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Keeping It Straight: Area 51 Adventures from the 1990s

Area 51

Area 51

In the mid-90s I was commissioned and paid by a French magazine to visit the oft-discussed Area 51. The following stories cover a couple of years and were originally written in French, so please excuse any translation problems.

What a day! The drive east from Tonopah had been a wind-swept adventure. The wind was howling between 80 and 100 kilometers, kicking up dust composed more of small rocks than dirt. A turn off U.S. Highway 6 put the wind to my left and it attempted to blow the high profile, four-wheel drive off the road. I was southbound on The Extraterrestrial Highway, Nevada Highway 375, heading for Rachel, Nevada, the home of the LITTLE A'LE'INN cafe and bar, the Area 51 Research Center and, hiding just over the mountains to the west, the infamous Area 51, the super-secret facility the United States Government claims does not exist.

A glance in any direction makes it easy to understand why the government would select this location for top-secret research, or, as some claim, to hide alien spacecraft. All that can be seen for miles-and-miles are nothing but more miles-and-miles.

At the LITTLE A'LE'INN, Joe and Pat Travis, the owners of this world famous establishment dedicated to the belief there is more life in this universe than we can imagine, enjoy sharing photographs of UFO sightings, articles about UFOs and, of course, stories supporting the belief the government is hiding alien spacecraft at Area 51.

Pat and Joe bought the Rachel Bar and Grill in 1988, and in 1990 changed the name to THE LITTLE A'LE'INN. The cafe is open from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily with meals served from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. They also offer 10 motel rooms, with televisions and VCRs for visitors at $25 for a single or $30 for a double. RV parking is available for $8 per day. (Check the website for the latest prices.)

In April of 1996, Nevada Highway 375 was named The Extraterrestrial Highway during a ceremony held at Rachel. The event was attended by a large contingent from 20th Century Fox who were on hand to promote the film "Independence Day," popularly known as ID4, and to present the town of Rachel with an ID4 monument and time capsule to be opened in the year 2050. The governor of Nevada, Bob Miller, made the dedication and was quoted as saying, "Most people, when they look to the sky, see friend or foe. Not me, I'm a Nevadan - I see intergalactic tourists!"

A visit to the other end of this small community (population 89) brings you to The Area 51 Research Center, owned and operated by Glenn Campbell (update - closed in 2003). Inside the small trailer can be found one of the most extensive collections I have ever seen of material on Area 51, UFOs, and secret aircraft.

It was back in 1993 that Joe Travis threw Glenn Campbell out of the LITTLE A'LE'INN. Joe was convinced that Glenn was a government agent - no one is really sure if he thought Glenn was an American, a foreigner, or an intergalactic agent. The bar tossing incident led Glenn to establish the Area 51 Research Center.

Bob Lazar was the primary source of all of the Area 51 hysteria. Lazar made his first move into the heart of the UFO community with an appearance on a Las Vegas television station in 1989. He claimed he had worked for a black project (secret government funding) in an area to the south of Area 51 known as S-4. He claims to have seen nine alien spacecraft housed in a secret hanger built into the cliff face at S-4. While he did not see any aliens, Lazar alleges to have had hands-on contact with the space ships propulsion systems, and his job was to backward-engineer the systems and discover how they worked.

Part of Lazar's credibility is enhanced by the government's unwillingness to allow anyone to enter Area 51 or S-4. In fact, people who become lost and accidentally wander past the posted zone are arrested before they can see the facility and what is taking place at the dry lakebed.

It is virtually impossible to "accidentally" drive into the restricted area. At all points where roads cross the boundary, signs are posted warning of the off-limits area and authorizing the use of deadly force. However, for the wandering hiker, crossing the line can be a true accident (although why anyone would be "innocently" hiking in this area escapes me), but will still result in arrest, possible overnight imprisonment and a steep fine. Security includes the "Camo Dudes" - security forces in camouflaged uniforms with no insignia who patrol the area in white Jeep Cherokees - along with video cameras mounted on poles and towers, motion detectors placed alongside the roads, and ammonia detectors buried in the ground.

