Strange things happen in this desert. Lights are seen at night, strange craft flies over head. At times it's just madness from the sun, but might there be something more to it?
I'll level with you – I don't really care if there are spaceships at Area 51 or not, but since I was a child headed to a Florida X-Files convention with my mother when I was just a wee little one, midway through the first season, I had wanted to see Area 51. I read books on it in the pre-internet days, and found much more after than time. I was a wee bit obsessed. I'm not sayin' I think there are aliens there, but there are UFOs. During the first Desert Storm they flew their triangular stealth craft from there leading to all sorts of sightings. It is a secret military base with so much history – and I needed to see it.
The only problem? It's in the middle of nowhere. And it's not exactly open to the public.
We left Vegas in the morning and headed on down the Extraterrestrial Highway. Oh yes, that is its real name. There are signs and everything. This highway leads along the eastern side of the base, hitting absolutely nothing for miles (gas up early and often) except for the town of Rachel. Now I've been familiar with Rachel, and the Little A'Le'Inn since Mulder headed out that way in the X-Files. Never did I think I would walk through those doors.
Yet there I was, in the very place Mulder had used as a base to discover the truth at work around him. I was there. A diner, mostly, it also sells a number of tacky treasures. The one thing I was interested in was a map. The map to Area 51. It sells for thirty five cents and comes with warnings, and detailed instructions. It's worth the purchase if you want to head on out to the limits of legality.
We thought about getting a room, but the base was twenty miles back the way we came. Driving there and driving back? It seemed a bit much. So off we went, back down the Extraterrestrial Highway to Mailbox Road.
Mailbox Road (also on maps) gets its name from the black mailbox that used to be situated there, all mysterious like. Now the mailbox isn't actually black these days – it was replaced with a white one a decade and a half ago. Probably a PR move by the government to seem less sneaky, or by the guy who owns it – tired of people breaking into it looking through his mail for alien secrets.
The box is covered in stickers and graffiti – ufo seekers hang out here for camp outs, and gatherings. Apparently many UFOs are seen here. Group mentality? Flairs for night practices? Spy planes? Alien craft? You decide. But this is where you turn. Head nine miles own the bouncy dirt road, and turn, then you're headed on a much larger dirt road – worn down by the bus that brings workers in in the morning, and out in the afternoon – towards the gate.
It seems as if we're fifteen years too late. I'm not the same paranoid I used to be, Area 51 hasn't been the same since Google Maps showed it off, and the government copped to it existing, and the signs at the boarder were replaced, no longer the terrifying threats they once were.
Also the mountain view point that once allowed legal peeks into the secret base (how did they miss that?) has been taken away through re-zoning. I'm also now at the age where I understand why the military would take away and keep secret aspects of their planning. I no longer assume it's nefarious.
But – standing on the gravel, near the Groom Lake boundaries, I felt a great thrill. This was a childhood dream realized. There's nothing else to say – it was amazing to finally achieve something I'd wanted to for the better part of my life. I didn't think I'd ever get here. I didn't even think it was real, in the sense that tables, chairs, and the country of Australia are real.
But there I was, with the guards in their grey trucks keeping a watchful eye from the hills above. Were I to step across the line I would be instantly arrested, and fined hundreds of dollars.
Katherine may not have been as excited, the fear of arrest strong in her, as I stepped closer and closer to the line. But as we turned, and started to drive out, even she had to admit how cool it was to come this close to THE Area 51. Americana at its best.
It was a thing of beauty.
Another security truck passed us as we drove out. I wonder what they think, having to remain out in the desert heat watching as tourists flock in and out and in and out. I wonder what they think the tourists think they'll see. I don't know what I thought I would see? I saw more at the A-Bomb site then here, but this was different. It was special. It was such an important spot, my own personal Mecca.
I may not be the same type who thinks the government and military are evil and out to get us – but the importance of this place in pop cultural lore, and my own inner self... well this was a pilgrimage through the desert, and I was not disapointed.
Heading forever away from the site, we returned to Vegas, stopping in at the Pinball Hall of Fame. Here over one hundred machines recount the living history of the game. And you can play them all – proceeds going to charity. You can play games, and feel good about it too.
None of them matched up to the Pirates machine I spent time with in Vegas, but looking over decades of them was something unique. I also played Mario as an arcade machine. Strange thing, that – if it was originally designed for the arcades, that makes sense why the warp zones are so easy to get to.
I changed many a bill for quarters, coming a few steps closer to completing our American State quarter collection. That seven have eluded us this long is ridiculous. Especially with Virginia, and Connecticut haunting every handful of change. Where are you Texas? Where are you.
With that behind us we set out on our final drive of the day, which soon took us into night. We were off to Death Valley, California. A national park with an eerie name. Also home to WWE's The Undertaker. In fiction, if not real life.
By the time we rolled in the night had fallen, allowing for some beautiful pictures of the moon, the sky, the stars, and the mountains in the foreground. But what the night had not brough was cool air. It was hot, and terrible, and awful.
Lying in the tent we sweat and sweat. it was the most uncomfortable I'd been in some time. Triple digit nights are no ones friends. I had the tent aligned with the wind, but Kath thought otherwise, so turned it, with much effort. Minutes later the tent was nearly blown away with us in it. Clearly mistakes had been made. Once more we turned it.
I was not doing well. Sickness had hit me hard, and it was all I could do to stay awake long enough to drink water.
Soon I would pass out for the night.
Apparently the sickness helped me here. I was sick so I sweat more. The wind cooled the sweat, and I was comfortable enough to sleep. Katherine did not sweat, was not cooled, and got – at most – two hours of sleep during the long disgusting night.
Death Valley. Well, what did we expect?