Ru­ral Ne­vada res­i­dents wor­ried about huge Storm Area 51 crowds

The Prince George Citizen - - News -

Vis­i­tors de­scend­ing on the re­mote Ne­vada desert for “Storm Area 51” are from Earth, not outer space.

No one knows what to ex­pect, but the two tiny towns of Rachel and Hiko near the once-se­cret mil­i­tary re­search site are pre­par­ing for an in­flux of peo­ple over the next few days.

“It’s hap­pen­ing. We al­ready have peo­ple from all over the world,” Lit­tle A’Le’Inn pro­pri­etor Con­nie West said Wed­nes­day from her bustling cafe and mo­tel, where vol­un­teers have ar­rived from Poland, Scot­land, Aus­tralia, Florida, Idaho and Ok­la­homa.

Neigh­bours, elected of­fi­cials and event or­ga­niz­ers said the craze sparked by an in­ter­net joke invit­ing peo­ple to “see them aliens” might be­come a cul­tural marker, a mon­u­men­tal dud or some­thing in be­tween.

Area 51’s se­crecy has long fu­eled fas­ci­na­tion about ex­trater­res­trial life, UFOs and con­spir­acy the­o­ries, giv­ing rise to the events this week and prompt­ing mil­i­tary warn­ings not to ap­proach the pro­tected site.

“This phe­nom­e­non is re­ally a per­fect blend of in­ter­est in aliens and the su­per­nat­u­ral, gov­ern­ment con­spir­a­cies, and the de­sire to know what we don’t know,” said Michael Ian Borer, a Univer­sity of Ne­vada, Las Ve­gas, so­ci­ol­o­gist who re­searches pop cul­ture and para­nor­mal ac­tiv­ity.

The re­sult, Borer said, was “hope and fear” for events that in­clude the “Area 51 Base­camp,” fea­tur­ing mu­sic, speak­ers and movies, and two fes­ti­vals com­pet­ing for the name “Alien­stock” start­ing Thurs­day.

Some neigh­bours and of­fi­cials in two coun­ties near Area 51 are ner­vous. The area of scenic moun­tains and rugged desert is home to a com­bined 50,000 peo­ple and com­pares in size with New Eng­land. Elected of­fi­cials signed emer­gency dec­la­ra­tions af­ter mil­lions of peo­ple re­sponded to the Face­book post this sum­mer.

“We are pre­par­ing for the worst,” said Jo­erg Arnu, a Rachel res­i­dent who could see from his home a makeshift stage and clus­ter of por­ta­ble toi­lets in a dusty area re­cently scraped of brush sur­round­ing West’s lit­tle mo­tel and cafe.

Arnu said he in­stalled out­door flood­lights, fenc­ing and “No Tres­pass­ing” signs on his 30-acre prop­erty. He’s also or­ga­nized a ra­dio-equipped night watch of neigh­bours, fear­ing there won’t be enough wa­ter, food, trash bins or toi­lets for vis­i­tors.

“Those that know what to ex­pect camp­ing in the desert are go­ing to have a good time,” Arnu said. “Those who are look­ing for a big party are go­ing to be dis­ap­pointed.”

He pre­dicts peo­ple show­ing up in the desert in shorts and flipflops.

“That doesn’t pro­tect you against crit­ters, snakes and scor­pi­ons,” Arnu said. “It will get cold at night. They’re not go­ing to find what they’re look­ing for, and they are go­ing to get an­gry.”

Of­fi­cials ex­pect cel­lu­lar ser­vice to be over­whelmed. The near­est gas sta­tion is 72 kilo­me­tres away. Campers could en­counter overnight tem­per­a­tures as low as 5 C.

“We re­ally didn’t ask for this,” said Var­lin Hig­bee, a Lin­coln County com­mis­sioner who voted to al­lo­cate $250,000 in scarce funds to han­dle an­tic­i­pated crowds. “We have planned and staged enough to han­dle 30,000 to 40,000 peo­ple,” Hig­bee said. “We don’t know how many will come for sure.”

Though the cre­ator of the Face­book event later called it a hoax, the over­whelm­ing re­sponse sent lo­cal, state and mil­i­tary of­fi­cials scram­bling. Pro­mot­ers be­gan scout­ing sites. A beer com­pany pro­duced alien-themed cans. A Ne­vada brothel of­fered dis­counts to “E.T. en­thu­si­asts.”

The Fed­eral Avi­a­tion Ad­min­is­tra­tion closed nearby air space this week.

“Peo­ple de­sire to be part of some­thing, to be ahead of the curve,” said Borer, the so­ci­ol­o­gist. “Area 51 is a place where nor­mal, or­di­nary cit­i­zens can’t go. When you tell peo­ple they can’t do some­thing, they just want to do it more.”

Ge­orge Har­ris, owner of the Alien Re­search Cen­ter sou­venir store in Hiko, wel­comed the at­ten­tion and planned a cul­tural pro­gram fo­cused on ex­trater­res­trial lore Fri­day and Satur­day.

The “Area 51 Base­camp” prom­ises up to 60 food trucks and ven­dors, trash and elec­tric ser­vice, and a ro­bust security and med­i­cal staff.

Har­ris said he was pre­pared for up to 15,000 peo­ple and ex­pected they would ap­pre­ci­ate tak­ing self­ies with a replica of Area 51’s back gate with­out hav­ing to travel sev­eral miles to the real thing.

“It’s ex­actly the same,” Har­ris said. “We just want peo­ple to be safe. As long as they don’t go on the desert floor and de­stroy the ecosys­tem, every­one will have a good time.”

West, the mo­tel owner, is plan­ning an “Alien­stock” Thurs­day through Sun­day in Rachel, a town of about 50 res­i­dents a more than two-hour drive north of Las Ve­gas on a nor­mally lonely road dubbed the Ex­trater­res­trial High­way.

AP PHOTO

Lit­tle A’Le’Inn owner Con­nie West speaks on the phone Wed­nes­day out­side of the restau­rant and bar in Rachel, Nev.

AP PHOTO

Peo­ple en­ter and exit the Alien Re­search Cen­tre in Hiko, Nev.

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