A Mostly True Story|
by Glenn Campbell
When I arrived back in Rachel in December 1992, the scene had changed dramatically. There was a thin sheet of snow on the ground, and with it came a layer of icy fog. The clouds seemed glued to the ground, apparently by the cold of the snow, and they wouldn't budge. There would be no UFO sightings on this trip; I don't think I even saw a star. I heard jets overhead but couldn't see them. I still had the highway, however. I resolved to make the best of my visit by at least exploring some of the dirt roads I had missed, but with the unexpected cold and without the endless view, it wouldn't be much fun.
It was too cold to sleep in my rental car, so I checked in to the Little A'Le'Inn. The Inn had about a dozen rooms for rent, all located in converted mobile homes behind the main building. The accommodations could be described as rustic and charming or creepy and spooky depending on your frame of mind. The room rate was reasonable and it beat the cold outside. (In the wilderness, you are grateful for little things like heat.) Some rooms shared a bathroom, while other "deluxe" rooms had their own. In either case, you were bound to meet your fellow travelers. In my building was a farm implement salesman, passing through between rural outposts, and a couple who had lived in Rachel earlier and had come back to visit. Another room was occupied by two guys from out of state who I didn't meet until later.
Since technical data collection was a bust on this trip, due to the fog, I turned to human intelligence (HUMINT). I wanted to find out about Area 51, but I didn't want to jump into it too quickly, not knowing how sensitive the topic was or who in town might work there. Instead, I took a different tact and decided to inquire about less controversial matters. From the visiting couple and the staff and clientele at the Inn, I learned a little about the history of Rachel. The town was only about 15 years old and it was never formerly incorporated, which is why it didn't appear on my map. Rachel came into being in the late 1970s as a residential area for the Tempiute mine in the mountains about six miles east of town. The mine had been worked intermittently since the turn of the century, producing a variety of minerals on a small scale. In the 1970s, the price of tungsten rose to a level where the mine became viable again. Union Carbide bought it and started hiring workers. The space for housing around the mine was limited, however, so new employees looked elsewhere for land, and the only private property available was D.C. Day's farmland in the area that is now Rachel. Quick to recognize the opportunity, D.C. subdivided his land and sold it in 5-acre parcels. ($1000 an acre was about the going rate.) Mobile homes were brought in, and a town was born. It was eventually named after the first child who was born here. (She was actually born in a hospital in Las Vegas, but you get the idea.)
In a remote place like this, none of the basics like water and power could be taken for granted. Although the Sand Spring Valley appeared barren on the surface, there was a vast aquifer underground, which is the reason D.C. and others could farm here. (Las Vegas now has plans to tap this aquifer for its own insatiable needs.) To supply your mobile home with water, you needed to have a well drilled and install a pump, all at a cost of about $1500[?]; after that, however, water was essentially free. Power was a bit more difficult and required some community cooperation. The residents formed their own power company, the Penoyer Valley Electric Co-Operative, and ran lines down from the mine, which already had power. The official birthday of the town, later celebrated annually as Rachel Day, was April ?, 1980, when power was first turned on. To this day, the "Power Board" is the only form of government the town has and thus is the focus of a ridiculous amount of petty bicker'n and bitter feud'n. The Power Board has been atrociously managed over the years, but when opportunities have arisen to merge the co-op into the larger power company in Alamo, saving all the grief, the townsfolk have adamantly refused. It would be like giving up their identify.
