RACHEL — On the way here Wednesday, there was a dead cow on the side of the road. There may have been another dead cow, or maybe a dead horse.
It was hard to tell while driving 70 mph in the rain along the Extraterrestrial Highway.
But it doesn’t matter if it was a cow or a horse. What matters is that those animals were dead and that they were dead only a few miles from Area 51.
Yes, that Area 51. Which makes the whole dead animal thing seem … suspicious.
The people start arriving at the Little A’Le’Inn a little before noon.
T.D. Barnes and his secrets arrive a little later.
"When people walk in my door, they generally have a smile on their face," says Connie West, the proprietor of the place. "But when they leave, they have an even bigger smile."
The crowd thickens. Tables are filled, bar stools are taken.
Noon arrives. So does the CIA. So do the Roadrunners. They’re unloading memorabilia onto a pool table topped with a plastic tablecloth decorated in butterflies.
Coffee mugs. A tote bag imprinted with "Alone, Unarmed and Unafraid," T-shirts and shot glasses, key chains and golf balls, pens, shoulder patches, pink baseball caps and charms.
Barnes, the president of Roadrunners Internationale, an organization of people who used to work on classified projects, says they get together every couple of years.
They chose to get together in Rachel, at the town’s only establishment, the Little A’Le’Inn, on Wednesday because they’re finally able to talk about what they did.
Much of what they worked on was declassified in 2008. Lots of them worked on the Archangel, or A-12, the CIA’s precursor to the famous SR-71 Blackbird.
It was secret projects like that back in the 1960s that ultimately led to rumors about aliens at Area 51.
Barnes says many of those rumors, which are and always have been false, persisted because the official cover stories were simply terrible.
"We always had a cover story ready," he says.
He remembers one about a classified plane that crashed. Some ranchers picked up the pilot and offered to take him back to the downed plane.
No thanks, he said, you don’t want to go near the aircraft because it is loaded with neutron bombs!
Not so believable.
But these days, Barnes says, not so many people ask about aliens anymore.
"Most people respect what we did," he says. "But oh sure we get a wacko every now and then."
It’s 12:38 now, and the newsman with the silver windblown hair walks in the door. There is a measurable rise in the crowd’s chatter. The place has suddenly become packed, standing room only.
The newsman, famous among these people, among UFO enthusiasts, for his reports on aliens and the paranormal, works the crowd, shakes hands, poses for snapshots.
"I’ve been living here for years, and I’ve never seen anything weird unless I was drunk, and that’s usually the ground I fell on," says Bob Hafey, 71. He’s laughing when he says it.
The alien stories? Bunk, he says.
He is an archaeologist who relocated here years ago after he accidentally found it while riding his motorcycle through town. He had been through a divorce and a family crisis. Why not? he figured.
He has never found any alien artifacts while scouting the vast desert for archaeological treasures, he says.
There’s nowhere to sit now. Nowhere to stand. More people keep arriving.
"Are you the moped guy?" someone says to Bryce Gray as he walks through the door, helmet atop his head, a sheen of rain covering his clothes.
"Yup, that’s me," Gray says.
He’s 22. He’s riding his scooter – top speed 40 mph — from Boston to San Francisco. He just graduated college, couldn’t find a job and figured he had better do something crazy while he’s young.
He packed a backpack and stuffed a tent under the scooter’s seat. He has a little cash, but mostly he has been staying at friends’ houses as he makes his way across the country.
He stopped in Rachel because, he says, "it’s the only thing between, what was it, Ash Springs? and Tonopah."
"This is pure coincidence," he says of arriving on the day of the biggest event in Rachel, as Barnes put it, "since the aliens landed."
"I can’t believe I’m here," Gray says.
"Dave! I got a alien burger and coleslaw," says waitress Sharon Taylor, carrying a plate through the crowd.
The TV camera zooms in on the memorabilia. The silver-haired newsman makes his way outside.
The place looks like a Denny’s during rush hour it’s so busy.
But as it nears 2 p.m., things change. The newsman leaves, the crowd starts to thin. Barnes signs a few autographs.
"It’s been great," he says. "I think the locals really appreciated it, and our bunch really had a ball.
"I mean, who would have dreamed the CIA would be out here talking to the public?"
Assuming it’s not a cover story.
Contact reporter Richard Lake at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0307.