“Time will bring to light whatever is hidden;
it will cover up and conceal what is now shining in splendor.”
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Did I ever mention that I was chased out of Area 51 by the camo dudes a few years ago? Honest to God Wackenhut brush cuts with mirrored glasses driving a regulation-issue gray-coloured truck (Built Ford Tough, apparently). True story. One for another day, perhaps. For now, this…
The acknowledgment by the CIA of the existence of the infamous top secret desert location known variously as Groom Lake, Dreamland, Skunk Works and Paradise Ranch, was accompanied by the release of an ‘official’ 407-page internal document detailing its lengthy classified history. To those of us who pay attention to such things this was not news; the admission, yes, the existence, not so much. But thanks for the paperwork anyway, guys.
The whole story reminds me of one of my trips to the American Southwest and my brush with military secrecy.
After zipping past the ‘Deadly Force Authorized‘ signs about 16 miles down a dirt road off Nevada’s Route 375, I received an abrupt about-face and the bum’s rush from the blacked-out windows of the knobby-tired four-by-four, one of several dotting the hills around the main gate. Yes, I knew exactly where I was and exactly what I was doing, but I wanted to see if the envelope could be pushed a little. I pushed, and they pushed back.
Returning somewhat hastily to the Extraterrestrial Highway’s blacktop, I headed northwest toward the town of Rachel, Nevada and the comfort of a cold beer at the bar attached to a loose affiliation of mobile homes called the Little Ale-Inn.
After checking in, I was quaffing a pop and listening to Little Ale-Inn owner Pat tell stories about the ‘camo dudes’ to a group of four Brits. I overheard them say they were in Las Vegas for a convention, and they’d rented a vehicle for two days so they could come to the desert see and the aliens. One of them had a hand-drawn map of the small town, and I noticed a crudely-drawn squiggly line on it leading into the desert next to where it said ‘Rachel’. It just stopped in the middle of nowhere with the words: ‘Back Gate’. I was unaware there was such a thing.
After the Brits had left, I asked Pat what this ‘back gate’ was all about.
“How do you know about that?!” she said. “There’s not even much information on the Internet about that – a couple of fuzzy pictures maybe, but…” I mentioned the map squiggle, and she dismissed it with a ‘pfft’ and a wave of her hand. Then she paused. “You wanna go…?”
Hell yes, I wanna go, I thought. “That might be fun,” I said.
Outside the bar next to the kitchen she pointed to a road a quarter of a mile away that lead to a ranch. “When you get to the ranch, hang a left and stay on it. You’ll know when you’ve gone far enough,” she said with a sly smile. “If you’re not back by dinner time, I’ll sell your shit and give your room away.” Her laugh was more of a cackle. The screen door to the kitchen slammed and bounced.
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Anyone remember that cool TV movie from the 70s called “Duel“? It starred Dennis Weaver (Gunsmoke, McCloud) as a haggard travelling salesman heading home after a long road trip (I can relate!) It was Steven Spielberg’s first foray into big-time directing, in fact.
Early in the film the salesman accidentally sideswipes a semi truck hauling gasoline and spends the rest of the movie trying to escape the evil intentions of the rig driver who wants him to pay for his driving indiscretion. All this is played out with almost no dialogue, and you never see the driver of the semi – never. So when the Weaver character sucks the semi driver into a duel between the vehicles – ergo, the title – and the truck, driver and all, goes to its fiery death off a cliff, you still have no idea who the driver was.
At one point in the film, the salesman spots the rig at a truck stop cafe and watches as the driver enters the restaurant. But he only sees his boots. The Weaver character enters the restaurant and tries to ‘unmask’ the driver by surreptitiously checking the footwear of everyone in the cafe.
Okay – now that you’ve got that premise locked in your mind, on with my story.
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The road was not unlike the main Area 51 road I’d been chased from earlier, though closer to the rolling hills that conveniently blocked surreptitious views of the massive hangars that housed reverse engineered flying saucers (I read that somewhere). The dust I kicked up was surely acting like an environmental smoke alarm to anyone who might be paying attention. Mind you I was driving a metallic blue Chrysler PT Cruiser – in the blazing hot desert sun they could see my ass from space!
About thirty minutes in, at a respectable speed of around 30 miles per hour, I found myself doing the usual ups and downs, lefts and rights until I came to a sharp bend to the left at the base of a small mountain. It was getting toward dusk, and although the road was becoming increasingly difficult to navigate, I resisted the urge to turn on the headlamps.