The tungsten boom lasted only about a decade, and the mine shut down again in the late 1980s, leaving Rachel to fend for itself. At its peak, the town had about 250 residents and even a one-room elementary school. After the mine closed, the population dwindled to about 100 people in roughly 40 households, as it remains today. (The remaining students are now bussed to Alamo for school, 50 miles each way.) This was not an unusual story in rural Nevada. If you exclude Las Vegas and the Reno-Carson City area, Nevada is a land of boom and bust, and most of what you see when you travel around today is bust. Each semi-ghost town you pass through recalls a similar tragedy. A mine hits it rich, and people flock to the area. Civic leaders make big plans and erect extravagant courthouses and other public buildings. Then the mines play out and the town slowly dies. Most of the people who remain behind are those without ambition or who have already invested in real estate and can't find a way to leave. Although the boom times are thrilling, they only last for 10 years or so, while the dull decline may drag on for fifty or a hundred. The advantage of the boom-and-bust cycle is that it has preserved many historic towns in a state of suspended animation with never a McDonalds in sight; the disadvantage is that these towns are now mostly populated by zombies out of Stephen King novel.
I didn't see Rachelites as zombies, however. They were a bit more cosmopolitan than that. Since the town had existed for only 15 years, every adult came from someplace else. There were some from Tennessee and others from Texas, and they didn't seem like bad folk. As a city dweller and former 10-day resident of Tok, Alaska, I still had this Norman Rockwellesque view of small town life: Everybody knew everybody else; family values were upheld; policemen were benevolent sorts like Andy of Mayberry; crime was rare, and there were never any serious conflicts. (Evidently, my bullshit detector was not properly functioning in this regard, and I did not recognize the insidious evil of the Rockwell propaganda machine.)
The Little A'Le'Inn, I felt, was a charming slice of Americana, suitable for a Rockwell painting, and I wanted to know about its history, too. Known for most of its life as the Rachel Bar & Grill (and still known in town as "the bar"), the facility had had a series of owners, none of whom could make it work, even when the mine was open. When Pat and Joe bought it in 1989[?], they hadn't exactly conducted any market research or business analysis, and they seemed destined to failure, too. (I'm sure the previous owners were saying, "Suckers!" beneath their breath.) The mine had just closed and the roadhouses at both ends of the highway had already shut down several years before. The remaining market of 100 local souls plus the handful of cars passing on the highway was hardly enough to keep the place going. Pat and Joe were just beginning the realize the folly of their purchase when the aliens came to rescue them.
In November 1989, Lazar's story came out on KLAS, and a small army of UFO watchers started showing up at the bar, being the closest food to the Black Mailbox. It wasn't a huge number of visitors, but it doubled the bar's clientele, and these big-city folk had more money to spend than local residents. Suddenly, Pat and Joe had a market and a mission. They changed the name of the bar to the Little A'Le'Inn. (The funny punctuation was brainchild of Joe, who wasn't an English major.) They expanded the size of the bar from a double-wide to a triple-wide by adding an additional trailer to the front, and they bought a few secondhand mobile homes to use as motel rooms.
This wasn't just a business opportunity. Pat herself told me that she felt chosen. She didn't know what her destiny was, but she felt certain that she had been selected by God to be here at this particular time and place to serve some special purpose. Pat was also chosen by the aliens, and there was one alien in particular who she now realized had guided her throughout her life. If you are a reader of the supermarket tabloid The Weekly World News (which I know you are), then you learned about this alien in a later article entitled, "Space Aliens Hang Out at Nevada Bar." Pat's alien was named Archibald, and although she never saw him, she often felt his presence. One foggy night, when Pat was driving back to Rachel through the Tikaboo Valley, Archibald whispered in her ear, "Slow down," so she did. Just then, a cow appeared in the middle of the highway in front of her, and Pat narrowly avoided it because she had already braked. Archibald had saved her life!
Archibald continued to guide Pat from time to time, but unfortunately, the UFO watchers began to dwindle. By the time I arrived, the number of visitors had reached its low point. A few still came on Wednesday nights, but the rest of the week was pretty dead. I showed Pat the rough draft of my Viewer's Guide, in which I had described and recommended the Inn. I pointed out that this might help promote the area and bring in more visitors. I asked her if she would like to sell it when it was done, and she said she would.
