A Mostly True Story|
by Glenn Campbell
Las Vegas has always been my kind of place. The Las Vegas economy is built almost entirely on flaws in human perception, and nowhere else on Earth is human weakness so obvious -- and lucrative. I don't gamble, but I love to watch other people do it. Everyone "knows" that the odds favor the house, but each gambler implicitly believes that in his particular case, the laws of probability don't apply. He "feels lucky," senses that God or fate is on his side, then drops hundreds of dollars into questionable investments. I have always found it fascinating to stroll through a casino and watch it happen. It make me feel both superior, because I am not seduced by any of it, and humbled, because I know that behind the cheerful lights is a world of human tragedy I can do nothing about. Mostly, it makes me feel alone, like I am the only human in a spaceship full of aliens, none of whom speak my language.
As I drove around the West in the Toilet Truck, I was often drawn to Las Vegas, even if it took me hundreds of miles out of my way. Ostensibly, I came for the all-you-can-eat buffets, which are one way you can win in Las Vegas, but something more than that compelled me to come here, and even now I have trouble defining what it was. I just wanted to be in the middle of it, all that human weakness. I wanted to be alone in a sea of people. I wanted to feel both superior and humbled. I wanted to see people lose everything they had and watch their reactions as it happened. I wanted... I don't know what. All I knew is that I didn't gamble, yet I was magnetically drawn to this place by some other kind of addiction.
My attraction to Las Vegas and my pleasure in walking through the casinos there has something to do with being an independent mind and knowing a truth that no one else around me seems to grasp. I don't scoff at the gamblers I pass; I have great sympathy for them. I don't regard them as worthless or uncaring creatures; they are simply people whose emotions are stronger than their intellect. They really do feel chosen by God, someone special in His eyes, and that is not necessarily a bad thing. From time to time, I feel like I am special and chosen, too. This delusion of grandeur can lead you to some amazing accomplishments sometimes. It just happens that in Las Vegas, they take advantage of the delusion and use it to make money.
After my flight arrived and I rented a car, I felt compelled to inhale a buffet, and this put me behind schedule. The Black Mailbox was about 130 road miles north of Las Vegas, and by the time I arrived there, it was already dark. I slowed down when I reached Milepoint 29.5 and noted the rancher's mailbox on the left. There were no watchers there. I kept driving because I knew, from studying the map, that the valley was huge and there was nothing special about that place. I was certainly not going to hang out in the same sacred spot everyone else did. I pulled over in a flat area about a mile beyond. I pointed the car in the direction of Groom Lake, doused the lights, and began my vigil.
It was a comfortable night in October 1992. When I turned out the lights, I saw nothing. I was alone in a sea of black, at least up to the horizon, where the stars began. Above me was perhaps the richest canopy of stars I had ever seen. It was almost a solid blanket of lights, filling every little black space. The broad white band of the Milky Way stretched across the sky. I had the windows rolled down, and there was no wind and no sound. I thought, What a fabulous place to be alone!
From studying the map, I knew the general direction of Groom Dry Lake, site of a secret but solid military airbase, and Papoose Dry Lake, supposed location of Lazar's saucers about 15 miles south of Groom. Neither of these areas were directly visible to me due to intervening hills, the profiles of which I could see on the horizon. There were no lights on the ground apart from a rare car passing on the highway and the faint domestic lights of what the map said was a ranch near the middle of the valley. In the south was a broad smudge of light similar to the Milky Way, bleeding up from the horizon. This, I surmised, was the reflected lights of Las Vegas, about 100 miles distant.
The highway here was very straight, about 20 miles without a bend. Every once in a while, a UFO would appear at the far end of the highway. It was a single brilliant white pulsating orb, seeming to hover and dance in the distance. At first, I wondered how high it was flying, but then I noticed that the orb was always hovering below the horizon. Over the course of the next fifteen minutes, the orb grew larger and more steady. Only near the end did the white orb resolved itself into two white hi-beams, attached to a vehicle, which then screamed by me. I saw immediately what some of the problems were in UFO watching. The white orb seemed to dance around when I first saw it because I had no reference points to compare it to. It was my eyes that were moving, not the object. When the next orb appeared, I lined it up with the edge of my car window, and all of the apparent motion went away. The pulsating nature of the orb, I figured, was due to the car bumping along on the road and the same kind of atmospheric distortion that made stars seem to twinkle. At twenty miles away, on land, there were probably more air molecules between me and the orb than me and any of the stars overhead.
