The UFO Hunters

Searching for aliens in all the right places.

Forty-seven-year-old cop Ken Storch can barely contain his enthusiasm this Monday morning in August. Dressed in shorts and a T-shirt that reads "Aliens are Real: The Government Doesn't Exist," he revs the engine of his RV in the Bear Valley Mall parking lot. He's itching to get going on Colorado's first formal UFO expedition. His buddy LJ Dalicandro, a former civilian undercover operative for the Drug Enforcement Administration, is a bulldog of a man who's been shot three times and will tell you all about it. Right now, though, Dalicandro is adjusting the carburetor on his motorcycle. They've already checked and double-checked the hitch on the trailer of their supply truck. They've introduced all the members of their unusual nine-person team. There's nothing to advertise to the outside world that these people are searching for aliens. An onlooker might think they are an odd mixture of a biker gang and a church group.

The caravan pulls out of the parking lot and heads south toward the San Luis Valley, the state's headquarters for mystical occurrences and extraterrestrial sightings. Storch and his RV are in the lead, followed by the supply truck and three other vehicles. The convoy gets on Highway 285, and Dalicandro races his Kawasaki Vulcan up and down the line like a cowboy on horseback keeping a wagon train in order. Thanks to Storch, everyone has walkie-talkies to keep in touch.

This expedition has been a dream of Storch and Dalicandro's for some time. The two met years ago on a drug bust in Littleton and quickly formed a bond based not on law enforcement but on their desire to search for aliens ("Reach for the Sky," July 2). They've made trips out into the wilderness to watch the skies before, but they always figured that the way to do it right would be to assemble a team of people with varied backgrounds to help lend the hunt some credibility. After advertising for team members willing to pay $100 a pop, they've gathered an archaeologist, two people who report having been abducted by aliens, a waiter, an unemployed musician, a retired police officer, an employee of Dalicandro's tree-trimming business and a San Luis Valley native who claims to have had several run-ins with "unexplained phenomena."

"It's a team concept," explains Storch. "If you've got one person up all night by himself, it isn't going to work. But one thing I've learned from my 21 years in law enforcement is that you never send a guy out alone on a stakeout. Having a partner helps keep you awake, and if all hell breaks loose, you've got a witness. With a group of people like this, we can have people out on watch 24 hours a day so we won't miss anything. If nothing else, this expedition will establish the research parameters for the future."

But their past precedes them. Storch has acquired some minor celebrity for appearing in several episodes of Cops. As an undercover operative, Dalicandro has a much lower profile, but he still gets recognized. During a brief stop for refreshments in Evergreen, he goes into a bar where ten years ago he worked as a confidential informant on a drug deal for eighty pounds of hallucinogenic mushrooms. "The bartender is looking at me like, 'Don't I know you?'" says Dalicandro, "and I'm like, 'Maybe you recognize me from America's Most Wanted.'" Dalicandro notes to the team that he helped put away the bartender's husband for ten years.

Four hours after leaving Denver, the expedition arrives in the San Luis Valley. The expedition's base camp is located about a mile off the highway in an arid bowl ringed on three sides by jagged hills. The camp is hidden from the road by a 200-foot-high rock outcropping. Although this piece of public land near Saguache seems isolated, Storch and Dalicandro still want to keep a low profile. Set up the way they are, the UFO hunters will see anyone--or anything--coming long before he or it reaches camp. The only non-humans they've spotted so far are a small herd of cattle grazing on the valley's short, dry grass.

Tents pop up around Storch's RV while Dalicandro and Tyron Lucas, a rugged-looking 33-year-old who works for Dalicandro back in Denver, help get the cooking fire going. Dave Lancaster, the Salida native, sets up his own tent on one side of the bowl, apart from the others. He drives his Geo Tracker back and forth across the 100 yards of scrub separating his tent from the rest of the group.

While Dalicandro cooks dinner, Storch and Mike Riese catch up on old times--they were roommates back when they started working for a metro-Denver sheriff's department in the Seventies. The two hadn't talked for seven years until Riese's ex-wife heard Storch on a radio talk show discussing the expedition this summer. After calling Storch, Riese decided to sign up for the trip.

As the sun sets and the temperature drops, the hunters drift over to the campfire. Ruth Thomas is shivering more than the rest of the group--and not just from the cold. A diminutive woman in her early fifties and the mother of two, she seems an unlikely member of this team. But she came, she says, to face fears that have plagued her since she was a child. Ruth Thomas says that she's been abducted. Being out under the dark skies is scaring her.

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