* * *
I made a feeble attempt to continue my survey of the highway and its side roads, but it wasn't pleasant in the fog. In the evening I returned to my room in the trailer, where I ran into the two other guests who I hadn't met earlier. They were two middle-aged aviation watchers, who introduced themselves as Spy One and Spy Two. Spy One was a designer of plastic model kits for the Testor Corporation, and Spy Two was a secret aircraft fan who showed me snapshots of an A-12 airplane like a proud father showing off photos of his new baby. (He called it "my" Blackbird.) Spies One and Two had been out in the desert all day, in spite of the fog, looking for their Holy Grail, the secret Aurora spyplane. The Aurora was a "hypersonic" aircraft (traveling many times the speed of sound) that they suspected was being tested at Groom Lake. They hadn't seen anything, of course, but they did hear a loud sound, which they seemed to attribute to the plane. They were exuberant. They asked me if I had heard the sound, which they described as an incredibly loud roar.
"I guess so," I said, searching my memory. Throughout the day, I had heard sonic booms and the roar of jets, but nothing that struck me as unusual. Then again, I wasn't an experienced aviation watcher who could tell the difference between aircraft sounds.
Spy Two farted, then apologized.
"Like that sound?" I said. They thought that was funny.
I told them about my Viewer's Guide project and described the objects I had seen. They were familiar with the aircraft flares and magnesium parachute flares I had witnessed, and they gave me more details about them. The aircraft flares were magnesium pellets[?] ignited behind the plane, and they were indeed intended to distract heat-seeking missiles or their electronic equivalent during the war games. They were dropped when a jet was being pursued by another or when it was vulnerable to ground-based missiles. The release usually coincided with a dodging maneuver by the jet, which is why the strings of lights was usually curved. (The jet might also be dropping something that I couldn't see, a substance called "chaff". This was a cloud of metallic ribbon intended to confuse radar and radar-guided missiles.) The Golden Orbs were parachute flares launched from the ground for illumination. These were mostly connected with ground exercises, since bombers and fighters relied more on infrared sighting of targets.
I could identify with Spies One and Two because they were looking for something solid, if hypothetical. The Aurora, if it existed, was a human-built aircraft that was a logical successor to the supersonic SR-71 spy plane. The Spies pointed out that the Air Force was trying to retire the SR-71 against Congressional opposition, and they contended that the Air Force wouldn't do this unless it had a replacement plane in place. Spy satellites are useful, but because they travel across the sky on a known schedule, the enemy (the Russians until recently) could easily hide things, like missiles, during times when they knew a satellite is passing over. In the view of the Spies, fast surveillance aircraft like the SR-71 were still essential for "fill in" reconnaissance--that is, viewing a target at unpredictable times and for special circumstances, such as an evolving battlefield where satellites were much less useful. A very fast aircraft, traveling several times the speed of sound, could appear over any target on earth within a couple of hours and thus was the most responsive to evolving intelligence needs.
Spy Two seemed especially knowledgeable about operations of the range. He was a former member of the Air National Guard who had served during the first Gulf War. He had written two books on Stealth aircraft and was a big fan of the Lockheed Skunk Works, the innovative factory in Palmdale, California, the made the Stealth fighter and many other formerly secret aircraft. Both Spies One and Two had met Ben Rich, the head of the Skunk Works, who (I gathered from the Spies) was impressed and amused by their espionage activity. I sensed that Rich was like a rock star, and they were his groupies.
Spy Two was familiar with the book I had read about Red Flag and he knew the authors personally. I asked him about about the reference to the "Munchkins of Dreamland."
"To a pilot, everyone on the ground is a Munchkin," he said, "From the air, everyone is a little person. It doesn't mean aliens."
Having gained some rapport with the Spies and trusting their judgment, I asked them about Lazar, the crackpot who claimed to have worked with alien spacecraft on the Range.
"I believe him," said Spy One.
"I do, too", said Spy Two.
This was not the response I expected.
