So, after all these years, the government has finally admitted that Area 51 does indeed exist. What next? Will The New York Sun publish a retraction? “No, Virginia, there is no Santa Claus!”
Speaking of news organizations, I often wonder how Fox News would have handled the letter from little Virginia O’Hanlon. I imagine a fact-finding expedition to the North Pole, resulting in grainy night-vision footage of little green men presumably at work making toys—or are they conducting an autopsy? Hard to say. You decide.
I, for one, have never doubted the existence of Area 51. It’s a top secret base situated inside the Nellis Test and Training Range, an area roughly the size of Connecticut in southern Nevada. Some years ago I “visited” the vast complex, and by visit I mean I was driven all the way around it in an air-conditioned motor coach. Very briefly, we were able to penetrate the perimeter but got only a few feet inside the gate before our bus ran aground. Shielded from view of nearby guards, I seized the opportunity to snap this picture of fellow traveler Mark Farmer—also known as Agent X—as he struggled to extricate the vehicle. Moments later a gruff voice ordered me to come out from behind the bus and get myself back to the guard shack. There I was offered a cup of coffee by a burly man wearing a silver pistol on his hip. By this time, of course, my camera was nowhere in sight.
This happened at the entrance to Tolicha Peak, which is rumored to be an electronic combat range. Other points of interest inside the complex include the Tonopah Test and Training Range and the erstwhile atom bomb testing site at Yucca Flats. At no point were we permitted free access to what is the largest contiguous restricted air and ground space in the world. So what we did was speculate, which is why the tour was titled “Landscape of Conjecture.”
“Access to the range is highly limited, and no one without official business is permitted on site, nor are civilian aircraft permitted to fly over it,” writes Matt Coolidge of the Center for Land Use Interpretation. “Information is controlled by those whose livelihood is dependent on its existence, therefore facts about the range are unresolved. It is thus an ambiguous, uncertain landscape, engendering speculation, fear, and even confrontation. It is a virtual terrain, inhabited with the projections of whoever chooses to gaze upon it, a modern terra incognita.”
The following day found us on State Route 375, also known as The Extraterrestrial Highway. There we made obligatory stops at the Little A’Le’Inn in Rachel and the so-called black mailbox, which for UFO enthusiasts has become something of a holy relic. People come from all over the world just to scratch their names on it. Some have pried it open to see what’s inside, which is why the original black mailbox has been replaced by a white steel plate strongbox. Inside, you will find mail addressed to Steve Medlin, who runs cattle in Tikaboo Valley—that is, when he’s not busy running tourists and curiosity seekers off his spread. Turns out I have interviewed Mr. Medlin, and I’m here to tell you our government’s secrets are safe with him. Either that, or else my tape recorder had been zapped by some kind of invisible ray.
Finally, we ventured off the pavement and down a dusty gravel road past surveillance cameras and listening devices disguised as desert flora. Then we came to a locked gate and a large sign advising that photography in the area is prohibited. What a perfect setting for a group picture!
On a hilltop behind the sign was parked a white Jeep Cherokee, beside which stood a man in full camouflage. A so-called “Cammo Dude.”
I shot one picture, then another. At which point, the Cammo Dude opened the door of his jeep and retrieved something. A walkie-talkie? Machine gun? No—it was a bullhorn. He raised it to his mouth.
Whereupon, a murmur arose. Had we paid too much for the tour? Was it indeed stupid?
Myself, I don’t think so. One, as a member of the press corps, I’m usually able to score a free pass. Two, because running around the wilds of Nevada has never struck me as stupid. What’s stupid is sitting at home watching Fox News.