I had my binoculars with me, and I used them to scan the horizon. Occasionally, I saw the very distant flashing strobe lights of what I perceived at first to be conventional aircraft. These white lights flashed about once per second, consistent with conventional planes, but what was odd about them is they didn't move steadily in one direction, as I would expect with a plane. With each flash, they jumped up and down, left and right. I had read about these lights in Boylan's article. He spoke of flashing lights that moved around erratically, indicating craft that must be experiencing rapid starts and stops and enormous instantanous acceleration. Boylan concluded that any human pilot in an ordinary aircraft would be crushed by the enormous G-forces involved. These must be craft that had somehow defeated the forces of inertia.
I remembered playing with strobe lights in my science-nerd days. Strobe lights were cool! They could make a turning wheel seem to stop, and if you waved your hands in front of one, you could seem to have ten or fifteen fingers instead of five. I suspected that a similar trick was at work here. I had a tripod for my binoculars, and I set it up outside the car. Now I looked at the horizon through the binoculars without actually touching them. Again I saw the strobes, and this time I compared them to other objects in the frame, like stars or the tops of mountains. This time, the lights did not jump around; they moved steadily along the horizon like a plane should, with each flash appearing in its proper sequence. I understood the problem now. When I held the binoculars in my hands, I lost my fix on the object between each flash. The binoculars drifted and my eyes wandered in the low light, so that the next flash never showed up where I expected it would. So much for incredible G-forces and mashed pilots!
Sometime between 8 and 9 o'clock, I heard the roar of jets overhead, but when I looked up to where the sound was, I saw nothing. There were several jets, I sensed, and the sound indicated that something big was happening above me, but I couldn't see it. Was this some sort of preparation for the flight of the saucers? The sound of one plane swooped especially low, and this time I looked ahead of where the sound seemed to be coming from, remembering that it takes a while for sound to travel. That's when I saw it: The blue flame of a jet engine. The jet had no lights, but I could see its profile against the stars, and the flame behind it was obvious, extending back from the plane in a glowing blue streak. I could imagine someone seeing the streak and not the plane and interpreting it as a flying saucer on edge.
The planes flew off toward the northwest, and I tracked them as best I could. Eventually, the sound dissipated and the flames could no longer be seen. Then, all of a sudden, a giant string of bright orange lights appeared in that direction, like a string of glowing pearls. The string was curved, and what I thought I saw was a huge flying saucer with orange lights along its edge. This craft must have been a mile across! The lights only appeared for a couple of seconds and then vanished, and it appeared to me that that giant saucer had taken off into the sky at enormous speed.
A little bit later, the jets came back from the same direction. They seemed to be chasing each other. They danced around in the sky, coming closer to me now, apparently engaged in a dogfight. Without warning, a series of six bright orange balls appeared behind one of the jets, just like the ones I had seen in the distance. Each light hung in the sky for a moment, then winked out. I immediately knew what they were. These planes were engaged in a mock battle, and if the exercise had been real, they would have been firing heat-seeking missiles at each other. The orange balls were hotly burning flares intended to distract those missiles. Ideally, the missiles would home in on the flares and not the plane's engine.
This was a fantastic night of skywatching! I had been there for only a few hours, and already I had seen three different kinds of UFOs. They were truly that: Unidentified Flying Objects. It happens that I identified all of them after a while, but they were certainly mysterious at the beginning. I could imagine the watchers at the Black Mailbox turning any of them into alien spacecraft. I was feeling pretty darn proud of myself and was ready to turn in for the night, when a truly stunning UFO blew all the others away.