They said they had talked to Lazar and felt that the story was internally consistent and also consistent with what they knew about the military. They didn't think that Lazar could have made the story up, and they thought he would have no reason to. The story was too complex, and all of Lazar's emotional responses were the correct ones for the circumstances. Lazar was not profiting from his story, hated the UFO believers and refused to travel on the UFO lecture circuit (where he could make some money), so what did he have to gain? When I brought up the topic of Lazar's missing educational credentials, the Spies seemed to brush it off.
"Credentials can disappear," said Spy One. "M.I.T. and Cal-Tech do a lot of business with the government."
The Spies' response was a major disruption to my neat conception of things. They were not UFO nuts. They were experienced aviation watchers looking for solid, human-built craft; yet, they also believed this far-out story. They didn't expect to see any UFOs while visiting here, but they still felt that this UFO story was credible, based on internal features of Lazar's claims and the Spies' lifetime of experience with the military. I was floored, and I began to see that my research had hardly begun.
Spy One recalled a meeting with Ben Rich in which he asked Rich whether he believed in UFOs.
"Sure I believe in UFOs," said Rich, followed by a pause. "They're Un-Funded Opportunities."
Spy One took this cryptic remark as evidence that Rich knew something that he couldn't talk about.
* * *
Spy One had to leave the next day, but Spy Two remained at the Little A'Le'Inn so he could conduct further reconnaissance. He was currently unemployed, so he had plenty of time. In the evening, he invited me to come with him to lurk near the border. After dark, we headed out from Rachel in an SUV, which Spy Two had borrowed from J. Lear in Las Vegas. Spy Two was a garrulous type and as he drove he told me more about his life than I wanted to know. He had survived brain cancer[?] and an operation that had removed a large tumor from his skull. [Some more details about Spy Two will be included here, after verification.] He lived in Minnesota and was the volunteer Director of Acquisitions[?] for an aviation Museum there. He told me how he had recently acquired the A-12 from the Air Force then arranged its transportation from California to Minnesota, which was a major operation: He "borrowed" a C-5 transport plane from the New York National Guard, then had the wings cut off the A-12 to make it fit inside. The cargo was the longest object that a C-5 had ever carried. On the flight to Minnesota, Spy Two rode in the cockpit, which obviously gave him a thrill. He sounded like a boy with a new bicycle.
Spy Two's speech was rich in sexual imagery. He had a camera with a massively long telephoto lens, which he referred to as his Big One. When the camera was not in use, the lens was covered by a sock, which he called a "lens condom." Spy Two said that he lived for two things: secret aircraft and sex, and I suspected that he wasn't getting much of either. He farted and said, "That feels good!" As a rather prudish software designer who had been locked up with computers for the past 4-8 years and hardly ever discussed bodily functions, I just said, "Okay." Spy Two, I came to understand, was a true Hedonist, a person who lived for his senses, spoke his mind and interacted with the world with very little subterfuge. Although he was hunting secret aircraft, there was nothing secret about him: He was always exactly what he claimed to be.
We had driven on the highway eastward from Rachel, past the Black Mailbox (where no one was watching). At milepoint 34.5, we turned right on the wide, well-maintained dirt road that lead into the base. (The road had no name on the map but I later labeled it Groom Lake Road in my guide.) The weather was still heavily overcast, so we both recognized that looking for anything in the sky was futile, but Spy Two took the opportunity to familiarize me with the area. The Groom Lake Road ran straight across the Tikaboo Valley (roughly westward), with no bend for about 11 miles. At about 10 miles from the highway, Spy Two pointed out that we were now passing into the Dreamland airspace, even though we were still a few miles from the land boundary. We were inside Dreamland!
To the right side of the road, clearly visible in the moonlight, was White Sides, a small, conical-shaped mountain standing alone near the western edge of the valley. It clearly had "white sides", due to the color of the rocks on its southern flank, and it was labeled as this on the map. Spy Two said this was this only place on public land from where you could still see the Groom Lake base. One thing I could not tell in the moonlight was how big or far away the mountain was. It looked like a small hill I could hike to the top of in twenty minutes, but the map said it was bigger and farther away and might take an hour or two.
