Monday, December 15, 2003

Area 51

I must admit to being a bit of a conspiracy theorist. (Nut, I guess, is what most people would substitute.) It's really not a good idea to get me started on the faked moon landings or the real killers of JFK. But I'm pretty reasonable about Area 51, the main jewel of the Nevada Test Site (NTS), a large and remote area 100 miles north and east of Las Vegas.

Since the 1950s, the NTS has been used as a test facility for the most advanced aircraft the U.S. military has (starting with the famous U-2.) Since then, everything from the F-117 to the B-2 has done its first trials there.

Of course, if that's all it were, perhaps the internet wouldn't buzz like it does about Area 51, a multi-acre tract of buildings and runways around the dry Groom Lake. Here are the essential bits of info:

- The past two American presidents have signed legislation exempting the NTS from having to release anything about its research, nuclear waste disposal, personnel records, etc. The Freedom of Information act does not apply to anything related to the NTS.
- Two past scientists - both now discredited badly through a variety of means - claim that when they worked at Area 51 (in the 60s, 70s, and 80s) they - hold on - worked on reverse-engineering alien spacecraft. At the time of their departures from the NTS, they were both credible, well-respected scientists. They now get painted with the "GREAT BIG NUT" brush.
- Workers sign confidentiality agreements that some lawyers believe are illegal. Workers are sent to the site for 4 day shifts via Janet Airlines, a private fleet of 737s that fly out of Vegas and go the NTS or the Tonopah Test Site further west. Security around the boarding ramp to the nondescript planes (white with orange stripe, no insignias) is very high - metal detectors, wands, armed guards, and police dogs.
- The NTS is in the middle of nowhere, geographically hidden by a variety of moutain ranges in the Pahranagat Valley. Any mountain vantage points that would allow viewing the site from within 30 miles have been closed off to visitors. The only photographic evidence we have of the area come from satellite photos from space - the first were released by the Russians.

But the place can be found. If one has a handheld GPS unit, one can use it to drive along the nearly deserted Hwy. 375 and find an unmarked gravel road (about 4 lanes wide) that disappears 13 miles through desert scrub and cacti. It is to be noted that once one is actually on this road, magnetic sensors are transmitting the size and speed of their vehicle to the guard post dead ahead. (This has been confirmed by a local researcher who was arrested last month for digging some of the sensors up and taking photographs of them - all on public land.)

At the 12 mile mark, one sees the first and last sign one will see here. It looks like this:

There aren't a lot of places in the country where the use of deadly force is authorized. Just here, I suppose, the West Wing of the White House, and probably in the locker room of the Portland Trailblazers.

Now, if one were to get to this sign, and then pause momentarily - say, to shoot some shaky video - a Ford F-150 pickup truck with two employees of EE&G (a private security firm whose only employer is the Department of Energy) drives down from its perch on a small hill nearby and keep rolling toward one until one makes a really crisp u-turn and heads the 13 miles the other way down the oddly flat and very wide gravel road. These so called "cammo dudes" carry sidearms, wear camoflauge jumpsuits, and have twin shotguns in quick release carriers in their pickups.

Of course one doesn't have to get that close to feel a little spooky. Or to see them through the continuing shaky video.

It certainly sounds like a neat place to visit. And one should probably take a rented car (in one's wife's name, for example) for greater security.

Should you still be reading, you can get a little more background on the real and imagined activities at Area 51 at this excellent, earnest - and maybe only a little nutty - site.

Oh yeah, one other thing. Fifty yards from the entrance to the unmarked road, right in the middle of Hwy. 375, was this. On whom it was used we do not know. Nor care to.