Sunday, June 25, 2006

"I Had Lunch The Other Day There With An Alien"

Area 51 (Framed)
The intergalactic tourists came a really long way

This stretch of desert north of Las Vegas teems with rumors of alien visitors, but don't expect to find many answers.

BY JAY CLARKE
The Miami Herald
6-25-06

     I had lunch here the other day with an alien.

He was small, orange, had a big bald head and oval bug eyes. He also didn't have much to say, probably because he was a life-sized inflatable plastic toy.

But our ersatz E.T. did attract a lot of attention from visitors to this remote desert locale, a center of alleged UFO activity. That reputation comes because Rachel is situated sort of near the super-secret Area 51, the reputed U.S. military testing ground for captured alien spaceships and other hush-hush gizmos.

Trouble is, you can't really get close to Area 51 and its Groom Lake locale. Base borders are well patrolled and trespassers are warned that guards are authorized to use deadly force.

Rachel lies on the state-named Extraterrestrial Highway, 27 miles from Area 51. There's nothing here but a UFO-themed restaurant cum gift shop named Little A'Le'Inn. That's where I met my alien lunch-mate.

The Little A'Le'Inn does a roaring business serving lunch to tour groups and other visitors who drive over from Las Vegas, 2 ½ hours away. Most of us dined on Alien Burgers, then browsed among racks of UFO-themed doodads such as mugs, key chains, T-shirts and, fittingly, saucers.

We even ran into a local UFO guru, Chuck Clark, who just happened to come by when our group was visiting. Of course, he also just happened to carry with him copies of his for-sale handbook on Area 51.

According to Clark, Area 51 is not a total mystery. His handbook reproduces photos of the Area 51 base made from satellites and other vantage points, showing its very long runway (30,000 feet) and dozens of hangars and support buildings.

''JANET'' FLIGHTS

Actually, he said, there are regular flights to Area 51 on ''Janet'' aircraft. The ''Janets'' are a fleet of government-operated 737s that shuttle workers from Las Vegas to Area 51 and probably also to other sensitive sites. Painted white with a red stripe, the planes are often seen at Las Vegas' McCarran airport.

As for the occasional mysterious sightings in the area, many explanations have been offered. Clark himself describes a pulsating light he saw in the vicinity of the Area 51 base that he thought was a flare until it suddenly moved at a speed he calculated at 9,000 to 14,000 miles an hour.

But most other sightings, he says, can be attributed to such things as flares, satellites,

meteors, stars and planets, military operations, jet engine afterburners, rockets and missiles, weather balloons, vehicle lights and airborne debris.

Another UFO observer attributes the strange glowing orbs to government testing of particle beams, a sort of sub-atomic plasma.

Still, Clark says UFOs could be from another dimension, could carry time travelers or be extraterrestrial spaceships.

That's the stuff UFO seekers like to hear, but chances of casual tourists seeing something outworldly here are virtually nil, particularly if they are day visitors.

Other than at Rachel, our tour group saw little relating to UFOs. We stopped for a photo op at the ''black mailbox,'' a notorious site for UFO-sighting that since has been replaced with a white mailbox. We paused to shoot pictures of the green Extraterrestrial Highway sign the state of Nevada erected on Highway 375.

STOP OR WE'LL SHOOT

And we drove to a spot on that highway where a gaggle of signs prohibit further travel.

On a ridge above those signs, which warn of ''deadly force,'' armed personnel stand guard from a pair of white SUVs.

That's about it for anyone venturing into this UFO country. Commercial Area 51 tours from Las Vegas, which go to Rachel, require a full day and cost around $195. But you can drive out to Rachel on your own. Just bring a full tank of gasoline, lots of water and an open mind.

More . . .

See Also: Happenings at The Little Aleinn

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