As we got closer to White Sides, we saw a campfire on the top of a small 50-foot hill near the road (which I later labeled Campfire Hill). This was the first sign we had seen of human life since we left Rachel. As we approached, I could make out about five or six figures around the fire, and they seemed as wary of us as we were of them. Spy Two drove the SUV about halfway up the hill, and then we got out of the car. I let Spy Two do all of the talking, which wasn't difficult at all.
"We come in peace," said Spy Two.
"Peace be with you," somebody said.
At the top of the hill were about six young men in their twenties. One of them was obviously the leader, who I recognized immediately: He was Sean M. from the Lindemann video, who had guaranteed UFO sightings even on a bad night. Spy Two introduced himself, and Sean acted like he was an old friend, even though they hadn't met before. Sean introduced Spy Two to the other members of the group, calling him "the world's greatest secret aircraft hunter." Spy Two accepted the accolades, and without any invitation, we sat down with them around the campfire. This was clearly an historic event: The world's greatest secret aircraft bullshitter meeting the world's greatest UFO bullshitter. It was King Kong vs. Godzilla, although they seemed more like long-lost cousins than adversaries. As the show progressed, the rest of us said nothing and never even had an opportunity.
From the moment he began speaking, it was obvious that Sean had an overwhelming need to impress people. He sounded totally "L.A.", like a producer trying to hype a film project. Everything was "incredible" and "fantastic". Within the space of about 10 breathless minutes, Sean dropped the names of about a dozen famous people who he claimed to be on intimate terms with (and Spy Two, no doubt, would soon be added to the list). Sean mentioned Geraldo R. and the fact that he been on his TV talk show, having guided his brother Craig R. to the top of White Sides for the benefit of the cameras. Sean spoke of Lazar as though he was a close personal friend (although I doubt they ever met). He recalled with great drama his own incredible UFO sightings and his treacherous encounters with security forces, who he cleverly evaded.
But Spy Two was no pushover, and he countered each of Sean's tall tales with one of his own. He had been buzzed by jets and harassed by security forces. He knew Lazar personally and could respond to any of Sean's claims about him. Realizing this, Sean immediately changed tact and became a sycophant, asking Spy Two for his opinions and wisdom. From this exchange, I learned a great deal more about what Spy Two knew about Lazar. Spy Two had met Lazar at Lear's house before Lazar made his UFO claims, and at the time, Lazar was an ardent skeptic, dismissing Lear's UFO beliefs as rediculous. Lazar's position changed only when he had his own direct experiences with the hardware of S-4. Lazar still regarded Lear as a crackpot, but as least some of what he said was true.
When I asked Spy Two about Lazar's pandering conviction, Spy Two said, "So the man likes sex, there's nothing wrong with that." I realized that he was right--even though Lazar's crime was a bit more than liking sex; it was selling sex. Everyone has credibility issues, and when there is enormous pressure to discredit a witness, like in a political campaign or a high profile murder trial, the opposition can always find grounds to do so. How well would you come out smelling if you, say, suddenly became a key witness at the O.J. Simpson trial? I'm sure the National Enquirer and other media could dig up plenty of dirt on you, and these facts could be used to discredit you on the witness stand, no matter how clean your testimony.
As Sean and Spy Two tried to one-up each other, the most significant presence on Campfire Hill was someone who wasn't there: Lazar. I wondered about this enigmatic figure: who he was and where he came from. He now seemed almost mythological in stature. Wasn't there a Biblical figure named Lazarus? What was he famous for? Lazar was beginning to look almost like a prophet, a reluctant Messiah--not like Jesus as much as the hapless Brian in Monty Python's Life of Brian. The image of him that I was receiving was that of an unwilling messenger who happened to have some experiences that he felt it necessary to share with the world and now wished he hadn't. Now the hordes were after him, desperate for his wisdom, and he was trying to get away. His shoe falls off, and a woman in the pursuing crowd grabs it and holds it up like a religious icon. She cries: "He has given us -- his shoe!"