Ammonia detectors, you ask? You read it right. They detect the difference between animals and humans by the amount of ammonia in their perspiration. Plus, there are the ever-present unmarked black helicopters that fly criss-cross patterns around the area (mainly in the evenings and early mornings, as well as in total darkness, indicating the use of infra-red detectors). All of the arrests, impounds and fines are handled by the Lincoln County Sheriff's Office, letting the federal government off the legal hook and preventing anyone from bringing the government to court to prove the existence of the base.

Bob Lazar's stories about S-4 brought thousands of UFO watchers to the region and forced the government, in 1995, to expand the buffer zone around the base. Up to that time it was possible to view the Groom Lake facility from White Sides Mountain and an area known as Freedom Ridge.

Now the only vantage points are from Tikaboo Peak and Badger Mountain. Tikaboo Peak lies 46.1 kilometers from the control tower at the base and Badger Mountain is 43.6 kilometers away. Visibility in the summer is a problem, with heavy atmospheric distortion making photography virtually impossible. Spring and fall are the better choices, but still pose problems for photo work.

I traveled to Tikaboo Peak with "Bill" (not his real name) on a morning in late April (1997) and we were treated to a fairly clear view of Groom Lake because of the heavy winds (65 to 80 kph), but the winds also made anchoring a tripod impossible. We remained on the peak through the day and observed "Janet" flights from Las Vegas - white 737s with a single red stripe the length of the fuselage - bringing in the work force in the morning and departing again in the late afternoon. The "Janet" planes fly from a highly guarded area at the executive terminal section of McCarran Airport in Las Vegas. As sunset approached we were visited by a Blackhawk helicopter, with no markings, that hovered over us for about two minutes.

The following day, Bill and I drove the dirt road that leads to Area 51, choosing the wide, gravel road at the south end of the valley, rather than the more well-known and observed "Black Mailbox" road just south of Rachel. At 22.1 kilometers we encountered the posted zone - no fences, no gates, no guards - just signs warning of the consequences of passing that point. While I was taking pictures, one of the white Jeeps with two Camo Dudes came down to meet us. One of the Camo Dudes stepped from the Jeep, stood by a warning sign and instructed me not to take pictures of the approaching convoy. Not wishing to pay any fines (although I had not crossed the line) or have my vehicle impounded, I stood and watched a convoy of four Jeeps and three large trucks as it passed, heading into the restricted area.

Bill became nervous after our encounter with the Camo Dudes and insisted we leave right away. So I loaded my equipment and we headed for Rachel. Once in town, I told Glenn Campbell about our experience and he made a few notes - date, time, number of vehicles - and thanked me for the information.

Back on the road, heading to a world even more bizarre than Area 51 - Las Vegas - I wondered just what the government is hiding out there. But the sight of a black, four-door sedan following me on Highway 93 pushed those thoughts from my mind, as I pressed even harder on the accelerator and sped on to the relative safety of the crowded Las Vegas Strip.


The article concerning the United States' super-secret Area 51 site generated considerable attention throughout the European community. In June (1997) the American magazine, Popular Mechanics, published a story indicating Area 51 no longer exists and that the United States government had moved its "black operations" to a new location in Southern Utah. The research in the Popular Mechanics article did not match the investigation (conducted in late April) and we felt it important to check out the veracity of the report on the "new" Area 51 for our readers. We sent our American field reporter, Bob Moore, to Utah to follow up on his original piece. His report from "the Great Stinking Desert" follows.

In the Popular Mechanics article, mention is made of Area 6413 - the supposed designation for this new location. One of the first things that struck me was the coincidence of numbers. If 13 is subtracted from 64 the remainder is "51" - a curious point, and one that I am sure will send the conspiracy buffs rushing for the Internet. Further investigation revealed area 6413 to be an airspace indication, not ground space, and 6413 is not restricted airspace - a curious point for a supposedly "super-secret" area. A few other points from the article did not check out, so it was time to head for Utah and do some personal on-site investigation.

