A Mostly True Story|
by Glenn Campbell
Back in Boston, I started going through my written notes and turning them into a word processing document on my Macintosh. I also continued my research into Area 51 and ordered various maps, books and documents that I thought might be helpful. Keep in mind that these were the ancient days before the widespread use of internet. Most information back then was conveyed on paper. (You know, white stuff made from trees.) If you wanted to know something, you either looked it up at a library, or you wrote away, via the U.S. Mail, for some document or piece of information that someone else had. As a programmer, all this paper seemed unnecessary to me. By 1992, personal computers had already taken over the workplace, but there was very little communication between them. If you had a useful file on your computer, there was no easy way to share it with someone else. Electronic bulletin boards existed, but they were difficult to use and not usually open to everyone. I dreamed of the utopian day when a file could be posted to one location where everyone in the world could easily read it. Then, all information would be free; peace would guard the planets, and love would steer the stars. In the meantime, I was dealing with paper, and a lot of trees were being senselessly slaughtered on my behalf.
Gradually, by accumulating paper, I got a better picture of the military area in Nevada and the stories attached to it. North of Las Vegas was a vast government Restricted Zone, the size of Connecticut and Rhode Island combined. In the center of the Restricted Zone was the Rhode Island-sized portion. This block of land, roughly rectangular in shape with the longer end running north-south, was the Nevada Test Site (NTS), managed by the Department of Energy. The NTS was the site of most of America's atomic bomb tests, from the above-ground Able test in January 1951 until the underground Divider test in September 1992, 928 explosions in all. The Connecticut-size portion of the Restricted Zone was the Nellis Air Force Range, administered by Nellis Air Force Base in Las Vegas. The range surrounded the Nevada Test Site on three sides, like a fat horseshoe. It was chiefly a bombing and exercise range, but parts of it were used for the testing of planes, weapons and radar.
The Nevada Test Site was the playground of Freedom, the scene of endless fun in the 1950s. We blew up atomic bombs willy-nilly, generating those fabulous mushroom clouds. Sure we killed off a few cattle and ranchers who happened to be living downwind, but we were at war with an Evil Empire and sacrifices had to be made. The amusing things that could be done with atomic weapons were limited only by the imagination of the government. They built whole towns just to blow them up. They tied up live pigs close to the explosions to see the effects on human-like skin. They brought in real Army troops and placed them in trenches a few miles from the blast, then had them advance after the bomb went off. They tried to use the bombs to do useful things like dig big holes and liberate petroleum reserves. Radiation? No problem. Trust us, we're the government. They set up bleachers on distant hillsides so that visiting officials and journalists could watch the show. Those were glorious days!
Later, in 1963, a treaty with the Russians forced all tests underground. In satellite photos, the largest valley in the NTS, Yucca Flat, is now pockmarked with hundreds of circular craters that were each formed when the earth collapsed following a deep underground blast. After 1964, there were no more mushroom clouds and atomic energy wasn't so much fun. The social environment also changed. Some people -- mostly hippies, enviromental freaks and Communistic sympathizers -- began to claim that atomic weapons were not Good but Evil. They gathered outside the main gate of the NTS at the scheduled times of the underground tests, symbolically walked across the line and were symbolically arrested. After a while, this got down to a routine. The trespassers were placed in big holding pens the size of tennis courts that had been specially built for them near the main gate. There was one pen for men and another for women. They were later transported by bus to the local courthouse for routine processing. Some clever protesters (at least slightly smarter than those in the pens) took different routes into the Test Site, hoping to disrupt the tests by their presence. This turned out to be a daunting task, due to the vastness of the area and the scarcity of water en route. Although none of them died, only a few ever made it to their destination, at which point they were arrested and transported to the courthouse.
Internally, the NTS was divided into 25 numbered regions, from Area 1 to Area 30 (with some gaps). Although many of the activities of the NTS were still secret in the early 1990s, most of them were known and were not terribly mysterious. The NTS was primarily concerned with the management of radioactive materials and with maintaining "readiness" in case nuclear testing was to resume. In addition, the NTS now billed itself as an "Environmental Research Park." Much of the research, I suspected, was seeing just how far you could push the environment before it collapsed. Since much of the land had already been nuked, you could do a lot of things in good conscience at the NTS that you couldn't do anyplace else, like testing the effects of chemical spills and methods for cleaning them up. This was amusing, but not nearly as much fun as the environmental research conducted before 1963.
