High Strangeness: Area 51 Decoded -- Part 2

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Area 51 Decoded -- Part 2

My Uncle Bxx isn't the only family member to have first-hand experience with Area 51.

About six years ago, when I was working as a journalist, I had to be in Las Vegas for a few days for work. My then-girlfriend Kxxxx had come along on the trip, and one day we rented a car and drove up into the desert north of the city to see if we could find Area 51. For Kxxxx, it was a lark, but for me it was serious business. I had been wanting to seek out this Mecca of UFO-dom for years, to bow at the altar of little green men and perhaps uncover The Truth about our government's grand UFO coverup, but until that trip had never had the opportunity. At the same time, a comic book company had asked me to develop a movie treatment for an Area 51-themed comic they were publishing... How could I not go looking?

The drive north out of Vegas is really something to be experienced... The transition from busy urban center to desolate nothingness is abrupt and startling, followed closely by a second shock when you realize that the desolate nothingness is absolutely vibrant and beautiful. By the time we reached Route 375, "The Extraterrestrial Highway," we were in love with the place.
That's me at the start of the ET Highway

Our first stop was the town of Rachel, NV (pop 98), the gateway to Area 51. Now when I say town, I mean... well, why don't I use an excerpt from Rachel's own website, which describes the place as "a scatter of mobile homes spread out like buckshot across a Mars-like valley." It's a town only in the vaguest sense, and once you arrive there's really only one place to go: The Little A'le'Inn.

There actually is a flying saucer in Rachel, Nevada, and it's hanging from a tow truck!

This combination restaurant, bar, gift shop and hotel is literally the only going concern in Rachel, and it's a load of fun. We ate some lunch, bought some souvenirs, and used the "All Species Welcome" restroom out back...
An unexpected plea for intergalactic tolerance.
But then it was time for business. Leaving Rachel behind, we drove several miles down Route 375 looking for the dirt road that would lead us to the U.S. Air Force's most Top Secret base ever. Now, you might ask, if it's so Top Secret, how did we know the location of the unmarked dirt road leading to its entrance? For that matter, how did we know the dirt road even existed? That is the conundrum of Area 51. It's "Top Secret," yet everyone knows about it. It's hidden away in the desert, yet everyone knows how to find it. It's cloaked in mystery, yet in about five seconds you can find websites that feature up-to-the minute satellite photos of the base, with analysis of new construction projects going on (two new hangars are being built on the north end!), and estimates of when certain dirt roads were last traveled upon by USAF vehicles. It's so secret that when we found the dirt road and started driving along it, we passed about a dozen cars...

My theory is that Area 51 has become so famous that the Air Force keeps up the air of slightly-accessible mystery to distract the public from Area 52, the new secret UFO research base they've built just up the road. But that's a topic for another post.

As I said, we passed about a dozen cars on the long, dusty road, all rentals from Vegas, no doubt. It got to where we expected to pull up to a packed parking lot filled with tourists all trying to get a peek past the gates. But when we arrived, it was a much different scene.

For the last mile or so, we didn't see another car. Then we rounded a corner and came up against a locked gate and a long line of wire fence. The sign at the gate thoughtfully informs you that the fence is electrified. It also informs you that there is no trespassing allowed, and that deadly force will be used if you somehow accidentally slip past the electric fence. And in case the message still hasn't gotten through, there's that menacing black pickup truck with desert tires and a monster brush guard parked at the top of that nearby hill, always idling, always watching and waiting... For a bit of fence, a faded sign and a Chevy pickup, it's all surprisingly intimidating.

We didn't dare get out of the car, but I did start snapping pictures through the windshield. Which is when Kxxxx noticed the sign that said "Photography not allowed." Which was just before she looked up at the pickup truck and said "Holy s***, they're looking at us through binoculars!"

She must have thought that that whole "deadly force" thing applied to photographs, too. This is how I knew:

Kxxxx: "Honey, you'd better delete the pictures."
"Honey, really, I think you should stop taking pictures and delete them all."
"Honey, I'm serious, stop taking pictures."
(short pause)
"For God's sake, delete the pictures before they come after us!!!"

That's how I knew.

I deleted the pictures, Kxxxx calmed down, we drove away from the gate without incident, and we had a very quiet drive back to Las Vegas.

The thing is, I didn't delete them all.

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