About a mile further, I began to make out tall poles with large lights on them, a small building with windows, and a gate with an oversized ‘stop’ sign. I could also see that the gate was up, and a car was coming towards me… at a high rate of speed! The gate dropped. The dust from the oncoming vehicle was swirling like a vortex behind it. Not sure what to do, I continued my slow pace toward almost certain arrest and a $600 fine.
As the approaching vehicle was about to reach my position I noticed the driver had his window rolled halfway down just like the camo dudes from earlier in the day. There was only one occupant in this gray Ford four-by-four. All I saw was a hand. It waved at me! I waved back. I also made a quick mental note of the government-issue license plate and drove on toward the gate which was now only a few hundred yards away.
Four of the tall poles indeed had lights, for they suddenly came on and were pointed in my direction. A fifth pole had an immense video camera attached to it, and it too was pointed in my direction. The objective lens on this thing must have been six inches in diameter – probably worked in conjunction with night vision for clarity.
I could see the guard standing, silhouetted in the shack from what sunlight was left coming through the glass on the other side. There were a few small outbuildings scattered around, an unusually long semi trailer with a white tarp covering its cargo, and a sand-coloured school bus sitting empty just beside the semi. I’d seen that school bus before, up close at around 8:00 am that morning at a Chevron station in Alamo, Nevada fifty miles back. The driver was filling up his tank one pump over from me. I had followed this bus – empty then too – all the way to the Area 51 turn off, where I began my day. It continued, apparently, taking the back door to Groom Lake.
I was stopped. I got out of the car and considered walking the final hundred yards or so, but site security appeared to have other options in mind. Vehicles such as mine (‘unauthorized’ is a word that came to mind) had nowhere to go but forward and back. My interest in the school bus, the gate and what lay beyond was broken by movement in the lights. They were on remote control gimbals so they could be directed anywhere. I scanned the horizon, and the guard gate now directly in front of me. I was apparently of some interest, as a second human appeared at the gate. It was then that I noticed a familiar sign: Photography Prohibited – Deadly Force Authorized
It was pretty clear that a guided tour was going to be out of the question.
The second human was slowly shaking his head from side to side. The international symbol for, “Don’t Even Think It”…? Maybe. I got back in the car, drove a little further, then did a three-point turn and began my trek back to the main highway. One last glance in the rearview mirror revealed a beautiful sunset as the lights snapped off and dimmed.
Arriving back at the Little Ale-Inn in a cloud of dust (there’s no other way), I noticed a Ford truck parked in front of the bar. A GRAY Ford truck with government-issue plates. Pat had commented earlier: “…since no one knows what they look like they might be comin’ in here every day and drinking beer in their down time. I’m sure someone around here knows people on the other side of those hills.” That seemed more than a little prophetic.
Shit! So now I’m at a disadvantage. If the guy’s inside, he will most certainly recognize me: baseball cap, beard, fear-of-God look on face… yeah, I’m busted. But how would I recognize him…? More importantly, who would he be seated with? Who would he be talking to? Do other people in here know him and what he does?
I went in.
There were seven people not including a young woman tending bar, and the cook. Three seated at the bar proper – a pair and a single – and four at tables, two and two. Pat was nowhere to be seen. Now, where is he, I wondered? I suddenly felt a certain kinship with Dennis Weaver. Yup – life was definitely imitating art.
I took a seat at the bar and as coolly as possible under the circumstances ordered a beer. Calmly, I surveyed the situation and attempted to study the faces. Alternating sips of beer with furtive looks, I managed to spill most of the beer on my shirt. Okay – ‘cool’ is out, plan ‘B’ is in.
I discounted three of them right away – they were women. The other four didn’t look quite right: one was overweight, scruffy and wearing a ratty ball cap. I took him for the five ton moving truck out front. Another two were clean cut, Jehovah’s Witness types sipping iced tea. So… that left one – a single sitting at the bar. Could be. Didn’t seem to be talking to anyone in particular and wasn’t paying much attention to anything going on in the bar. I stared at him for any tell-tale signs of government-issue.
In the back, I heard the cook say, “Sounds good. See ya Saturday.” An eighth?
The screen door in the kitchen slammed and bounced. A beat later a car door followed suit.
Looking out the sliding glass window beside the bar I watched as the gray Ford truck reversed, turned, and drove away in a cloud of dust.
So, someone here DOES know people on the ‘other side’!