The horseshoe-shaped Nellis Air Force Range was America's premiere training ground for combat pilots. The best known exercise there was Red Flag, an invitation-only war that pitted visiting pilots against a resident "Red" squadron who knew their territory and often beat the pants off the newbies. On the range were mock airfields, lines of dummy tanks and many different kinds of radar sites. Live bombing took place in certain areas of the range, while other parts were chiefly concerned with electronic warfare, featuring enemy radars and hypothetical guided missiles. The Restricted Zone on the ground was actually part of a much larger military exercise area in the air, which was more than twice the size of the range itself. Rachel and Highway 375 lay within this air exercise zone, which accounted for the many jet fighters I saw on my visit. Outside the land boundaries of the range, the war was still fierce; they just couldn't drop bombs.
There was a part of the Nellis Range, however, where visiting military pilots were not allowed to fly. On their air charts, this was a big square, about 23 miles on each side, which extended east from the northeast corner of the Nevada Test Site. This airspace was known to pilots by the code name "Dreamland" and intrusion into this zone during exercises was cause for severe reprimand and "End of Game" for the pilot. A book I read on the Red Flag exercises at Nellis made only this reference the zone: "Bombing of civilians or the Munchkins of Dreamland is strictly prohibited."[?] I asked myself, Who are the Munchkins? Is this some kind of inside joke referring to little gray aliens?
On the ground, near the center of the Dreamland airspace, was a rectangular block of land, 10 miles east-west by 6 miles north-south, extending eastward from the corner of the Nevada Test Site. This block had been labeled "Area 51" on early Test Site maps, but on recent maps it had no label, and its ownership wasn't clear. It was a sort of no-man's land that no agency seemed to take responsibility for. On many maps, it was colored the same as the Nevada Test Site, but the Department of Energy said the land wasn't theirs. The Air Force, however, would not comment on the land at all. If you called up the Public Affairs office at Nellis Air Force Base, and you asked them about "Area 51," they would say, "What's that?" If you asked them specifically about the buildings and runways along the shore of Groom Dry Lake, they would say that they cannot comment on the facilities and activities of the range.
The air base at Groom Lake definitely existed. A few photos of it had been published, most notably a telephoto shot taken by J. Lear in the early 1980s that was published in later books and articles. At that time, the Groom mountain range was still public land, and you could legally drive all the way to the edge of the Groom lakebed, from where Lear took his photo. His picture showed a military complex that included numerous hangars and a large satellite dish near the edge of the dry lake. In the mid-1980s, a broad swath of land, including the Groom Range and approaches to the lake bed, was withdrawn from public use by the Air Force. Now, the base seemed safe from prying eyes (although we shall see that mistakes were made).
Although the base was never acknowledged by the government, aviation watchers knew it was there and knew what it was primarily for. It was a testing facility and operational base for the U-2, A-12 and SR-71 spy planes during the early part of the cold war and for Stealth aircraft later. The primary tenant was the Lockheed Skunk Works, the division of the plane maker that designed and manufactured most of these secret aircraft. In an official video on the history of the SR-71[?], Kelly Johnson, the head of the Skunk Works, was seen pointing to a blackboard while discussing plans for development of the plane. "Move Out To Area 51" appears clearly on the blackboard.
The site for the base was selected in April 1955, when several Lockheed and Air Force representatives surveyed the area in a light plane, looking for a suitable dry lake bed to test the secret U-2. This lakebed was chosen for testing because it had the right physical characteristics for use as a runway (as hard and flat as concrete) and because it was adjacent to an existing government facility, the Nevada Test Site. In the beginning, the facilities were crude and the living conditions harsh. Over the years, the outpost expanded and became essentially a full-size Air Force base, with many hangars and support buildings and a very long paved runway. It was still unacknowledged by the government but obviously "there."
In later years, employees were flown to the base in a fleet of nondescript 737 jets, mostly from Las Vegas but with a few flights from Palmdale, California, where the Skunk Works was based. The planes were similar to those operated by Southwest Airlines, except there was no company name on the side, only a red stripe along the length of the fuselage and a registration number on the tail. (The number invariably came back to a finance company or other private owner who was apparently leasing them to the government.) These flights were known to air traffic controllers by the company name "Janet." In Las Vegas, the incoming Janet flights would taxi to the unmarked "Janet Terminal", which was the equivalent of the passenger terminal at a small city like Fresno. It had about six open-air gates and a fenced and guarded parking lot. This "secret" terminal was hidden in plain sight in the northwest corner of McCarran International Airport, not far from the Tropicana Hotel and other big casinos at the south end of the Las Vegas Strip. (It is still there today if you care to drop by.)
