Scott D. Pierce: Discovery Channel looks for gold — and maybe finds outer-space aliens? — in eastern Utah

“Mystery at Blind Frog Ranch” encounters dark forces in Uintah County, cast members insist.

(Photo courtesy of Discovery) Duane Ollinger digs for treasure on "Mystery at Blind Frog Ranch"

Utah is home to mountains, deserts, national parks, the Great Salt Lake, the greatest snow on Earth and … evil spirits and an alien spacecraft?

Well, maybe. At least according to a new series airing on the Discovery Channel.

“Mystery at Blind Frog Ranch” follows Texan Duane Ollinger, his son Chad and a small team looking for gold and buried treasure in Uintah County. They battle the elements and dangerous situations — and possibly some paranormal elements in an area that the elder Ollinger tells viewers “just don’t feel right.”

In 2009, Duane Ollinger first saw the region’s caverns. In 2018, he bought 160 acres there, southeast of Ballard, and named it the Blind Frog Ranch because he discovered the caverns underneath it were populated by — you guessed it! — blind frogs. The goal is to mine the land for precious metals and, possibly, locate treasure left behind by Aztecs, Spaniards, Mexicans and/or “Mormons.”

Discovery has aired shows about treasure hunting, gold prospecting and searches for alien artifacts infused with spooky elements, but “Mystery at Blind Frog Ranch” combines all those elements as the drama plays out in eastern Utah. It’s about 20 miles north of the Skinwalker Ranch, which is also rumored to be the site of paranormal activity.

“I didn’t believe in any of that stuff until we actually started staying out there,” Chad Ollinger told The Salt Lake Tribune. “It’s real. I thought everyone was making it up. I’m 100% a believer now.”

Really? You’re not kidding us? “I 100% believe in aliens now,” Chad insisted.

On the surface — well, below the surface — this series is about the Ollingers’ attempts to get into the two miles of caverns on the property. They have hard evidence that there actually is gold down there, although they don’t know how much. They even find what appears to be a very old gold coin — possibly Spanish? — in the first episode.

But there’s also some kind of “dark force,” according to Duane, that they come to believe is trying to prevent them from finding treasure. Their equipment seems to break down for no reason — they attribute one such failure to an unexplained “electromagnetic pulse.” And sometimes equipment simply disappears.

Locals interviewed for the show say “something’s out there,” including, possibly, sinister skinwalkers (aka shapeshifters), UFOs and/or a buried alien spacecraft.

One woman, Veronica Lawson, appears on camera to tell a story about Native American babies drowned in the waters at the Blind Frog Ranch long ago because the tribe was starving — adding that the spirits of those infants remain malevolent. In this first episode, at least, no one identified as affiliated with tribes in the area is asked about their knowledge of the region’s history.

“It’s not a good idea to dig out there,” Lawson says. “Don’t go looking for trouble.”

But the Ollingers have made a “very substantial” investment of money and time in the project, and they’re not about to give up.

“We’re there to find buried treasure,” Chad said. “We take all the safety precautions we can. But at the end of the day, you’ve just got to get it done.

“It’s fun. It’s an adventure. No doubt about it.”

He promises there will “absolutely” be surprises for the viewers. “What we saw, we’ll never forget,” Chad said. “Oh man, it’s pretty wild.”

He said members of the TV production crew were as skeptical as he was about all the paranormal and/or alien stories. They “would initially say, ‘I’ve got to tell you — I don’t believe in any of this stuff.’ And the next thing you know, they changed their minds.”

He said that he once found two crew members locked in their car holding shovels as defensive weapons because “they were absolutely terrified. And they were believers after that.”

Whether “Mystery at Blind Frog Ranch” will turn viewers into believers remains to be seen. But, who knows? Maybe giving Uintah County more of a reputation for paranormal activity and outer-space aliens will put the area on the map.

Hey, it’s worked for Roswell, N.M., right?

“Mystery at Blind Frog Ranch” airs Fridays on the Discovery Channel — 8 p.m. on Dish and DirecTV; 11 p.m. on Comcast. Episodes are also streaming on Discovery+.