Distant encounters'SEE that? That big glowing silver hub cap-like thing with windows?" Dave asks, pointing up into the Nevadan night sky. I shook my head.
By Kevin Pilley
By Kevin Pilley
"No, neither do I," he says, going back in the bar and pouring me another "Beam Me Up Scotty".
His specialty is made of two parts Jim Beam bourbon and one part 7 Up. It causes the same effects as a 24th-century transporter system without the hassle of actually beaming anywhere.
Dave Shepherd is the barman at the Alien Inn in Rachel, two hours from Las Vegas and right in the centre of The Extraterrestrial Highway.
The 158km road stretching through the Joshua trees, sage brush and wide-open spaces of the Nevadan desert has had more UFO sightings than anywhere on Earth, and is close to the super-secret Nellis missile complex, otherwise known as Area 51 or Dreamland.
It is a test site for hi-tech hypersonic surveillance and spy aircraft, and some believe alien craft are being test-piloted there.
Dave is sceptical: "All the sightings are at night. Some are birds with the moon reflecting off them. Some are shooting stars, hydrogen gas clouds, satellite debris or the afterburn from high-altitude jets.
"Sometimes it is easy to mistake the tail lights of a car in the distance as something. Once what someone claimed was a shiny metallic space craft from another solar system was the door off their neighbour's garage which was ripped off by a high wind.
"I still get people in here who do believe in UFOs. I've had folk claiming to be from Orion or Epsilon Booles IV. I had one woman show up with tinfoil antennae on her head because she did not want to miss a signal from the mother ship.
"You get all sorts and I guess you do get a little thirsty and hungry and want to rest up a bit after you have been travelling 14 trillion light years."
The Alien Inn, which has just had its first "alien wedding" when a British couple tied the ET knot, is run by Pat and Joe Travis.
Joe, a former carpenter, has the attitude: "Maybe so. Maybe not. Have a beer."
Pat, a cook, is a firm believer. She has "seen things".
"We have had a strange blue light come through a closed door and hover in front of us," she says. "My niece and I saw something in the sky two weeks back."
Her sister, Elizabeth, and the two barmaids, Debbie and Jeanette, haven't had any close encounters. They both tell the story about a pilot who crash-landed his private aircraft inside the Nellis base. He says he saw two people coming towards him while he lay in the cockpit.
One had a hypodermic needle. He woke up four days later in a Las Vegas hospital. The remains of his aircraft were found nowhere near Nellis.
The bar, which used to be called The Oasis and The Watering Hole, also is a UFO information centre. It has a library of specialist magazines and books.
In the latest UFO Journal I read reports of a daytime elk abduction in Oregon and an unexplained occurrence over a reservoir in Huddersfield, England.
Around the walls are photographs of round shiny objects in Mexico, cigar-like configurations in Peru, domed discs in Japan, mysterious balls in Switzerland, pitching elliptical things in Utah and strange entities spotted in Germany.
The bar also stocks souvenirs such as "Alien 1" bumper stickers, cigarette lighters and even a fetching, multi-purpose, state-of-the-art, perfect-for-all-occasions inflatable alien suit.
Rachel is a collection of caravans surrounded by the Jumbled Mountains in the middle of the Tikaboo Valley along Highway 375. It used to be called Tempiute and Shady Grove.
It was renamed in memory of the first baby born in town who died in 1980, aged three. A sign outside town says: "Rachel. Population: Humans: 8. Aliens: ?"
On the flyscreen door to the inn is another which says "Kneepsheep Nknock Ip Nknook" – which for those not fluent in conversational alien means, in the manner of UFO speaking, "UFO crew members and earthlings welcome".
It has seven $35-a-night van rooms and is the only petrol station as well as the only restaurant in the quadrant.
It is, therefore, an obligatory stop for tourists and Harley-Davidson bikers on their way to Death Valley as well as UFO nuts and X-Files fans.
It is halfway between Ash Springs at the southerly end of the ET Highway, officially named three years ago, and the old frontier silver mining town of Tonopah.
The main star-gazing vantage spots are Coyote Summit, Hancock Summit and Badger Peak.
The house specialty is not grilled roadrunner but an alienburger which is served with "all the secretions".
It has been known to cause strange pulsations and oscillations.
"There are maybe 400 billion stars and planets in the galaxy as we know it, 4000 of which are visible given optimal optical conditions," said Chuck Clark, sitting on the bar stool next to mine. He is the local historian and has written a book about the area.
"It is not beyond the realm of possibility that we are not alone and there is something out there."
He told me he had seen an object travelling at a fantastic speed of many thousands of kilometres an hour, casting a light on the ground as it did so. "No metal on Earth can withstand that speed, nor any propulsion system cause it," he said.
He told me all about F-112s, dark stars, D-21 drones and SR-71s. He told me that he had been buzzed by Black Hawk helicopters when he got a little too close to the S-4 base at Papoose Lake. He told me to go have a look, which I did.
Bumping down the dirt track from marker 29, we passed the black mailbox – the original white was auctioned – where several sightings have been made.
Pat had one of hers there. For another 12km we drove down Lake Groom Road. As Chuck predicted, we tripped a few ammonia and heat detectors and, as we approached the perimeter fence, two white Cherokee four-wheel-drives appeared and soldiers in fatigues watched us through binoculars.
It is a $600 fine to trespass anywhere beyond the fence. The sign says "Deadly force is authorised".
We didn't hang about, preferring to get back to town tanned rather than vaporised.
Rachel is full of interesting new and very friendly life forms. It is enjoying its status as a boom town.
It has regular parties recalling the "shots" of the old days when the US Atomic Commission put on a spectacular light show by trialling some of its weaponry.
Another attraction is the Lunar Crater Volcanic Field in Pancake Mountains at the junction of the ET Highway and US Highway 6.
The Apollo astronauts trained there on its cinder cones, craters and lava flows. But the Alien Inn remains the place to make contact.
The entity called Dave called last orders. "I haven't had a big light over my home yet. And I haven't got one finger way bigger than the rest which glows when I get excited.
"However, more than one person has remarked that I am kinda spooky-looking," he said.
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