Flights from the Janet Terminal served both Groom Lake and a second base in the Restricted Zone. This other air base, located on the Nellis Range about 60 miles west of Groom Lake, was called the Tonopah Test Range (TTR) or "Silver Bow" to pilots. It was about the same size as the Groom Lake base but because it wasn't quite so secret and could be easily seen from public land, it attracted virtually no attention from the UFO watchers. (Fiendishly clever, eh?) TTR was built chiefly to test the Stealth fighter, and it was here, just outside the border, that The Great One had his alien encounter with a cow, as mentioned in Chapter One.
Unlike Groom Lake or TTR, Papoose Dry Lake, where Lazar claimed to have worked with the saucers, had no obvious facilities. This lake bed was located in the Nellis Range about 15 miles south of Groom Lake, in an area that had no clear military purpose. This portion of the Emigrant Valley (the same valley as Groom Lake but around the corner a bit) was not an active bombing range or electronic warfare site and it apparently couldn't be viewed from any point on public land; thus, it would be an ideal place for a secret saucer base. It would also be an ideal place to claim a secret saucer base, because the claim couldn't be checked out.
* * *
I found it amusing that although Lazar seemed pretty soundly discredited, even by prominent ufologists, the watchers still came here in search of Lazar's craft and found exactly what they were looking for. The Black Mailbox presented a set of unique conditions that virtually guaranteed UFO sightings. First, there was the brilliant night sky and unlimited visibility, which exposed every meteor, satellite, aircraft light and terrestrial glow. I doubt that many of the watchers had ever seen a sky like this, polluted on a moonless night only by the faint smudge from Las Vegas. The second factor was the intensive Military Operating Area overhead and military operations on the ground. There was a lot of combat and testing activity here, none of it defying the laws of physics, that most watchers were totally unprepared for. In the desert, without distractions, your senses are heightened, so you notice many more things than you would in the city. Whenever evidence is ambiguous, you tend to interpret it according to your expectations and wishes. I was looking for Lazar's spacecraft, so I saw them in the Golden Orbs, and if I had stayed for only one night, I might have gone away thinking I had found all the proof of UFOs that I needed.
Dr. Boylan, who had written the sightings article that guided me and who had apparently stayed for only one night, was an especially interesting case. The "Dr." meant that he was a clinical psychologist and licensed psychotherapist in California. Boylan's specialty was treating patients who had been abducted by aliens. Boylan came to Area 51 looking for proof of the alien presence, and he found it in objects similar to what I saw. The same ambiguous objects also gave him proof of a massive conspiracy in which our government was somehow in collusion or competition with the aliens. Such a scenario greatly increases the abduction options: You can be abducted by aliens, abducted by the government on behalf of the aliens, abducted by the government pretending to be aliens, etc. The government, it turns out, is not as incompetent as it seems. (Those long lines at the Social Security office are just for show.) The government on Earth -- or more precisely, the secret government no one knows about -- is all-powerful and decides everything, from the candidate who won the last presidential election to the brand of laundry detergent you think you are using by your own free will. Combine this with the superior technology of the aliens, and you have more truth than one small psychotherapist can sort out (although he was tantalizingly close to the truth and nearly had it all worked out).
When describing other UFO researchers, I refrain from using emotionally charged words like "nutcase" and "fruitcake." These words are not helpful, and they paint me in a bad light by making me seem dismissive and judgmental, even a Skeptic. (They also reflect badly on the nut and fruitcake industries.) Nonetheless, Dr. Boylan seemed to fit the cliché of a therapist who had more problems than his clients. Boylan was a challenge to my "Let It Be" philosophy. Let us say, for the sake of argument, that Boylan's clients had not been abducted, but only imagined they were. If a licensed psychotherapist affirms these beliefs, and maybe even suggests them where they hadn't existed previously, then he might be doing his clients more harm than good. Distracted by the alien hypothesis, they might not be dealing effectively with their real problems.
