For the past five years, unidentified flying object researchers ranging from professional to alien-curious converge on the California High Desert for a long weekend of lectures and workshops on the unexplained. The annual Contact in the Desert conference is relatively new in the ufology world but has already been touted as one of the field's top conventions worldwide. This year, approximately 3000 attendees gathered in Joshua Tree from May 19-22 seeking answers.
Contact serves to take attendees into the world of modern UFOlogy beyond the Roswell incident, Ancient Aliens and the X-Files. They use a variety of speakers ranging from university professors to TV personalities to touch on a breadth of subjects. Talks included lengthy lectures on the US government's secret space program, abductions, Ancient Egypt and of course, media deception and cover up.
"This [event] is truly is one of a kind because I don't think there's any other event in the world where pretty much the who's who of the UFO community or ancient astronaut community [attend]," says speaker and star of Ancient Aliens on The History Channel, Georgio A. Tsoukalos. "The researchers and theorists—they're all here."
The event brings in UFO research heavy hitters like ancient astronaut theory pioneer Erich von Daniken, "Coast to Coast AM" host George Noory and Ancient Aliens star Giorgio A. Tsoukalos. Dozens more speakers include longtime researcher Jacques Vallee, journalist Linda Moulton Howe and even UC Irvine professor and OC Weekly People Issue profilee Michael Dennin. Past years have included talks from NASA Apollo 14 astronaut Edgar Mitchell and nuclear physicist Stanton Friedman.
"It is not one of my favorite events of the year, it is my favorite event of the year," Tsoukalos attests. " You get to hang out. You get to meet the fans. You can take selfies with them."
Tsoukalos had a booth set up on the flat dirt of the outdoor vendors' bazaar, amongst booths offering energy crystals, chakra readings and medicinal cannabis tonics. His booth, selling t-shirts nodding to his Internet meme fame and copies of his journal Legendary Times was often abuzz with fans waiting in line to talk to him and take photos.
Many of the speakers at Contact make themselves accessible to the attendees. They often allow for time at the end of the lecture for audience Q&A. Several of the authors set up tables outside of the large lecture room called the Sanctuary and offer autographs and conversations with fans. Speaker and former British Ministry of Defense UFO researcher Nick Pope was seen around the grounds stopping and shaking hands with attendees and the legendary George Noory of Coast to Coast AM rode past us in a golf cart.
The conference takes place each year at the Joshua Tree Retreat Center (a Frank Lloyd Wright and Lloyd Wright-designed site) directly on 29 Palms Highway. It's a dry venue with several small buildings and a lecture hall which allows several speakers and workshops to occur simultaneously. There's no escaping the desert weather, but each building does have AC and tanks of free water. Moving the conference to May this year made a world of difference—there was even a light breeze on Friday.
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Clear night skies at night and close proximity to 29 Palms Marine base make the Retreat Center a perfect venue for increasing your odds of seeing a UFO. Joshua Tree is a known hot-spot for strange sights from above and at last years' conference approximately 100 people reportedly simultaneously witnessed UFOs during a night skywatching session, according to the event's publicist.
This reporter did not see any UFOs during this year's desert trip, but will keep watching the skis...uh, skies.