There were actually two of them, hovering above the southwestern horizon. They were by far the brightest things in the sky. I called them the Golden Orbs. They were the same orange color as the flares, but they were many times brighter, and they didn't wink out. They were not hovering over Papoose or Groom lakes, but more to the south, in an area I knew was still military land. I don't know where they came from or how they first appeared. They lit up the whole sky and my eyes were drawn to them when I had been looking in another direction. These objects were obviously very far away, much farther than the white orbs on the highway; yet they were much brighter than anything I had seen so far. They were like miniature suns! They were hovering beside each other, with one slightly higher. They were not doing anything except hanging in the sky and drifting down slowly. They were visible for about five minutes, and I had time to examine them through the binoculars. I could make out no detail of the objects themselves -- they were just bright orange orbs without any features. However, surrounding each orb, visible only through binoculars, were many tiny strobe lights. I figured that they were helicopters hovering around each orb, perhaps monitoring its progress. This was really exciting! After a while, the orbs drifted below the horizon. Although I could no longer see them, I could still see the glow they were giving off.
After the glow dissipated, I watched and waited for a while, then I turned on the dome light of the car to take some notes. I recorded the date and time of this historic event, and when I looked up again, the orbs were back! Again, there were two of them, appearing in the same place as before. I had a camera with me, but I knew enough about photography to realize that it was futile to take a picture. The most I would get was two little points of light in the middle of a black frame, so I concentrated on observing instead. I didn't dare take my eyes off them for fear that I would miss something. The orbs behaved as before, hovering for about five minutes, drifting slowly down and then vanishing below the horizon. Again, I could see the flashing lights of conventional aircraft surrounding each orb. I kept the car light off and continued to watch, but the orbs did not reappear.
I theorized about what I had just witnessed. It was Wednesday night, and the military was apparently testing some kind of craft with an advanced propulsion system. These orbs were obviously defying gravity. I didn't know how anti-gravity propulsion worked, but it is reasonable to supposed that when you mess with gravity, you are going to generate a lot of side effects as well. One of these could be some sort of plasma field around your craft. I could make out no detail in the orbs, probably because the gas around the craft was ionized. This could be the reason that so many UFO sightings are indistinct. It began to all come together for me. Many of those classic highway UFO sightings must be real, and witnesses could only see a bright light and not any details because of the plasma field surrounding the craft. I had evidence now that UFOs were real; they had always been real, and now the government had them, too.
I could have stayed up all night, but that was enough revelation for one day, don't you think? It was not yet midnight, but I was on East Coast time, and it was late for me. I had just exposed some secrets of the universe, and this can make you sleepy. I recognized that all I really saw were bright orange lights with some tiny flashing white lights around them. The rest was speculation, and I wasn't ready to wrap up my investigation yet. I needed some sleep so my brain was fresh in the morning.
I had brought a sleeping bag with me, and I curled up in the back seat of the rental car. Sometime in the middle of the night, a giant spaceship came and hovered over my vehicle. The craft was huge, and looked like something out of Close Encounters of the Third Kind. I could see many details on the surface of the craft, which was very strange, because I also knew that I was lying face down on the back seat of the car, so I couldn't be seeing anything out of the windows. It took me a few minutes of analysis to realize that this was a dream. Although the spacecraft looked completely real to me, I knew I couldn't be seeing it, because my eyes were closed. I confirmed this by opening my eyes, sitting up, and looking around. There was no UFO. Nothing had changed outside, except the moon had come up and was now washing out the stars.
* * *
In the morning, everything was different. I could see! I was in the middle of a vast, empty desert valley, ringed by mountains. According to my map, this was the Tikaboo Valley. It was maybe fifteen miles across, east-to-west, and sixty miles long, north-to-south, and I could see everything in it, which wasn't much. In addition to the one paved highway, there were a number of a dirt roads crossing the valley. These were obvious white lines etched across the brown of the desert, like the figures on the plains of Nasca, Peru. The land was covered by scrub vegetation: low, widely-spaced bushes mostly, with occasional Joshua trees, which are tall, spiky plants with several branches (like the prophet Joshua raising his arms to Heaven) growing as high as twenty-five feet. There were only a few low cacti, in several nondescript varieties, which were not very dramatic or obvious. I saw no Roadrunners or Wile E. Coyotes.