Boylan was eventually stripped of his license in California and barred from practicing there. What got him in trouble was not so much his alien beliefs (This was, after all, California.) but inappropriate contacts with his female patients, which included hot tub sessions. It was a government conspiracy, of course. Boylan was too close to the truth and had to be discredited.
I met Boylan twice. Once was during my early days in Rachel, when he was still licensed and married and came with his wife for a follow-up visit to the Black Mailbox. He was a soft-spoken, spectacled man who seemed to respect my research and my Area 51 Viewer's Guide, even though I don't think he read it. A year or two later, after the disbarment, he was passing through Rachel alone, coming back to California after attending a UFO conference somewhere east, and he stopped at my Area 51 Research Center (i.e. my home, office and bookstore in a mobile home along the highway). I remember it was around dusk on a frigidly cold winter day, and he seemed a bit lost. I could see in his eyes that his world had crumbled, and I felt sad for him. He was not a bad man. He spoke with great confidence about an upcoming meeting in Washington of the President, the Dalai Lama and representatives of other major faiths in which the alien presence would be revealed to the public. He was very optimistic and convincing and certainly believed what he was saying, but the meeting never happened, or at least the announcement was never made. Evidently, we were not yet ready.
* * *
When assembling my Viewer's Guide, I took great care to avoid making grand conclusions. I had visited for only two days and had probably not seen every UFO there might be. All I knew was what I saw, and this is what I intended to report, as directly and factually as possible. I was not going to declare that all UFO sightings at Area 51 were delusions, which is what I might have done in my Skeptical years. I was willing to accept that although I saw orange orbs that were probably magnesium parachute flares, someone else could have seen similar orange lights that were genuine alien craft. I know this may sound like an artful evasion, but I believed that this was the best road to take. I could not evaluate other people's UFO sightings, only my own, because these are the only cases where I had adequate access to information. Somewhere among all this mess, there could be a real alien spacecraft, perhaps disguised as a magnesium flare, and it was not my place to dismiss this UFO before I had seen it.
I also thought that it was not my role to dispel another person's beliefs, even if I suspected that they were based on false assumptions. I had learned this lesson from my heaps o' trouble earlier in my life. If someone described their sighting to me and asked honestly for my opinion, I would give it, but I was not going to impose my opinion on others when it was not requested. The reason for this had something to do with the Prime Directive. You will recall that on Star Trek, the Prime Directive was the admonishment to the Enterprise and other Federation ships to not interfere in local cultures. It was a rule that Kirk and company seemed to violate on nearly every episode, but the reasoning was sound. If you intervene on an alien planet, even with the best of intentions, there is no way of knowing what negative effects your intervention may have in the long run. (The principle works much better in space, where some planets remain virgin, than in places like Africa or the Middle East, where we have already violated the Prime Directive in the past and thoroughly screwed things up.)
Suppose I am at the Black Mailbox with someone else. We both see the same orange light, which I interpret as a magnesium flare and they see as an alien craft. I may offer them my observations, but if they seem attached to their opinion, I am not going to push mine on them. It is the same approach I have to religion or any other belief system. The other person's belief is part of their internal ecology, and you cannot remove it without disrupting other parts of their ecosystem. If you disprove a person's belief in, say, faith-healing televangelists or 900-number psychics, you may be saving them some money in the short term, but their need for belief is going to attach itself elsewhere, and the new belief system might be worse than the one you debunked. If someone sees a magnesium flare, thinks it is a cosmic experience and goes home inspired and energized with a new purpose in life, I am not going to say it is wrong. I have come to believe that people need irrational beliefs to motivate them, even to get them out of bed in the morning. I am proof of this concept as much anyone, although I never thought my beliefs were irrational at the time.
In the early draft of my Viewer's Guide, I included a summary of the UFO claims, a milepost guide to the highway, a report on the various objects I saw, and a list of references. As the document took shape, I began to notice some holes in my research. There were dirt roads I had examined superficially but that I now realized I should explore more thoroughly, most notably the main road that lead into the base. I also failed to sight the famous "Old Faithful" UFO that Sean M. had reported on the video tape. (I had intended to see it but slept through 4:50am appearance time.) Now that I had an acceptable rough draft, I thought I should make a return visit to clean up the loose ends. In early December 1992, I booked another flight to Las Vegas for additional investigation and a whole new round of buffets.