[They party among us]

Skeptics, patriots and believers descend on Rachel to celebrate Area 51's 50th birthday

by Skylaire Alfvegren

"I've heard it whispered, an aside, that it is a place where whales can fly ... and horny toads, not land-locked bound, streak through the air, faster than sound ... So if you ever hear of this place, please hope it exists in time and space, for what they do there can't be told, but freedom's light, they there uphold."

By the light of a blazing campfire, that patriotic paean to Area 51 received whoops and hollers this past Saturday, as celebrants gathered to commemorate the Golden Anniversary of everyone's favorite "secret" military base. The infamous "cammo dudes" in their white Jeeps turned a deaf ear on the spirited rendition of "Happy Birthday," sung a stone's throw from the Groom Lake Road border.

Aviation buffs and UFO devotees from all points in Nevada and as far afield as Ohio and Wisconsin tripled the population of nearby Rachel for the weekend, participating in the "Friendship Campout" organized by German-born Las Vegan Joerg Arbu. The clean-cut software developer runs Dreamlandresort.com, considered the premier Area 51 website.

"What intrigues me is the secrecy, and the mystery surrounding the black projects," he said, as many a beer was hoisted in the honor of good old-fashioned American know-how. "I wanted to show people with firsthand evidence that what goes on there has nothing to do with UFOs, government conspiracies and such nonsense, but is still highly interesting and fascinating."

Area 51, a 6-mile-by-10-mile "operating location" adjacent to the Nellis Test Range and overseen by the U.S. Air Force, was never intended to be a permanent base, but has played an instrumental role in national security nonetheless. Its runway, the longest on Earth, has landed spy planes such as the U-2, SR-71 "Blackbird" and B-2 Stealth bomber.

"I've been telling people for the past decade that what I see out here is going to be standard aircraft 40 years from now," said Bill Whiffen, a Rachel resident who carves flying saucers out of wood in his spare time.

Not surprisingly, the interest in Area 51 has shifted since 9/11 from musing on back-engineered spacecraft to sacrosanct patriotism.

"The intention wasn't to create a secret base," said Norio Hayakawa, who has replaced Area 51 conspiracy theories with terrestrial nuts-and-bolts. "It became a secret base because of certain things. I'm a supporter of a strong national defense and this place is the utmost facility.

"My belief is that it is all our technology."

The secrets of Area 51 got more attention when a group of former workers contended they were made sick by shoddy environmental policies practiced at the base, including the open-pit burning of stealth materials. But in 1995, President Bill Clinton, and later President George W. Bush, have issued executive orders allowing the Air Force to keep secret happenings at the base if classified secrets would be disclosed. That's made lawsuits all but impossible to prosecute.

Tall whites, star seeds

No mentions of Project Snowbird or Project Aurora, and little speculation on Bob Lazar and John Lear (who drew attention to Area 51 in the 1980s), could be overheard at the camp site -- but just up the Extraterrestrial Highway, a largely separate group of celebrants filed into the Rachel senior center for talks on alien and human hybrids and the "Tall Whites" one former Nellis employee claims to have encountered while working at Indian Springs.

"Albert Einstein, Angelina Jolie, David Bowie, Mother Teresa ... are all Star Seeds," said Richard Boylan while holding up a crude drawing of a reptoid creature by one of the "Star Kids," his name for earthly children genetically modified by extraterrestrial visitors.

Boylan believes humanity is in the midst of a major transformation.

"We're realizing that a dominance-oriented society doesn't work," he said, while engaging those gathered in a remote viewing exercise. "We're all at least two generation E.T. hybrids," he continued, expressing a wish for a special school (a la X Men) for the differently gifted youngsters. "If not for the intervention of the Star Visitors, we'd all be eating bananas and dragging our knuckles on the ground."

Whether toasting a half-century of aviation innovation or seeking a new paradigm complete with little gray men, everyone gathered on the Extraterrestrial Highway could agree on one thing this past weekend: The real show is in the sky.

Skylaire Alfvegren is a local freelance writer.