I’ve been to Rachel, Nevada, just once. My visit there was about 30 years ago.
Driving from Fallon to Las Vegas to attend a Nevada Press Association meeting, I headed south from Fallon to Tonopah on Highway 95. But instead of continuing on to Las Vegas, I turned off at the Highway 6 cutoff and drove east until encountering the Highway 375 turnoff. From there I went south until I reached Rachel, a tiny patch in the desolate desert of Lincoln County.
Rachel, at that time, had about 50 residents. Today, its population has risen to 55. Rachel consisted of a clutch of mobile homes, a store, gas station, church, 12-room motel, cemetery and café-bar. From what I’ve recently been told, Rachel has changed little since my trip there in the 1990s, but the gas station is now closed.
The community was named Sands Springs when it was founded by a local alfalfa farmer in 1973, but was renamed Rachel four years later to honor the first child born there. Her name was Rachel.
Rachel sits astride Highway 375, also called the “Extraterrestrial Highway,” in southeastern Nevada and is the closest community to the U.S. Air Force’s heavily-guarded Area 51 facility built in the early 1950s where our military has tested, and continues to test, ultra-secret aircraft such as the U-2 “spy” plane, the supersonic SR-71 “Blackbird” and the F-117 “Stealth” fighter.
As well, Area 51 is promoted by conspiracy theorists and assorted wackos who state it is the depository of the remains of aliens and their crashed spaceships. The conspiracy-touters are frequent guests on late-night radio talk shows, and many of these folks maintain Internet and social media sites where they also spew their kookiness, which includes their dramatic recollections of sighting UFOs (unidentified flying objects) and riding in them above the Nevada deserts. The conspirators also foster other theories, among them the allegation that the 1969 Apollo moon landing was faked and staged in a special studio built at Area 51.
So why did I travel to Rachel in the mid-1990s while en route to Las Vegas? Well, I’m a newspaperman and had hoped to enter Area 51 to get a glimpse and take photos of the aliens and their UFOs for the Lahontan Valley News and Fallon Eagle-Standard. But, alas, when I arrived at Area 51 close by Rachel, I was greeted by high chain-link fences topped with barbed wire and signs saying, “WARNING! U.S. Military Installation Off Limits to Unauthorized Personnel.” When I alighted from my car to photograph one of the signs, an Air Force van stopped in front of me, and a USAF military policeman jumped out and told me, “You must leave here at once. Your press card is not valid here.” I drove off to Rachel, where I drowned my sorrow with a Coke. The USAF obviously patrolled every inch of Area 51’s fencing to keep out snoopers such as myself, and I realized I had no chance of sneaking onto the base to find the aliens. I was devastated, of course. No aliens for me to record with my camera that broiling-hot summer day 30 years ago!
Over the years, Area 51 and its alleged trove of space aliens and their spaceships have made sporadic national and international news. But most recently, they have been making page one newspaper headlines around the world and big-time network TV coverage following announcements by a 20-year old Bakersfield, Calif., man on Facebook that he is sponsoring a nationwide movement to “storm” Area 51 at dawn on Sept. 20 to search for the aliens and their craft.
The fellow, who is named Jackson Barnes, said in later announcements, however, that he was “joking and I do not actually intend to go ahead with the plan. I just thought it would be funny and get me some uppies on the Internet. I’m not responsible if people decide to actually storm Area 51.”
But an estimated half million people reading Barnes’ postings somehow overlooked his “joking” warnings, and many of them are believed to be planning to travel to Area 51 and storm its gates. The Air Force is not amused by all this, and will be joining Nevada law enforcement authorities in blocking off highways leading to Rachel and Area 51 to identify the “stormers” and send them packing.
Rachel’s community leaders also are warning off the potential hordes, stating that the little town’s infrastructure can’t handle them. Rachel’s official Internet site says there is no gas available there, the store is also closed, and “we expect cell phone service and the Internet will be offline. The event will undoubtedly attract crooks trying to capitalize on the chaos.” And the site also told those who manage to reach Rachel and Area 51 to “stay away from the residential part of Rachel. Most residents do not like where this is going and will respond accordingly.”
Instead of attempting to enter Area 51, potential visitors and “stormers” are now being advised to attend a hastily-arranged “Aliensgate” music festival to be held several miles from Rachel and Area 51. If the festival proves to be successful, perhaps we may see another Burning Man in the making. Rachel is not too far from heavily-populated Las Vegas and is more accessible to travelers than the remote Burning Man site in the far northern reaches of Nevada.
David C. Henley is publisher emeritus of the Lahontan Valley News and Fallon Eagle-Standard.