Planning to join what may or may not be a horde of people descending upon a certain top-secret, middle-of-nowhere military facility in September hoping to find signs of otherworldly life? Carving out a spot to shovel popcorn and watch the chaos from afar? Looking for signs of intelligent life? You won’t find any here, but you’ll instead find a few facts about Area 51, the famed government testing facility that everyone knows of but of which little is known.
Nothing to see here
The U.S. Government didn’t even acknowledge the facility’s existence until 2013, when the CIA declassified documents as the result of a FOIA request by the National Security Archive at George Washington University and confirmed its use as a testing site for the U-2 and SR-71 spy planes.
The CIA documents shed light on Area 51’s flight testing uses, as well as its key part in government and military stealth efforts, but no evidence has been released to support the idea that the base has had or plays any extraterrestrial role … yet.
When something is shrouded in secrecy, people fill in the blanks and draw their own conclusions. The base has long been the subject of out-of-this-world theories and explanations for goings-on at the top secret site. One claim is that the facility contains the remains of an alien craft crash from Roswell, New Mexico in 1947. An initially anonymous man who used the pseudonym “Dennis,” later revealed as a man named Bob Lazar, told a local news station in 1989 that those at the site were working to reverse engineer alien technology, setting off a storm of interest in the site.
Officials sought a place to test their U-2 craft. They found it at Groom Lake while flying over the Mojave Desert on April 12, 1955, according to documents released by the CIA. There they spotted an airstrip used as an aerial gunnery range by the U.S. Army Air Corps during World War II. Officials thought the remote area would prove an ideal testing site, and they persuaded the Atomic Energy Commission and President Dwight Eisenhower to add the land, known by its map designation “Area 51,” to the commission’s test site.
While the name “Area 51” has stuck in popular culture, a lead engineer behind the U-2 project and the base’s construction, Kelly Johnson, coined the land “Paradise Ranch” in an effort “to make the new facility in the middle of nowhere sound more attractive to his workers,” the documents said.
Where is it, anyway?
The facility is located at Groom Lake, a dry salt flat located roughly 2.5 hours north of the Las Vegas Valley. The closest town is Rachel, Nevada, and many of the area businesses along the Extraterrestrial Highway, state Route 375, lean into the alien mystique surrounding the nearby base.
Storm at your own risk
The “Storm Area 51, They Can’t Stop All Of Us” Facebook event wasn’t intended to be serious and it has since re-branded as “Alienstock.” Yet, more than two million people have marked themselves as “going” to the festival planned for the weekend of Sept. 19-22.
Those looking to “Naruto run,” as the event page describes it, at the military base should remember that it is still that — a U.S. Air Force property on the Nevada Test and Training Range, overseen by Nellis Air Force Base. A Nellis spokesman has warned that illegally accessing the site is “highly discouraged,” although he wasn’t authorized to say what actions the base could take for potential trespassers.
“Just like any military installation, there are different levels of security, depending on what has been picked up and what has been detected,” Staff Sgt. Joshua Kleinholz has told the Las Vegas Review-Journal. “And, obviously, the degree of response may escalate depending upon the perceived threat.”
Proceed with caution.