West of my location, between me and Groom Lake, was a mountain range, called the Groom Range on my map. The map said that the military boundary ran along the base of those mountains, so that most of the range was part of the Restricted Zone. The boundary ran north-south for about 20 miles, then it turned east to cut off the southern half of the Tikaboo Valley. At the next mountain range, the border turned south again, and ran almost to Las Vegas, about 100 miles south of my location. Between me and Las Vegas was mostly military land. The reason it took me 130 miles to get here by car is that I had to drive east first, then later west again to skirt the Restricted Zone.
Almost everything outside the military border, and indeed most of the land in Nevada, was public land, owned by the American people and administered by the federal Bureau of Land Management. Although cattle grazed some of the land, every U.S. citizen had a right to visit here whenever he wanted and to camp without a permit for up to 10 days[?]. The evidence in front of me indicated, however, that hardly anyone was exercising this right -- no one in fact -- which was a terrible waste of space. The scale of the landforms here was vast. The Tikaboo Valley could easily accommodate the city of Las Vegas, now approaching 2 million people. Over the next mountain range, was another such empty valley, then another and another. This part of the United States is known as the Basin and Range region, comprising most of Nevada and adjacent parts of Utah, Idaho and Oregon. (The area covered is roughly equivalent to all of the Northeastern States from New Jersey northward.) The land here is a series of long, naked valleys separated by barren, parallel mountain ranges. Most of this area is part of the Great Basin: Any rain that falls here -- which isn't much -- is trapped here and has no way to flow out. It mostly evaporates on dry lakes, which every valley seems to have. Above all, this is a supremely empty land, like the Australian Outback without the kangaroos.
The highest point on the Groom Range was Bald Mountain, elevation 8000[?] ft. In the pattern of vegetation near the top, I thought I saw the face of a giant gray alien, which may have reflected my preoccupation at the time. Also at the summit was some kind of radio facility. Perhaps this was an observation post where the military could be watching me. There was nobody else to notice me, however, only an occasional car on the highway. This was a place where a man could be a man, pissing wherever he wanted and doing as he pleased. I found all the emptiness to be refreshing. There were no distractions here, just me and the road. What a wonderful data-collecting opportunity!
The highway was a virtual buffet of data. Every mile, there was a small vertical sign indicating the milepoint (as measured from the county line in the west). At various places along the road, dirt roads headed off from the highway across the valley and up into the mountains. Some of the roads were wide, graded ones, obviously well-maintained by somebody, and others were unmaintained "two-tracks" -- two ruts in the dirt created over time by the occasional passage of vehicles. Most roads were arrow-straight across the valley, then they began to meander with the terrain as they approached the mountains.
Immediately and compulsively, I started collecting information. I drove down the highway, stopping at each side road and writing down its milepoint. (This just proves that there is no escape from ODCS; I could be alone in a life raft in the middle of the ocean, and I would still find data to record.) The highway, to me, was a database of milepoints. Each side road was there for a reason and logically must lead to something. I wanted to explore them all. The ostensible reason was to find better viewpoints into the Restricted Zone, but that was a sham. The truth is, I had opened a bottle of primo hooch and couldn't close it. There was data to collect, and I couldn't stop.
I had a plan for my data. At the conclusion of my investigation, regardless of the outcome, I was going to publish my findings in a booklet, which I thought I would sell for a couple of dollars through a classified ad in one of the UFO magazines. (It eventually became a 110-page, densely-packed behemoth that I sold for $15.) The booklet would include a list of highway milepoints and a report on my UFO sightings. The idea was based on a booklet that I had already purchased through the UFO classifieds, called The Marfa Lights Viewer's Guide by D. Stacy. This was a guide to the area of West Texas where mysterious glowing orbs had been seen by visitors (generally assumed to be some kind of "earth light" rather than a UFO). I thought my booklet should be The Area 51 Viewer's Guide and follow a similar format.
