Monday, October 6, 2008

Day 108: Out There

We were out there yesterday, and so were they.

Last night we landed in Rachel, NV. Current population 74. To arrive in Rachel one must travel along the Extraterrestrial Highway (aka Nevada 375). Rachel is a unique place for many reasons, but it is most well-known as "The UFO Capital of the World". The town, previously a mining town, has built its local economy on UFO tourism. We stayed at the Little A'Le'Inn (a trailer behind the restaurant/bar/shop). While having a drink at the (only) bar in town last night, the bartender asked us if we were there looking for UFOs. After we let him know that we weren't, but just interested in Rachel as a place, he informed us that yesterday there had been 40 sonic booms and many of the alien collectibles filling the gift shop shelves had been tumbling off the wall as a result.

Rachel is the closest city to Groom Lake, formerly known as Area 51 when it was part of the Nevada Test Site. Our friendly bar tender, with his British accent and braided beard, informed us that it had been quiet on this sunny day since the military "usually does its top-secret test flights on cloudy days when 'we' can't see them". If we really wanted to see some action we should look on the Department of Defense website and note the "Red Flag" days when all the NATO forces converge to play war games together. This supposedly includes lasers and amazing displays of speed. We looked at the Area 51 handbook available at the gift shop, which detailed the history of the site. It became eerily clear that what makes Rachel so unique isn't its magnetic force for attracting intelligent life forms from universes far from our own, but its bizarre proximity to one of the US military's most covert zones filled with top-secret toys.

All we had read and learned about Rachel before coming had prepared us for a strange scene. But the town, a scattered array of trailers, actually struck me as incredibly "normal" though remote. Rachel's proximity to Groom Lake allows it to fulfill a playful part in what makes a literal theatre of war in this restricted zone. The town and its inhabitants play off of what it doesn't know, and in the American way, has found a way to capitalize upon it. It seems as though people living in Rachel are creative, inventive entrepreneurs who chose to live in relation to just a few people -and in intense proximity to an extremely large military installation.

We didn't venture far of the beaten path of NV 375, but apparently if we did, Sandia and Wackenhut security contractors, in their fabled white Jeeps, would instantly be aware of our presence (with their hidden sensors, cameras, and patrols). And although we didn't see any UFOs while in Rachel, we did see a Stealth bomber gliding through the air. It wasn't breaking the sound barrier when we saw it, it was actually flying slow enough that we could take in its minimalist design and snap several photos. In its wake it left a silence that was palpable.

When we left Rachel this morning we were bid good-bye and asked if we had seen the amazing display of stars the night before. We were also warned to look out for the open range cows on the road, not aliens, on our way into Las Vegas.

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