As I headed out of Furnace Creek, the site of the warmest temperature ever recorded on planet earth, the temperature was a steaming 47 degrees. The sky was blue, with light streaks of high-level clouds. It was 9:30 am. I was eager to get on the road for my destination was Rachael, NV.
Rachael is infamous for being located on the Extraterrestrial Highway aka Nevada State Route 375. It is also famous for the Little A’Le’Inn, located a mere 28 miles from the runways at Area 51/Groom Lake. But I still had 245 miles to drive and sights to see.
At the Northwest end of Death Valley there’s an interesting site called Scotty’s Castle. Before stopping at the visitor’s center I’d never heard of Scotty’s Castle nor had any idea of it existence. In a nut shell, in the 1920’s there was a character named Walter Scott. He was also known as Death Valley Scotty and he was a con man. He tried to get wealthy people to invest in his gold mining schemes in Death Valley. One of the investors, Albert Johnson, came to visit his fraudulent investment and feel in love with the landscape and began building a 32,000 sq. ft. home that cost around $2 million in 1922 dollars. It has a $50,000 pipe organ.
The 1942 film location of Castle in the Desert with Charlie Chan is loosely based on Scotty’s Castle.
After a short stroll through the grounds of Scotty’s Castle I headed North into Nevada. Looking forward to visiting alien territory, but keeping in mind that I wanted to enjoy the trip. I was driving through a part of the country I’d never visited. I’m pretty sure I knew why now. Western Nevada is not any more attractive than any other part of Nevada. Yes, I can look at the desolate landscape and find beauty. And it is a beauty that I truly appreciate, especially in the right light. But lets me honest, it is the same landscape for miles and miles and miles.
Between Death Valley and Rachael, I went through three towns. Beatty which I don’t even remember driving through. Then I hit a funky little town called Goldfield. As the name implies, Goldfield was a mining boom town. It is a cross between and ghost town and a main street from the 1930’s. At one point during its mining heyday 20,000 people lived in the booming town. That number is now around 440, though the remaining building look like they’re could be 1000’s. One of those 440 is known as “the world’s meanest bartenders.” I didn’t stick around long enough to find out.
I’d found out that the Goldfield Hotel at which I’d parked the van in front of was extremely haunted. Time to get on down the road.
I fueled up in Tonopah, NV another mining town and headed east into central Nevada. After an hour or so on the treadmill of desert landscape I turned south on highway 375 toward Rachael. The landscape hadn’t changed, but the anticipation had.
As I kid I became enthralled with the idea of aliens and UFO’s. When I was 12 years-old, there was a show on TV I recalled being named Project Blue Book. It also was known as Project U.F.O and the stories were pulled from the USAF “Project Bluebook” files where the Air Force investigated possible UFO sightings. It was a short-lived program, but it introduced me to the idea of alien’s and I remember evaluating each story for credibility and/or ridiculousness. I was an open-minded yet critical kid.
Now through the mainly the History Channel, these stories and ideas have become a part of our national lore and I remain a skeptical but open-minded listener of tales and theories. I feel that anything sighted in the middle of Nevada is military related and has nothing to do with aliens, but this didn’t quell my enthusiasm for visiting the area. It’s a part of Americana and I wanted to visit first hand not to mention get out of the desert landscape for a few minutes.
I really hadn’t consulted a map to know where I was in relation to Area 51 but I drove south with my eyes scanning the horizon for anything interesting. I passed a few interesting geologic features of the landscape. The dark ancient lava rock contrasting against the winter brown grasses. I passed a white ford pick-up on the side of the road with a man in it scanning the range with a pair of binoculars. For a moment I thought maybe he was looking for strange activities, but then rationally thought he’s probably counting cattle. The road cuts through open-range cattle grazing. It’s common to have cows laying in the road given there is so little traffic.
Occasionally I would pass a cattle crossing sign that had been altered to have an alien head stuck on to the head of the cow or some other alteration done by folks trying to be funny. Then, after 45 minutes or so some buildings appeared on the horizon and a sign indicated I was approaching Rachael, NV.
