy feeling that something was watching me, and had designs on landing in the road before pulling me out of the car. I put the jitters down to an overactive imagination from reading one too many UFO books, but upon arriving home, I always checked my watch to make sure there was no “missing time.”  Early one morning while driving Topanga Canyon Road in a thick fog with a friend, we saw a blinking yellow light that seemed to come from everywhere. It was so bright that we could see the outline of sagebrush crowning a hill ahead of us. We braced for our long-awaited encounter. As we rounded a corner, the glow  became almost blinding. I slowed the car to a crawl until we saw the light coming from behind a tree near the road. We shielded our eyes and peeked out between our fingers at…a beer sign that had been left on at the local bar.

And the rest of the time I lived in the canyon, I didn’t see a damned thing. Friends said they had seen strange lights arcing slowly through the sky after a party at my place, but they were on LSD at the time. Perhaps there is something wrong with me, or the UFOs decided to give me a wide berth.

Topanga became known as such a hotspot for saucer spotters that it began to resemble scenes from Close Encounters. Two teenagers were driving through a nearby canyon one night during the height of the “flap,” chasing a black, diamond-shaped object that they had seen earlier, and happened upon a group of people staked out in lawn chairs, waiting for the reliable UFOs. Most of the sightings tended to cluster near the town center or the State Park area just up the hill.

Author and investigator Preston Dennett wrote a book on the period entitled, appropriately enough, UFOs Over Topanga Canyon, published in 1999. He described hundreds of sightings and closer encounters that began in June of 1992 (barely 2 months after I moved out) and continued unabated for almost two years. He wrote the original story in the Messenger, and followed with many more about the goings-on in the Canyon. There have been sightings of weird aerial displays here since at least the 1940s—curiously enough only a few years after wartime anti-aircraft guns opened up on “something” that floated in slowly over the coast.

One couple had so many visits over the period that they could just about predict when what appeared to be a craft would show up across the street from their home, hovering over a field of scrubbrush. Strangely moving lights would dart around the Canyon almost nightly. Dennett led a television crew out to the State Park area one evening, accompanied by a group who claimed to be able to summon UFOs at will. They shined flashlights and even a laser beam heavenward and waited. Some in the group became excited and called attention to a slow-moving, amber light that appeared across the valley. The TV crew managed to get a few minutes of footage before the enigmatic object sank lazily out of sight below the ridgeline. Residents also reported military-type helicopters searching the area after UFO sightings.

Why would flying saucers take such an interest in Topanga Canyon? Dennett has his own theory: “I looked at other UFO hotspots, like Hudson Valley, New York, which is a rural area next to a large city. Like Topanga Canyon it’s isolated there: deep canyons, lots of wilderness, yet it’s right next to the San Fernando Valley and Los Angeles. I think that UFOs use the area as a base. They hide there and study the population like hunters using a ‘blind,’ so that they can observe and be concealed by the local topography.”

Mimi Smith was driving on the main street late at night in November of 1994, when she stopped to watch what looked like a sheep crossing the road. “It was shaped like a sheep, and it’s head was round an placed lower on its body, and it appeared as almost as if it had waggled on some kind of spring…It moved like it glided along.  As I looked at it, I saw that its eyes…were like holes with nothing there. You could see through. If you looked at the thing’s eyes, you could see the fence posts in back of it.” 1 Smith saw the same unnerving specter a few months later in the same location.

Dennett says that sightings continue in the Canyon, but don’t run out there with a lawn chair—the UFOs are not as predictable as they were in the early ‘90s. Perhaps relocating to the area might up your chances. It also might be interesting to ask Danny Elfman, film composer and former leader of the band Oingo Boingo, if he saw anything from his sprawling home on a hill above a bump in the road known as Topanga.

Perhaps I shouldn’t feel so bad, although curiously, my renewed interest in the UFO subject blossomed while I lived in the area. Dennett grew up there, and for over 20 years saw nary a furtive light until he began investigations during the flap. He also discovered to his surprise that his family had a history of numerous sightings in the area, which only came out when he finally asked about it.


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