Every weekday morning, some 500 people arrive at a guarded terminal on the northwest side of McCarran Airport in Las Vegas, Nevada. Here they board one of a small fleet of unmarked Boeing 737s. Using three-digit numbers prefixed by the word “Janet” as their call signs, the 737s fly off every half-hour. Their destination is Groom Lake, a dried-up wash in the Mojave Desert, better known as “Area 51,” an installation so secret, its very existence is denied by the government agencies and contractors who have connections there.
Clearly marked but not actually fenced, the entire boundary of the installation is patrolled by an anonymous security force equipped with high-tech surveillance gear. Surrounding the secret facility are signs, declaring that you are “Entering A Restricted Area.” And, if you enlarge the sign, you will see on the bottom, the words: “Use of Deadly Force Authorized.”
Area 51 has become a part of popular culture. An installation the U. S. government denies exists is mentioned in everything from video games to serious news programs. Why all the hype? It is generally accepted that classified airplanes, such as the U2, the SR-71 Blackbird and the Stealth Fighter were tested at Area 51, but what has people really intrigued is what is rumored to be there. Namely, alien spacecraft and, (gulp), space aliens.
From what few pieces of information the U. S. Defense Department will divulge, it seems the area began life as a secret base in 1954, when the Lockheed Aircraft Corporation arrived to develop the U-2, a high-altitude spy plane used for surveillance inside enemy territory. (If you can remember the name of the U-2 pilot whom the Russians knocked out of the skies ever so long ago, you are showing your age.)
Tony LeVier, Lockheed’s test pilot assigned to test-fly the U-2, claims credit for recognizing Groom Dry Lake as a suitable test site. The U. S. Central Intelligence Agency had given U-2 designer Kelly Johnson the task of choosing and building a secure aircraft test site. In March of 1955, Johnson sent LeVier and Lockheed foreman Dorsey Kammerer on a mission to visit potential test sites in the deserts of southern California, Nevada and Arizona. After two weeks of investigation, LeVier presented Johnson with his impressions, and Johnson chose Groom Lake.
The Groom Lake facility has been known by many names since its construction. Kelly Johnson named the place “Paradise Ranch.” (The word “ranch” in Nevada has certain special connotations, which we won’t get into here.) When Johnson’s test flight team arrived in July 1955, they simply called it “The Ranch.” In truth, the secret base was formally named “Watertown Strip,” after the town in upstate New York, near Lake Ontario, where CIA director Allen Dulles was born. In June of 1958, it was officially designated “Area 51” by the Atomic Energy Commission.
In 1989, the simple pleasure of having a secret installation as a neighbor faded when the name of a self-described physicist named Bob Lazar flashed across the Las Vegas TV news. Lazar claimed he had worked at Area 51 for a few months the previous year, “reverse-engineering” one of nine captured alien flying saucers housed there to learn precisely how its extraterrestrial power source worked.
Lazar’s personal academic credentials were suspicious (he claimed his educational records, from both the California Institute of Technology and MIT, were destroyed by government agents). Nonetheless, Lazar’s description of how a flying saucer works was enticingly elaborate—as are the U. S. Government pay documents Lazar can show for the period he claims to have worked at Area 51. Within weeks, tabloid TV and grocery-store checkout rags had picked up Lazar’s allegations. Before long, flying saucer and conspiracy buffs from around the world started showing up in southern Nevada to check out the “facts.”
What, Indeed, Are The “Facts” About Area 51?
Area 51 is a block of government land located north of Las Vegas. It is surrounded by the Nellis Air Force Range. The name “Area 51,” which the government does not publicly acknowledge, supposedly came from a designation appearing on an old map of the Nevada Atomic Test Site.
Those who have managed to get close enough to the installation to take photographs have brought back images, which show nothing more than a few hangars and other surface structures. It is believed that Area 51 actually stretches miles underground as part of an enormous subterranean military complex. We do know that the exact coordinates of Area S4, an even more secretive part of the southern Nevada installation located not far from Area 51, are N37° 01’ 40”, W 115° 46’ 35.”
In the past, the installation at Groom Lake was used as a testing ground for super-secret military projects. The U-2, A-12, SR-71 Blackbird, and F-117A were flight tested here long before being made public. Since the government won’t acknowledge anything about the facility, it’s impossible to know what is going on there now.
