May 1993. I had heard of Area 51 only through my friend JR. A top secret Air Force base sat right there in the middle of Nevada, a few hours away from Las Vegas. The Air Force apparently had some alien carcasses and a UFO or two hanging around in a hangar. There were also a number of UFO sightings near the base. No civilians were allowed near the base, but my friend JR had a handy “AREA 51” guide in the back of his Integra that gave us our best chances for spotting the little guys from outer space.
I didn’t necessarily want to go alien-hunting, but it wasn’t as though I had much of a choice. Unemployed after university, I wandered across Canada by bus, met up with my friend in Vancouver, and then we just went south. After a short stay around Los Angeles where I resolutely chose never to drink corn vodka again, we were off to Las Vegas, where we stayed at a campsite that warned us of scorpions in the bathroom. By the time we started walking the strip in Las Vegas, we found out that some hotels were almost the same price as the damn campsite. After a couple of weeks of horrible sleeps and peanut butter and Taco Bell hot sauce sandwiches, a hotel room would have been a welcome change.
The closest town to the Air Force base is the minuscule and uninspiring dustball of Rachel, Nevada
. The guide suggested we give fair warning to the sheriff just to let him know we were going as close as possible to the Air Force to spot some green guys. The hulk of a man looked at us indifferently – you could tell out-of-town nut jobs bored him – and told us we were going at our own risk. We stocked up on a few gallons of water, I think at least 4 each, and we drove on the “extra-terrestrial highway.”
“This is a dumb idea,” I mumbled to JR. A raucous laughter was the only response I got.
We parked the car as close as possible to the base of the mountain – it was hard to gauge where we were, it was nothing but dust, hills, mountains and sky. Left the camera open on the dashboard with no film. Just in case that wasn’t clear enough, we also wrote a note “NO FILM.” You can never tell who’ll come by.
It was a beautiful late afternoon, the kind where you look around you and wonder just how lucky you are to be in such a magnificent, tranquil spot. “Look at those gorgeous mountains,” JR said to me, pointing to my right. I’d been walking in front of him and turned to look. Beautiful indeed. The hiss hiss by my feet snapped me away from the mountains and I froze in my tracks. A coiled rattlesnake was about three steps away from me.
I would have preferred to see a bloody alien at that point. I believe JR’s reaction once again was to laugh. Not a nervous laugh, not an annoying laugh – it’s the kind of laugh that says, “HA! Look at the nutty situation we’re in now!” He had the same laugh when we were shot at in New York City. Over the years, it’s become somewhat reassuring. It’s a laugh that reminds me that things haven’t gotten to the point where I should worry.
After carefully avoiding the snake, we made our way up the mountain (more a large hill) and sat on some rocks at its summit for the better part of a couple of hours. The base was off in the distance, looking very much like a normal base.
“They’re probably listening to us right now,” JR informed me. “They have listening devices hidden in these rocks.” The Air Force apparently has nothing better to do than to listen to two guys standing on the top of a hill talking about aliens.
I think we were up there for two hours, but it could have been longer. At any rate, we gave up on any flying saucers zooming past us and thought it best to make our way back to the car before it got too dark. This proved to be very dumb. We should have left when there was plenty of daylight, because halfway down the mountain we got lost. To add to our misery, we couldn’t find the damn car either. No light, pitch black in the desert with aliens and rattlesnakes and security guys in a beige Ford Explorer with authorized use of deadly force.
And there goes JR with his laugh again.
We wandered aimlessly in the dark for a long time. Suddenly an intensely bright flash from a hill above us blinded us momentarily – but at least showed us where we parked our car. The officers in the beige Ford Explorer were watching us and probably got bored with our inept efforts to find our way out. Walking up to the car, we noticed that there were bootprints all around the vehicle, none of them ours. Best to get in the car and leave. Turn the key, put it in drive, and nothing.
We were stuck in the sand with the wheels spinning. I got out and pushed as JR tried to drive the car backwards and forwards. Beige Ford Explorer guys were turning on and off their high beams ever few seconds just to bug us. Now they were getting some entertainment!
We finally pried ourselves from the sand, only at that point we had no sense of direction (or purpose, I might add). In an unparalleled act of bravery and tremendous lack of insight, JR hobbled up the hill to ask the beige Ford Explorer shoot-to-kill guys for directions.
Cue the laughter. High beams on and off in our faces.
While they did roll down their windows a crack, they were decidedly unfriendly and impassive behind their sunglasses. Curt and to the point, and completely ignoring my friend’s able attempt at humour, it was obvious they had enough of us and it was best we leave them be. We stumbled back to the car and drove off into the darkness, at which point JR pulls out his tape recorder from his pocket and smiles, “Got the whole thing on tape!” More laughter.
The rest of the night was spent by the side of the road, sleeping in the car near the infamous Black Mailbox from which (apparently) exceptionally good flying saucer viewing is possible. Apparently our friends in the Explorer drove by us at maniacal speeds a few times through the night, but I was oblivious to them. Alien-hunting is exhausting. I’ll check out the oddly-named Paul movie later this week, unfortunately not with JR, but I’m sure we’ll rent it next time we see each other. Although I’m pretty sure I’ll pass on a second visit to the Little A’Le’Inn.
After a brief stop at the Little A’Le’Inn to look around and sign the guestbook, we were back on the road. The guide showed us the road to take to the White Sands mountain, the only spot of land near the base that was not part of its property and from which the base was visible. We passed a sign that clearly indicated we were making our way onto property of the US Air Force, and in nice red letters, Use of deadly force authorized. Nice! The guide also warned us of nefarious security guards patrolling the area in a beige Ford Explorer.