Chuck Clark's search for UFOs brought
him to a desert outpost, a place with happenings so bizarre a state legislator
wants to name the road through it "Extraterrestrial Alien Highway."
Clark has yet to encounter flying
saucers but one thing is certain - something is out there.
Folks you'll meet at the Little
A'Le'Inn, the only restaurant in town, said they're entertained some nights by
strange lights and sonic booms.
Space aliens? A more likely cause is
a military base so secret the government cryptically acknowledges its
existence only as an "operating location." Locals refer to the installation as
"Dreamland" or "Area 51."
Hardcore UFO and conspiracy buffs
like Clark are convinced the government is keeping recovered alien craft and
working alongside little bug-eyed creatures at the sprawling complex, just 30
kilometres south of Rachel across the rocky Groom Mountain Range.
Aside from classified man-made
technologies, the military said there's nothing unearthly out here - only
sagebrush and the locals' overactive imaginations.
Until recently, the military denied
the presence of a base. Today, officials acknowledge something's going on
"We don't have UFOs out there," said
Maj. Mary Feltault, an air force spokeswoman.
"What goes on out there is
But you can decide for yourself. With
a four-wheel-drive truck and lots of nerve, you can sneak a peek at
"Dreamland" - even though the military recently made it much tougher to do so.
In early May, the Interior Department
agreed to give the air force control of nearly 1,620 hectares of public land
adjacent to Area 51, including an ideal vantage spot called Freedom Ridge.
For the 100 residents of Rachel, many
of whom have established a cottage industry based on UFO fascination, the
decision won't really change things.
Locals including Pat Travis, co-owner
of the Little A'Le'Inn, said they'll just use other mountain ridges to view
the base and keep searching for what's really going on.
"This won't stop us," she said.
"People are still coming out. The
information is still there."
Visitors to Rachel can still have a
guided trip to other ridges overlooking the base or swap flying saucer stories
and order an "Alien burger" at the Little A'Le'Inn - though they can't yet
ride down the Extraterrestrial Alien Highway suggested by state assemblyman
Travis and her husband, Joe, share
Clark's enthusiasm for space-age - or just spacey - occurrences. They tell of
a white beam of light that blazed through their closed back door one morning
several years ago.
"I can feel their presence," Pat
"I get goose bumps when I think of
Then there's Glenn Campbell, a former
computer-software developer from Boston who operates what he calls the Secrecy
Oversight Council from a trailer he rents for $215 a month.
Campbell also puts out a newsletter
and an Area 51 Viewer's Guide that helps the curious avoid being arrested by
the guards who prowl the base's perimeter.
Others who frequent the area include
Bob Lazar of Las Vegas, a self-described physicist who claims he worked at the
base - on one of nine captured alien saucers to determine how its power source
Area 51 is reported to have served as
a laboratory for the U-2 spy plane and later the SR-71 Blackbird spy plane,
the B-2 stealth bomber and F-117A stealth fighter.
Among other rumors: The base has a
stable of aircraft obtained from defecting Soviet pilots and is the proving
ground for a $15-billion spy plane, the Aurora; that can do 8,050 kilometres
Aviation Week and Space Technology
recently said radar-evading helicopters and oddly shaped pilotless spyplanes
are being developed at the 40-year-old base, with money from secret "black
budgets" that don't appear in any federal budget allotments.
Clark said exotic military aircraft
developed at the base may be mistaken for UFOs. But sometimes fast-moving,
soundless pulsating balls of light that appear in the sky just seem to be from
another world, he said.
"They may not be UFOs to the air
force. They know what they are."
"But they are UFOs to us," he said.
Intrepid snoopers on the ridges
surrounding the base use binoculars to bring into focus its huge airplane
hangers, satellite dishes and control towers, along with an eight-kilometre
Signs of supertight security are
everywhere - closed-circuit cameras, signs advising "Use of deadly force
authorized" and white Jeep Cherokees carrying armed guards.
Photographing or sketching structures
or aircraft is illegal. Guards will confiscate film, forcing locals to resort
to such tactics as using extra film rolls as decoys and police scanners to try
monitoring security radio conversations.
Before the land was ceded to Area 51,
Clark stood atop Freedom Ridge, 20 kilometres away and pointed out more
security in a mountain observatory a few kilometres off.
"They can tell if you need a shave,"
"Watch what you say. They can hear
With the ridge now closed, Clark and
others said the base can be seen from public land at Tikaboo Peak, a higher
mountain about 40 kilometres away. But visibility is poor.
The military's action is seen as
hypocritical, since Russia and other countries have been able to observe the
base for years with spy satellites.
"All enemies can see it," Clark said.
"But we can't."