A widely circulated rumor holds that Area 51 has recently been home to an entirely new breed of spy plane. Dubbed “Aurora,” this $20 billion plane supposedly runs on controlled explosions of cryogenic methane, which propel the triangular matte black aircraft to eight times the speed of sound. Aurora may, conceivably, have left behind two pieces of evidence. The first was a powerful “sonic wake” that some observers say tripped a trail of earthquake sensors beneath its flight path over the Mojave Desert in June 1991. Other observers describe seeing a unique looking contrail in the air that resembled “doughnuts on a rope.”
In recent years, witnesses have allegedly sighted incredibly exotic airborne craft over the Area 51 test site, which exceed all of mankind’s known current technological abilities. This, along with reports of alien bodies and strange extraterrestrial artifacts supposedly witnessed by persons who have worked at the base, lead some individuals to believe that Area 51 houses much more than a few highly sophisticated test aircraft.
This time-honored techno-myth endures on a barren stretch of geography. It seems an unlikely place, this land of tumbleweeds, bullet-ridden road signs, ravens, free-roaming cattle, and extremely hospitable “ranches” (which on the way out, proclaim “Come Back Soon.”) Trust me, I know. But it is here, insiders argue, where the amazing truth behind mankind’s long alleged involvement with aliens from outer space will finally be revealed.
Area 51, supposedly, is where the preserved remains of two space aliens and their exotic aircraft are stored in a mysterious bunker known as Hangar 18. The possibility that there are aliens and alien spacecraft in Area 51 has drawn thousands of visitors to the remote desert town of Rachel, Nevada, to an installation that is not supposed to exist, and kept the pulse of the town alive as surely as many persons believe the government has kept alive the beating hearts of aliens in a clandestine hangar. Are there space aliens here? I don’t know. Honestly, I worry about more mundane things such as how, in this dreadfully hot summer (2005), I am going to pay my electric bill.
If You Visit
Interestingly, Las Vegas is the closest metropolis to Area 51. Both places seem to thrive on mystery and illusion, and having Las Vegas nearby makes for the ultimate road trip. As many persons find out, gambling, aliens, paranoia, and a fast rental car make for a wicked combination (for some reason, I think of Chevy Chase).
Area 51 is 135 miles from Las Vegas. From Vegas, take I-15 north to U. S. 93, continue north on 93 for 85 miles to NV 375, then head west on NV 375, Nevada’s “Extraterrestrial Highway.” Even though you don’t see much along the way, the drive is still interesting because of the mystery and anticipation surrounding Area 51.
Most visitors will likely visit the nearby town of Rachel, Nevada, and drive a couple of miles down the base access road. Actually viewing Area 51 requires extensive preparation. Since the military annexed the land that provided easy viewing, you can now only see the base from 30 miles away after a dirt road drive and a strenuous desert hike.
Near Mile Marker 29.5 on Highway 375, one sees a lone mailbox used by a local rancher. Since this “Black Mailbox” is the only recognizable landmark in a lonely stretch of highway, it is here that “true believers” tend to congregate. Many visitors, normal and possibly paranormal, claim to have seen flying saucers here, although the rancher himself claims to have seen nothing.
There used to be two viewpoints on public land close to Area 51 – White Sides and Freedom Ridge – where a visitor could legally view the super-secret base. However, these areas were closed by the Air Force in 1995. You can still see the installation from a distant mountain, Tikaboo Peak, but it requires a difficult hike from a remote desert road.
In summer, there are group hikes sponsored by the Area 51 Research Center. The Area 51 access road is near Mile Marker 32 on NV 375. It is the wide dirt path going off toward a distant ridge. Known as the Groom Lake Road, it is in the middle of nowhere.
The greatest danger in visiting what can be described as remoteness personified is wandering across the unfenced Area 51 border, which action would result in your immediate arrest and a substantial fine. Wherever a road crosses the border, “Restricted Area” signs mark it. In the desert, orange posts every 50 yards mark the border. It is unwise to hike near the border at night because the posts become invisible. A major danger when driving is getting stuck on an unmaintained dirt road that your vehicle cannot handle.
“Cammo Dudes” is the nickname for the anonymous private security force that patrols Area 51 border 24 hours a day. They wear camouflage fatigues without insignias and drive white Jeep Cherokees with government plates. The guards keep close watch on any visitors who come within a few miles of the border, but are under orders to avoid contact. Trespassers are reported to the local sheriff, who must get extremely tired of trying to enforce federal regulations.
Whenever anyone leaks information about a Top Secret project to the public, eyebrows of government security personnel are sure to rise. If you want to get the attention of those security personnel, write something about Area 51 and space aliens. It seems that Top Secret--Space Aliens--Stealth--SR-71--S4---all have a common thread with Area 51. It is the most secret military installation in American history. If you visit, do keep in mind the title of this article.