Dr. Lynne Kitei never gave much thought to UFOs. As a physician and educator, she focused on this world, not some other.
“I had no interest in or knowledge of this topic,” she said in a recent interview. “In fact, I shied away from it all.” About as close as she came were the original “Star Trek” TV episodes and the movies “E.T.” and “Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” part of the popular culture of her sons’ growing-up years.
All of that changed in 1995 when she saw something from her suburban Phoenix home.
From the bedroom window of their house perched above Phoenix, she and her husband, Frank, also a physician, saw “amber orbs in a pyramid formation ... hovering there for some time right in front of us.”
“As I was looking at them, I tried to take everything in mentally,” she said. “I had never seen anything like this -- three orbs that were oval-shaped, 3 to 6 feet, with a uniform amber color.”
She saw what came to be known as the “Phoenix Lights.”
From May 12-15, the 17th annual McMenamins UFO Festival in McMinville, Ore., about 52 miles southwest of Portland, Ore., will bring together skeptics and believers, experts and neophytes, those looking for facts and those looking for fun.
Among the more lighthearted events: an alien costume ball, an alien pet costume festival, and a UFO 5K run.
All of this takes place near the site where, in 1950, farmer Paul Trent photographed what appeared to be alien spacecraft. The pictures, which came to be known as the Trent photos, were published in Life magazine in June 1950.
Despite extensive analysis, no definitive consensus about the veracity of the Trent photos has ever been reached.
Like the Trent photos, the Phoenix Lights seem also to defy explanation, only in this case, the witnesses extend far beyond one couple. Hundreds of people from Arizona to Mexico saw the lights on March 13, 1997, two years after Kitei first saw them. She had seen them again in January of that year.
Here’s how the Arizona Republic described what happened on that night: “It is generally agreed that at about 10 p.m. on March 13, 1997, under a clear sky with no breeze, a string of lights appeared to the southwest. The orbs seemed to form a flattened V shape, like a boomerang. They appeared to be motionless, or traveling so slowly that movement was imperceptible.
“They shimmered for five to 10 minutes and were seen by hundreds, and likely thousands, of people.”
They were flares, the military said later. UFOs? Preposterous, said then-Gov. Fife Symington, who brought out someone dressed in an alien costume at a news conference to discuss the phenomenon.
Kitei was reluctant to come forward with information that included, besides her firsthand observation, videos that she shot. She saw how people who report such things are treated, no matter their professional standing, never mind a scientific mindset that insists on data before reaching any conclusion.
She finally put aside her hesitation and embraced her encounter. It changed her life, which became a journey to document what she and others had seen.
“Witnessing the lights was a gift,” she writes in her book “The Phoenix Lights: A Skeptic’s Discovery That We Are Not Alone.”
“The journey to find the source and meaning was a bonus. I would have never chosen this path. But now that I had stumbled upon it, I was realizing more and more how awesome, exciting, scary and cool it was -- all at the same time.”
The lights didn’t frighten her, she said in an interview. They were “awesome and wondrous,” she said. “There has not been one report of harm, threat or abduction associated with the Phoenix Lights phenomenon.”
Bogus or benign beings? We may never know. But the fest offers an opportunity to consider and contemplate what else may be out there.
Follow us on Twitter at @latimestravel.