RACHEL — How do you plan for something like “Storm Area 51, They Can’t Stop All of Us,” the Facebook event that started as a joke, quickly became a national obsession and could end up attracting anywhere from a couple of dozen curious onlookers to tens of thousands of alien-seeking die-hards to a town with just 56 full-time residents?
The simple answer: You don’t.
“With the way it was thrown in our laps, you just don’t,” Cody Theising says during a brief break outside the Little A’Le’Inn in Rachel. “You deal with that as it comes.”
The Lincoln County landmark, situated along the Extraterrestrial Highway, is owned by his mother, Connie West, and grandmother, Pat Travis. They’re quick to point out they had nothing to do with the Facebook post asking people to storm the secretive Air Force base to “see them aliens.”
The “storming,” originally scheduled for Sept. 20 in Amargosa Valley, has morphed into a music and arts festival, recently dubbed Alienstock, set for Sept. 19-22 in Rachel.
The small collection of homes roughly 10 miles from the base is the nearest thing to Area 51 resembling a town. That has left West and her family, who run the only business in Rachel, to deal with the fallout.
“We’ve all had people call us and say, ‘Listen, we’ll give you 3 grand if you bump somebody out of a room,’” she reveals. “And we say, ‘That’s unethical.’”
Nine of the motel’s 10 rooms are in three converted, three-bedroom mobile homes with shared kitchens, living rooms and bathrooms. They sold out for Sept. 20 almost immediately at the standard rate of $60 per night.
“Someone offered me $25,000 if I’d kick someone out of a room,” says West’s niece, Samantha Travis, who shares a leadership role in the motel, bar and diner with her cousin, Cody. “They started at $10,000, went to $15,000, then $20,000. I’m, like, ‘I’m sorry! I can’t do that!’”
Beware of rattlesnakes
“I don’t know what they’re doing out in Rachel, other than they said they’re going to have bands and a party,” says George Harris, owner of the Alien Research Center in Hiko. “We’re actually really ufologists, and we’re into this, so we’re going to have great speakers come up.”
Harris’ festival is scheduled for 9 a.m.-11 p.m. Sept. 20-21 at the tourist attraction and gift shop near U.S. 93 and the Extraterrestrial Highway. He says the event will include telescopes hooked up to a viewing screen as they search the stars, as well as screenings of the documentary “Bob Lazar: Area 51 & Flying Saucers,” and other alien-themed movies.
More details to come
Pricing is still being worked out, and he hopes to announce a number of participating bands in the coming days.
“This thing hasn’t subsided. It’s just getting bigger and bigger,” Harris says. “When this first started, we were probably getting six to eight phone calls a day. Now we’re getting 15-20 phone calls an hour.”
He has been cautioning those callers from the start.
“I’m telling them all, you’d better bring water. You’d better bring closed-toed shoes. The most important thing is going to be safety. You know there’s going to be issues, but we’re trying to mitigate the issues as much as possible.”
Along those lines, Harris says he’s bringing in “executive toilets” and a tractor-trailer filled with water, setting up a space for food trucks and setting aside an acre of land for camping, motorhomes and an area where people can “glamp” in bubble tents that allow them to look up at the stars. He’s also having 17,000 square feet of artificial turf delivered.
He’s hoping for a safe, fun two days of UFO-friendly activities — and no actual storming of Area 51.
“The first thing is safety,” Harris says. “I’ve gotta get the word out to these folks that you can’t be going across the desert floor at 3 in the morning. The only thing that’s going to happen to them is they’re going to get bit by a rattlesnake or by a tarantula or by a scorpion.”
No idea what to expect
“I feel like we’re just as unprepared for this as everybody else is, you know?”
Sean Reasoner works at the Sunset View Inn in Alamo, which is owned by his mother-in-law, Pam Broxson, and managed by his wife, Lindsay.
The motel is the first commercial establishment drivers will see along U.S. 93 on the way to Rachel for 70 miles. The small liquor store by the front desk is a rarity along the route, and it’s one of the few places that sell booze that doesn’t come in an alien-shaped bottle.
“I can’t tell you how many people we have turned away,” Reasoner says. The modest motel’s 10 themed rooms — including ones devoted to hippies, Westerns, safaris and life under the sea — were booked within a few days after the Facebook post went viral. “I’ve heard a lot of stuff is sold out all the way to Reno.”
Like pretty much everyone — on this planet, at least — Reasoner has no idea what to expect come Sept. 20.
“You know, there’s probably going to be some idiots that are gonna try to hop the fence. But one thing they have to remember is that it’s a military base. You will get shot, you know, or detained,” he says. “Don’t turn it into something bad. If anything, let’s just turn this into a huge festival like Burning Man or something like that.”
Assuming people behave themselves — for the most part, anyway — Reasoner can only see benefits from all the attention.
“This is such a dead area. There’s not a lot happening out here. For us, to bring business to a little area like this, and to Rachel and to Caliente …”
The thought of a bit of prosperity hangs in the air.
For now, though, one thing is certain.
“We need to stock up on liquor, just in case.”