I flew into Salt Lake City, and it was hot when I turned the rental car south on I-15, but at least the air conditioning turned to MAX was doing its job. It was even hotter when, 210 kilometers later, I turned east on I-70, and damned hot when I reached Green River, a small, dusty community in the middle of what has been called "The Great Stinking Desert." Green River is noted for its watermelons, a crop that makes its way to supermarkets each summer. When I arrived watermelons were occupying the town - in each small roadside stand, shop and store, watermelons were the big thing. I had a flash of the giant seed-pod scene from the original "Invasion of the Body Snatchers" as I looked at the piles and truckloads of ripe, green melons. At one store I struggled over a pile of the community's prime commodity to ask questions about government installations in the area and was, without hesitation, directed east to exit 162 on I-70.

A right turn off the interstate at Exit 162 led to a "T" intersection, followed by a left turn (east) and the main street of what just might be the new Area 51.

There was the familiar feeling of apprehension of not knowing what lay ahead as I drove into the area. Would there be the Camo Dudes similar to the ones who had observed my moves in Nevada? What about security cameras, motion detectors, "Deadly Force" warning signs and the black helicopters that cruise back and forth, keeping an eye on everything that moves? The adrenaline pumped as I faced the specter of a new adventure.

The facility itself, officially referred to on long-faded signs as the Utah Launch Complex of the White Sands Missile Range, sits in a valley roughly four miles long east-to-west and one mile wide north-to-south. The facility consists of 10 buildings and structures scattered throughout the valley. A few older foundations and poles clutter the area.

Generally, the best that can be said for the Utah Launch Complex is that it is in a complete state of disrepair. Signs for the most part are illegible, windows are boarded over, and every building is damaged. Power poles march to the buildings, but have been stripped of their wires. Insulator glass has been blown off the poles and scattered across the landscape - obviously from the good times had by groups of local rednecks on many a shiftless, boring Green River Saturday night.

There were no signs of recent activity, in fact the place looked completely abandoned ... almost too abandoned. So with the Utah Launch Complex all to myself, there was more than enough time to closely investigate the "New Area 51." In over four hours of roaming the area I never saw another person.

At the end of the main street, 5.2 kilometers from the interstate off-ramp, is the Main Complex. The complex was completely enclosed with a barbed-wire-topped chain-link fence. Normally this would be a deterrent to further investigating, however, the gate in the fence was wide open (actually it had been driven over by someone in an overzealous four-by-four), leading me to continue exploring. The main building in the complex is an earth-covered concrete bunker, which appears, like everything else, to have been long abandoned. One thing about this building was the large number of RESTRICTED AREA signs, leading me to allow caution to be my watchword.

My famous little voice told me this was not the type of place to invade, so I did not venture into the structure. The untouched sand around the entrance indicated no one else had been there for a quite awhile as well. Behind the bunker lay a concrete slab with metal rails embedded in it - obviously this had been the missile launcher location for the site.

A few hundred yards from the bunker is a large building, the largest on the complex. Windows in the building did not provide a clue as to what its purpose may have been. A fallen radio tower and a garage are the remaining structures of the Main Complex.

Although there were many clues this site had been used for launching missiles, the place is surprisingly clean of any debris that would provide solid evidence of what went on here. The one thing I am certain of, if this is truly the new Area 51, the government has devised a clever new way of providing security - whenever anyone shows up, pull down the curtains and hide!

This site is extremely close to a community - Green River - and the majority of the area is within sight of Interstate 70. Any possibility of the type of high security found at the existing site in Nevada is virtually impossible. Mountains and hills overview the area on three sides and any natural blockage of the view is non-existent.

So, is this truly the New Area 51? The only conclusion I can reach is, no. There is no place to put the type of runway that exists in Nevada (over three miles in length). Too many other factors make this site an unlikely choice for performing any high security work on aircraft, or, as some would suspect, alien spacecraft. Area 51 is still alive and well outside of Rachel, Nev., and nothing indicates a cessation of activity at that location.

The adventure to discover the secrets of the new Area 51 had led me to the middle of the "Great Stinking Desert" and a place not even the snakes and lizards want anything to do with.

But, on a positive note, the watermelon was great!

So that concludes a couple of stories about the no longer "super-secret" base. I visited many other times between 1998 and 2006, always enjoying the activities of the Camo Dudes and discussing Area 51 with other visitors. More articles appeared giving an additional impetus for people to visit the region, but security remains tight and if you chose to drive down that wide gravel road westbound from the Extraterrestrial Highway - be warned, those signs mean what that say.