Ne­vada town serves as land­ing strip for UFO the­o­rists

The Washington Times Weekly - - National - By Maxim Kni­azkov

RACHEL, Nev. — It would be log­i­cal for this town to con­sider sis­ter­hood with Loch Ness, Scot­land, home to a pu­ta­tive aquatic mon­ster whose re­ported “sight­ings” have fired up imag­i­na­tions for decades. Rachel, pop­u­la­tion about 100, also has a lake, a mys­tery at the bot­tom of it and the busi­ness savvy to turn it into a lu­cra­tive en­ter­prise.

Groom Lake, about 25 miles south­west of here, has not held any wa­ter since prob­a­bly the last ice age, but even an at­tempt to sneak a peak from one of the sur­round­ing moun­tain­tops will bring out the au­thor­i­ties.

Pat Travis has seen many a truth seeker end­ing up in hand­cuffs. “Re­mem­ber, if even as much as your toe gets inside the re­stricted area, they’ll grab you, and you’ll end up pay­ing a $600 fine,” Mrs. Travis said.

She is the owner of Lit­tle A’Le’Inn, Rachel’s only restau­rant, bar and mo­tel, which is boom­ing with curious vis­i­tors.

Mrs. Travis tells the story about a man who set off a ma­jor se­cu­rity alert as he stretched his hand across the bound­ary to grab a rock as a sou­venir. Sirens blared, she re­calls, search­lights pierced the dark and black he­li­copters swooped down from out of nowhere to nab the in­truder.

Bone-dry Groom Lake and its im­me­di­ate sur­round­ings are known as Area 51, the U.S. gov­ern­ment’s sin­gle most closely guarded fa­cil­ity. It is so se­cret that Pen­tagon of­fi­cials are not au­tho­rized even to ac­knowl­edge its ex­is­tence.

It is pro­tected by somber-look­ing cam­ou­flage-clad men who ca­reen around the ridges in sport util­ity ve­hi­cles and pickup trucks, backed up by a net­work of cam­eras, mo­tion sen­sors and lis­ten­ing de­vices.

For lo­cal res­i­dents, what could be bet­ter for busi­ness than a good se­cret next door?

A dusty gravel road runs through a pic­turesque Joshua tree grove, then veers to the right be­fore re­veal­ing a slew of red-and­white warn­ings not to pro­ceed any fur­ther.

The cam­ou­flaged men are parked on the hill above — en­gine run­ning, ready to pounce.

The truth is out there, but al­ways out of reach.

There are no con­firmed facts, only the­o­ries, some of which seem more plau­si­ble than oth­ers.

The least out­landish ar­gues that Area 51 is a su­per­secret test­ing fa­cil­ity for the na­tion’s new­est mil­i­tary jets. The F-117 stealth bomber, U-2 and SR-71 “Black­bird” spy planes, some say, were among them.

An­other the­ory pos­tu­lates that it is an intelligence cen­ter where Air Force spe­cial­ists ex­am­ine air­craft stolen by U.S. spies.

And then there is the UFO crowd.

They re­call a story about an alien space­craft go­ing down out­side Roswell, N.M., in 1947. The gov­ern­ment said at the time that it was an ex­per­i­men­tal weather bal­loon. UFO the­o­rists say the mil­i­tary cap­tured two alien pi­lots from that craft and took them to Area 51 for de­brief­ing.

Ac­cord­ing to the ru­mor mill, th­ese aliens have helped the gov­ern­ment es­tab­lish a se­cret re­la­tion­ship with their planet. Alien space­craft are now reg­u­larly land­ing on an airstrip at the bot­tom of Groom Lake, bring­ing in alien en­gi­neers to help the mil­i­tary build its own fly­ing saucers. All of this is just be­hind a ridge maybe 10 miles from the stop signs.

The the­ory got a boost in 1989, when Las Ve­gas res­i­dent Bob Lazar, who iden­ti­fied him­self as a for­mer Area 51 em­ployee, claimed in a television in­ter­view to have seen an alien space­craft and nine other fly­ing saucers parked at the fa­cil­ity.

All the ma­jor TV net­works sent their best cor­re­spon­dents, with CNN’s Larry King hold­ing court for a day.

Armed with binoc­u­lars and tele­scopes, UFO buffs took up po­si­tions around Rachel to watch the night sky for any signs of saucers.

Ac­ces­si­ble ridges around the re­stricted area be­came prime haunts. Tour com­pa­nies in Las Ve­gas be­gan of­fer­ing trips to “the real home of the X-Files” for about $200 per per­son.

“It’s a fairly pop­u­lar des­ti­na­tion to this very day,” said Richard Ran­cilio, owner of Grand Canyon Tour Co. “We take peo­ple in a van to the Lit­tle A’Le’Inn in Rachel and the warn­ing signs three or four times a week.”

Flip­ping “Alien Burg­ers” in her restau­rant’s kitchen, Mrs. Travis awaits a new batch of wild-eyed vis­i­tors.

In 1996, the Ne­vada state gov­ern­ment named Route 375, which con­nects Rachel to the out­side world, the Ex­trater­res­trial High­way. It helped in­crease sales of Area 51 T-shirts, cof­fee mugs, ash­trays and bot­tle open­ers.

Vis­i­tors also can buy, at a fair price, an unau­tho­rized his­tory of Area 51, video­cas­settes with UFO sto­ries and even a map show­ing di­rec­tions to the en­trance.

“The aliens? They could be right here, in this town. I’ve seen at least two of them,” Mrs. Travis said. “What else am I sup­posed to think when a com­plete stranger walks in a few years ago and knows that my grand­son was in a car ac­ci­dent?”

Ac­cord­ing to an­other the­ory, Groom Lake could be hous­ing a whole alien colony.

Steve Medlin, a rancher whose prop­erty ad­joins Area 51, has in­stalled a sep­a­rate mail­box for the aliens in case the Em­pire de­cides to com­mu­ni­cate.

Who knows? One day they may take a new saucer for a spin and drop by for a cup of cof­fee. Or maybe the un­shaven guy with a droopy mus­tache nurs­ing a beer at Lit­tle A’Le’Inn is re­ally from a galaxy far, far away.

As long as they pay in dol­lars, they are all wel­come.

Pho­to­graphs by Maxim Kni­azkov / Spe­cial to The Wash­ing­ton Times

Pat Travis, owner of the Lit­tle A’Le’Inn in Rachel, Nev., is a be­liever. “The aliens? They could be right here, in this town. I’ve seen at least two of them,” she said.

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