Families enjoy the festival portion of the weekend, with food trucks, vendors, and live entertainment. Photo courtesy city of Edinburg.

Imagine a night out with the family: There are vendors selling kitschy items, food trucks, live music, and fire dancers. To your left is a 4-foot-high statue of a grey, big-headed, bug-eyed recreation of what you’ve always pictured an extraterrestrial would look like. On your right, you notice a crowd of makeshift tinfoil hats cavorting about. Welcome to the 12th annual UFO Festival in Edinburg.

The tinfoil hats are offered at one of the many vendor booths set up at the festival, which was held this year on the second weekend of August, and they encourage visitors to participate and enjoy all the goings-on. “It’s a great opportunity to bring the community together and bring others to our area who are curious,” Mayor Ramiro Garza Jr. said. “It’s a place for people to learn more about what others know about UFOs and the stories that are out there.”

You may be asking, “Why Edinburg for a UFO festival?” Well, according to the city, there was a sighting in this Rio Grande Valley town in November 1966. A work crew at a ranch saw bright lights and a “cigar-shaped object” in the night sky. It was so disturbing, one crew member wet his pants.

The origin of the festival can be traced back to 2012, when the Edinburg Public Library held a book signing with Noe Torres, a native of Edinburg and UFO researcher who has authored around a dozen books on various UFO-related topics but focuses mostly on pre-1940 sightings. The signing was a hit with locals and led to a festival that has now grown into a hot destination for enthusiasts of all things sci-fi and paranormal, with programming and activities attracting 4,000 attendees.

“We’ve become quite well-known throughout the nation and the world,” said Torres, who was a guest speaker at this year’s event. “We are very happy about that.”

The two-day event, which ran Aug. 11-12, is divided up into a family-friendly portion and a conference for more serious-minded discussion. This year’s festival kicked off the weekend, with families gathering and taking in the strange sights and sounds. Local dance troupes entertained at a main stage set up in City Hall Courtyard, then there was a laser light show in the Municipal Auditorium. Attendees were encouraged to vote on a series of costume contests, including one focused on pets. Overall, the jovial nature of the event was ideal for a quiet town like Edinburg, a nice way to spend one of the last Friday nights before school starts.

The next day featured a conference with some heavy hitters in the world of the unknown. It could not have come at a better time, as it happened just a few weeks after the Congressional hearing in which high-ranking military officials and whistleblowers testified about unexplained sightings and nonhuman recovered material before the House Oversight Committee’s national security subcommittee.

The location of the conference was near the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley campus, and nearly 400 people from all over the country bought tickets to hear talks from speakers ranging from Torres discussing UFO sightings in 1933 and earlier, to the History Channel’s Ancient Aliens contributor Mike Bara, who gave a lecture on the JFK/UFO connection, to David Childress (also an Ancient Aliens contributor and billed as a “real-life Indiana Jones”), who spoke about megaliths. Other speakers included the duo of Jonathan Dover and Stanley Milford Jr., the Native American former law-enforcement officers who now seek out everything in the realm of UFOs, Bigfoot, shapeshifters, and witchcraft; and astronomer Marc D’Antonio, who spent over an hour explaining how UFOs could theoretically create anti-gravity to travel the universe using the fifth dimension. His presentation felt like a post-grad lecture on physics from Princeton.

One of the biggest topics of the conference was the Congressional hearing. A panel of experts I saw were divided on the subject, with one guest saying the hearings are “absolute validation” for their years of investigation and ridicule from the scientific community, while speaker Mike Bara, was more skeptical. “I don’t trust the government,” he said. “That’s the version of the truth they want us to know.”

Master of Ceremonies Daniel Alan Jones, who is well-known in the community for his YouTube channel The Vortex, agrees with both. “It’s really impressive to hear the government and Congress openly asking the questions,” Jones said. “But it’s really important that we don’t just take their word for it. While they do have some impressive claims, we can’t just leave it at that.”

Overall, the festival and conference serve both those with casual and serious interest in the subjects at hand. And it appears to show no signs of slowing down any time soon, with locals among the new attendees. “I finally got to come!” Edinburg resident Kristina Perez said. “I’ve always wanted to check this out and I finally got time off work. I’ll definitely be coming back next year.”

What works best about the festival is how it presents information and beliefs within the UFO community without coming off as sanctimonious. The atmosphere, welcoming to even skeptics, offers an all-around fun vibe while at the same time being educational. Most want you to believe but don’t want to force the belief on you. As they say on The X-Files, the truth is out there.

“That’s what this is about,” Garza said. “They present the information and you make up your mind.”

The June 2024 cover of Texas Highways: Treasures from the Coast

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