Hunting For Ufos In The Rim Country

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If you look hard enough, you can always find something brand new to do in Payson that doesn't involve the forest and that takes your mind off wildfires.

For instance: You can stand in the parking lot of the Wal-Mart Supercenter in the dark of night and look for alien spacecraft in the company of longtime local skywatcher Jerry Covington.

But those who indulge themselves in such an evening will discover something even more amazing than the blinking lights Covington identifies as alien ships.

In conversation, you will learn that Jerry Covington has been a professional roller- and ice-skater since he was 19 years old.

And that in 1985, his talents earned him a spot on ABC TV's PM Magazine, as well as the starring role in his own skating video, titled "Keep On Rolling."

And that in 1988, he won the Arizona State Championship in Freestyle V ice skating.

And that he remains, at the age of 60, "the reigning national champion in Freestyle 6, because I have no competition. I'm the only person my age in the country who can still do a double-revolution jump."

And that his very first set of quality ice skates, a pair of Snyder's Custom Deluxe, were purchased for him as a gift ... by Elvis Presley, who was a frequent visitor to a Memphis roller rink Covington managed in the early 1960s.

"Two weeks after he gave them to me, I won a national championship," Covington said. "I've got 'em in my van, here.

"Elvis would rent the rink from midnight to dawn. We had some wild times. He'd have me stay out in the middle of the rink and do jumps and spins to entertain the crowd. The secret of Elvis' parties was that you would be invited only if you totally ignored him. Back then, he wasn't ignored much. There would always be a block-long line of girls, six deep.

"I was a professional skater by the time I was 19, and I owned three roller rinks by the time I was 25."

"... I am working on just one jump now: a double-axel, which is all that's required to pass the senior test ... Look! I see it! You probably don't. That's the control ship! It's right where my finger is pointing. Do you see it?"

"I don't think so."

"Well, no wonder," Covington said. "He just went behind a tree. The best place to see them is down south of Rye at about 8:30 p.m., right after milepost 243 ..."

The UFO action having momentarily subsided, Covington reveals that he was born in Memphis, has a degree in accounting, was once Federal Express Corporation's first tax manager, and served as the controller for a number of other companies, "evidently because they thought I was smart."

He came to Arizona, he said, when he got "totally burnt out in accounting," and spent the next two decades touring school gymnasiums across the nation with his one-man, one-hour roller-skating show.

"I did 2,000 shows, three a day, for 20 years. Then in 1988, I came to Payson to help my uncle-in-law re-open the Ox Bow gold mine. That's when I first started seeing all the stuff in the sky at night."

"... Hey! Here comes another one!," he said, abruptly interrupting himself and pointing toward the southern horizon. "We probably missed a couple while we were talking. And there's another! Those ain't airplanes ..."

Coincidentally, the lights seem to pass overhead with the regularity of commercial jetliners, and just as coincidentally disappear at the same point on the horizon as would a human-made aircraft headed for Sky Harbor International Airport.

"Why don't air-traffic controllers seem to notice them?," Covington is asked.

"If you could fly 10 trillion light years in one split second," he said with a derisive snicker, "don't you think you'd have enough brains to make a craft that our stupid little radar couldn't pick up? C'mon! Think about it!"

Excellent point.

Makes you wonder.

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