Sean and Spy Two were grabbing at pieces of Lazar, but neither seemed to have a full picture of him. I wanted to know how he was connected to the outside world. Where did he go to school if not M.I.T. or Cal-Tech? What was his work history? Who were his parents and other family members, and what did they think of his story? What was his personality, and how did he respond to other people and the routine stresses of life? Was he an habitual liar? Was he truly a scientist, at least in principle? From what social and psychological soup did this guy emerge, and where was he going?
Spy One said that Lazar was a nice guy, but I wanted more than that. Was he a nice guy who stayed nice under pressure, or would he turn into a monster if backed into a corner? Was he a nice guy who truly cared about others, or nice guy who used people? Was he a nice liar, a nice crazy person, or a nice reliable witness? I have known enough nice people in my day to be suspicious. Nice is nice, but moral is better.
Sean was nice, I guess, but not moral, and I saw through his niceness in a matter of minutes. I came to realize that the other people around the campfire, who said little, were Sean's paying clients from Southern California. He was apparently conducting a tour in which UFO sightings were virtually guaranteed, and I virtually guarantee that the tour wasn't cheap. They had no camping equipment, and some of the guests were poorly prepared for the cold. Sean hardly seemed to notice them, however, except as an audience to be impressed by his exploits and connections. Sean's plan was to have them climb White Sides later in the night, when UFO activity was supposedly at its peak, and then return to Southern California in the early morning (about a 7 hour drive). It didn't strike me as a wise plan for the clients: to climb a mountain at night that you have never seen in daylight with a guide who has no comprehension of the needs of others.
Visitors like this, I figured, could use my Viewer's Guide. Instead of paying a couple of hundred dollars to Sean, they could buy my document for only a few dollars and get a lot more information. I did not want my clients to be ill-prepared. If they were going to hunt for UFOs and pursue other mysteries, then I wanted them to at least have the knowledge that was already available. To me, this was an exciting challenge, and my encounter with Sean helped give my work more focus.
* * *
I don't remember how we extracted ourselves from that encounter on Campfire Hill, since Sean and Spy Two could have gone on all night. Perhaps I impressed on Spy Two that I had to get back to Rachel because I needed to leave in the morning for my flight home. What I do remember is that this whole adventure had suddenly taken on multiple dimensions. This wasn't just about UFO sightings or the story of Lazar. Here was rich universe of mysteries and challenges that I had experienced only a tantalizing taste of. There was a real secret base just over the ridge which we knew very little about and that could, in theory, contain anything in your imagination. We knew the base had been used for Stealth aircraft testing, but those planes were now operational, so what was out there now? At the least, the secret base cried out for more attention. There was latent energy here, at least for a public relations campaign.
The mysteries that fascinated me the most were not alien but human. On the outside, there were true believers, shameless charlatans and intelligent people looking for answers. What did they want, and why did they come here? This was a borderland where cultures mixed and reality was open to interpretation. This was a place, like Las Vegas, where people knew the rules but chose to ignore them, where people felt special and chosen. For me, of course, this was Paradise, and maybe I felt chosen, too.
I had to leave the next day, but I resolved to return. I left a draft of the Viewer's Guide with Pat & Joe and told them I would be back in January to complete it. I realized now that to put out a decent guide, I would need a lot more time for research, so perhaps I would come for a month next time. I had the contact information for the Spies, and I expected to keep in touch with them. I knew, now, that I had a mission here, maybe not from God or the aliens, but at least from the gods of geography, psychology and black comedy. Although I didn't have a patron alien yet, I heard whispers in my ear. At this time in history, Rachel was where I was meant to be.