Turns out the road I’d been traveling south was just gets you to the part of Highway 375 that is called the Extraterrestrial Highway.
Rachael, NV is the home of the Little Al’Le’inn. A destination of the curious, the silly and the obsessed. Probably the only food joint in 2 hours any direction, excluding food on the government installation to the West. It was mid-afternoon and as explained in my last entry, this meant the sun would be setting in about two hours. I hadn’t even had lunch yet.
After stopping at the Extraterrestrial Highway and adding a few stickers to the menagerie stuck on it by others, I headed to Little Al’Le’inn – “Earthlings Welcome”. I downed a “World Famous Alien Burger” No indication whether it was made from real aliens or not, and I was concerned about what the “Alien Sauce” might be. Best I could tell the burger was just made from cow and the sauce was pretty nondescript and ketchup based.
The atmosphere was all alien from the alien tequila to the collection of movies and books about aliens. There was plenty of things to look as I waited for my burger and silly souvenirs to consider. Luckily my recent purge of belongings has made me very reluctant to buy things just to buy them and I passed on the alien coffee mug, the space pen and the giant alien head bottle of tequila.
As I was getting ready to leave, I asked the woman behind the counter where exactly Groom Lake was and she said, as you head south it is to the west for the next 21 miles. She kindly handed me an 8 1/2 by 11 sheet of photocopied paper with a map on it that oriented me and I headed out the door.
As I continued my drive south, the scenery really wasn’t any different from I’d seen all day. There was more traffic. I mean in the next 21 miles I saw at least five cars compared to the three I’d seen the previous four hours. There were a couple of dirt roads that headed west. According to the map I’d been given, they headed to Area 51. Curiosity almost got the best of me as I considered turning down one of them, but then I thought about how clean my new van was and how close to dark it was getting and I drive on.
Off in the distance I could see the dust being kicked up by a vehicle traveling down a dirt road, I estimated it was 3 miles or so down the road. Rumor has it the government puts very fine dirt on the road so that vehicles will create an easy to see plume of dust as they approach the installation.
As you get past the area where Area 51 in off to your left, Highway 375 makes a hard turn to the east and travelers are headed away from the military installation. As I came up to the turn I saw a hand painted sign on a huge panel of canvas hanging off of stacked hay bales that said, “Snoops Welcome” and next to it was an open field where a couple of large RV’s were parked.
I suddenly heard the sound of emails arriving on my phone and saw I had signal for the first time in four or so hours. The sun was starting to set and the cloud cover had thickened up a bit. It wasn’t threatening rain, but it was mostly cloudy.
As I headed east I made a call to a friend to check in and after a few minute conversation I hung up the phone. I glanced down, taking my eyes off the road for a moment, as I placed in the cubby hole in my dash underneath my stereo.
When I looked up I was shocked to see two bright orange lights in the sky! They were perfectly round, bright like the sun but orange and about the size of a dime on my windshield. The were spread apart about 20 degrees in my field of view and then in a matter of seconds they went off like someone had hit a light switch. Both at exactly the same time. Gone. Nothing in their place against the clouds. No subtle fade out as if entering the clouds. There, then gone. It was strange. It was fast. And for a second I didn’t believe my eyes. I grabbed my phone and turned the screen on. I moved it around to see if I’d inadvertently created a reflection of some sort. Nothing. I don’t know what I saw, but I saw it.
Area 51 did not disappoint. My plan all along had been to do a drive by. Now I’m really curious. I have no doubt that what I saw was military. I’m not one that sees aliens everywhere, if anywhere. What remains with me is a curiosity about the area, the people and the mystery. I will venture back into this part of the country, perhaps this spring when it warms up a bit.
In another 20 minutes it was dark and I was, once again, seeking a place to stop of the night. Highway 375 gave way to Highway 93 and in about an hour I was in an RV park in Caliente, NV.