As I moved northwest along the highway, I eventually went over a low pass and into the next valley, called the Sand Spring Valley. Here, I found civilization, of a sort. Spread across the southern end of the valley was a scatter of mobile homes, widely spaced. I knew from the UFO literature that this was the town of Rachel, although it wasn't marked on my map. Rachel was the sort of place you would normally scream through without noticing, like Tok, Alaska. You would hardly even call it a town, just "a place with mobile homes." I estimated that there were about 50 mobile homes in the valley, all of them on the south side of the highway. On the north side, the Sand Spring Valley was as empty as the Tikaboo Valley, but even bigger. There were only two obvious businesses in the town. The first thing you passed was a tiny gas station/convenience store (Milepoint 10.1), which is something you would notice as a driver, because gas out here is so rare. At the other end of the mobile-home cluster was a rough-looking bar/restaurant/motel (Milepoint 9.7), also housed in trailers, which an out-of-town driver wouldn't normally feel compelled to stop at. This was the Little A'Le'Inn (pronounced "Little Alien," with an emphasis on the last syllable), which Dr. Boylan had recommended in his article.
My first experience at the Little A'Le'Inn, as well as that of other visitors, was later immortalized in an episode of The X-Files. This was the second episode and one of the best, establishing the tone for the rest of the series. Mulder and Scully have come to "Ellens Air Force" in rural Idaho to investigate the strange insanity of some military pilots. (Note: It is Ellens Air Force Base, not Nellis Air Force Base.) Scully is perplexed by the fact that the base does not appear on her USGS quadrangle map. In search of clues to the pilots' condition, the pair visit a small diner called "The Flying Saucer." The matron behind the counter confirms that UFO reports connected with the base are real, and she offers to sell Mulder a map showing him the best viewpoint. Of course, Mulder buys the map, and Scully leans over and whispers to him, "Sucker!" What the lady is actually selling Mulder is my Area 51 Viewer's Guide, which was offered for a while at the Little A'Le'Inn, but that is getting ahead of our story.
The real Little A'Le'Inn would make the diner on TV look refined and palatial. The main facility of the Inn consisted of a single large, square room, which was composed of three mobile home trailers joined together. After you entered the front door and your eyes adjusted to the light, you would see a bunch of restaurant tables in the middle, a pool table to one side, a line of video poker machines along one wall and a few restaurant booths along another. There was a Pac-Man video game machine near the door, which in 1992 was already about 10 years old, and in a corner was an old juke box containing 45rpm records, which was a time machine capturing the state of country music from about a decade earlier. During the day, there probably wouldn't be more than a couple of customers in the place, probably including a regular or two sitting at their assigned seats at the bar.
On the side facing the door was a long cocktail bar, and behind the bar would be a rough-faced, bearded man -- sort of an old ranch hand/prospector type as might be supplied by Central Casting. The man behind the bar would be doing one of three things: nursing a beer, smoking a cigarette, or holding forth with his political opinions. This was Joe, the proprietor and bartender. He was also the bar's best customer. It would take only about three minutes before you learned about Joe's political persuasions. He was not a fan of Bill Clinton, and he had a rich palette of expletives with which to describe the President. He was a follower of Rush Limbaugh, whose daily diatribe might be playing on the TV set in the corner. If you sat at the bar and cast your eyes around, you would spot one gun after another, of all shapes and sizes, hidden in various nooks behind the bar. If you asked Joe, he would proudly show you his guns, which were mostly loaded, and he would tell you that if anyone ever tried to rob his place, he would happily blow their brains out.
Joe wasn't a bad guy, just a drunk with a lot of guns. As long as you kept any Democratic inclinations to yourself, you could comfortably sit at Joe's bar with some privacy, knowing that if it was after 10 am, then Joe was already plastered and wasn't really there. What became clear after five minutes at Joe's bar is that Joe didn't run the place. Out in the kitchen, doing the work, was Joe's wife Pat, who really wore the pants in the family. Pat was a short, round woman in her 50s. When I sat down at a booth, she took my order for the breakfast special. What came back was fairly edible greasy-spoon fare that wasn't much by Las Vegas standards but was definitely the best food in town and, in fact, the best food within a fifty-mile radius, excluding the secret base.
What I found most fascinating about the Little A'Le'Inn were the pictures on the wall. Here were portraits of Lazar in his white lab coat, Knapp the TV reporter and other UFO luminaries. There were also photos of UFOs, taken both here and elsewhere, as well as autographed photos of fighter jets and other mementos left by military units passing through the area. (Clearly, the Inn had customers from both sides of the military border.) One photo showed an orange light similar to the Golden Orbs I had seen. This light, however, was blurred and apparently moving in a zig-zag pattern, but because the background was black, there was nothing to compare it to in size, position or motion. A caption described when and where the photo was taken -- at the Black Mailbox, it turns out -- and it gave the photographer's name: Gary S. There were other photos of blurred lights, as well as some snapshots of more distinct flying saucers taken in other parts of the country, mostly long ago. The whole museum occupied me for about a half hour, as I studied each piece of evidence. After a while, I got up the courage to ask Pat about the local UFO sightings. She assured me that people were seeing UFOs "all the time" and that there was a major sighting "just the other night." I then asked her if she had seen any UFOs herself. I don't think I got a direct answer to that one.
I don't remember if I told Pat then about the booklet I was working on, but I realized that this would be an ideal place to sell it. They had only a few UFO knickknacks for sale, including a T-shirt, which I bought. Since business was obviously slow, I thought they should expand their product line. I made a mental note to send them my document when it was ready. I thought it would fit the aura of the place. The Inn and its contents were obviously a unique specimen of Americana, the sort of facility that ought to be transported whole to the Smithsonian. After spending little more than an hour there, I regarded it as a National Historical Site that needed to be preserved and perhaps encouraged a bit to achieve roadside-icon status.
Outside the Inn, I had to let my eyes adjust again to the bright light and vast spaces. I then resumed my data collecting mission along the highway, which continued for the rest of the day. I went all the way to the western end of Highway 375, about 50 miles from Rachel. There I found another bar and restaurant similar to the Little A'Le'Inn. This one was shuttered and abandoned, however, apparently a victim of the low traffic. On the way back to Rachel, I explored some side roads, drove like a demon on a dry lake bed, visited an old abandoned ranch and investigated several locations that might be good viewpoints for activity over Groom Lake. I also saw a lot of fighter jets and other military planes, which would periodically break the desert silence with tremendous sonic booms followed by the roar of engines. Some of them swooped so low they seemed to be brushing the tops of the Joshua trees. By the time I heard them and looked up, they were already past me, and half the time I never saw them at all, due the delay of the sound reaching me.
As darkness fell, I eventually returned to the vicinity of the Black Mailbox, where I set up watch for a second night. I wanted to see the Golden Orbs again, and they must have heard my thoughts and complied. This time there were four bright orange balls of light hovering above the horizon in the same vicinity as the night before. Together, they were incredibly bright, giving off more light than a full moon even at their great distance. The weather had become partly overcast, and the glow from the orbs reflected off the clouds above them, making the total light even greater. On the ground underneath the orbs, which I couldn't see, it must have been as bright as day! Through my binoculars, I could see the flashing strobes hovering around the orbs, but with so much light, I also caught a detail that I hadn't seen the night before. Above each orb was a vertical stream of black smoke rising into the sky.
This was a dead giveaway. If these were flying saucers, there would be no reason for smoke. Saucers don't burn diesel fuel, do they? Efficient, environmentally-friendly fuels like Element 115 shouldn't give off any emissions, and as far as I knew, smoke like this had never been mentioned in the literature of UFO sightings. Only burning materials from Earth give off smoke, and I now had a good idea of what was being burned. From my science-nerd days, I knew that magnesium burned with an orange flame. I also knew that it burned extremely brightly and that it gave off an enormous amount of light for a small amount of fuel. A magnesium flame was also extremely hot, which might account for how these objects remained in the air. If you hung a piece of burning magnesium from a parachute, the hot smoke from the flame would keep the parachute buoyed up like a hot-air balloon.
I felt, now, that I had solved the mystery of the Golden Orbs. These were probably magnesium parachute flares intended to illuminate a battlefield in this military exercise area. The flashing strobes were probably those of helicopters or planes that were providing close air support for whatever was happening on the ground. At least that was what Occam's Razor told me. I wasn't ready to declare that all of those orange lights I saw on the wall of the Inn were magnesium flares. All I could say was what I saw.
The next day, I continued my exploration of the highway and its side roads. I found an old mine, hiked a couple of small hills and explored the skeleton of another failed bar and restaurant at the east end of the highway, then I headed back to Las Vegas for another buffet and a late-night flight. In two days of observation along the "UFO Highway," I had collected an enormous amount of data. My job now was to organize it and report my findings.