A few weeks ago, I finally got around to doing the one thing that all UFO-interested folks must, at some point, do: make the pilgrimage to Area 51.
As this film is about the Contactees, Area 51 doesn’t factor directly into the main storyline, so it has always been a low priority for me. And, honestly, I’m much less interested in top secret military aircraft than in silver flying discs bearing beautiful Venusians. That said, this was a surprisingly fun trip. Since you’re reading this blog, I will assume you already know what Area 51 is, and what it’s all about and won’t bore you with explanation.
Personally, I was excited to see the infamous “Black Mailbox”, despite knowing that it was only the mailbox for a nearby ranch, and was saddened to hear that it had been removed. But lo and behold, some intrepid someone put up a replacement…this one being actually black. (The removed one was not). I was somewhat surprised by the sheer amount of detritus left there; some of it was just trash, but most were offerings, turning this into a shrine: pleas for the aliens to abduct them and take them to a better planet, “Jack was here” along with drawings of aliens, pleas for the ETs to give their souls to Jesus, etc.
I didn’t know what to do next, really. There’s not exactly a tourist center. Well, OK, there is, and I went there, but I didn’t ask specific directions, because I thought it would be fairly obvious. Turns out that when there’s only one road that dwindles into nothing on the horizon and you’re on a half tank of gas, complete knowledge of a situation is comforting. Fortunately, that lone road was the right one. And so, we plunged onward through a surprisingly dense Joshua Tree forest, dodging the occasional free-roaming cow.
And then we saw the sign, with the accompanying white pickup on top of the hill. To this point, the trip was scenic, but uneventful. Something about seeing that sign, with its dire warnings and legends of authorized lethal force, exhilarated me with the overall sense of menace. Which was made more pointed by the imposing and silently watching pickup on the nearby hill.
I know, I’m a nerd. But I love it.
There was no real danger, other than an uncomfortable talking to and hefty fine. But the sheer drama of the signs and the razor wire and the hours of driving through nowhere to get to this point were exciting enough; it conjured a story in my head, full of aliens and spaceships. Often, in the Mojave Desert, I’d felt a sense of magic laying just under the surface, a sense that anything could happen. Here, in Groom Lake, I felt a similar sense of endless potential, but this time at the hands of dark but human forces.
And maybe that’s why people are endlessly fascinated with Area 51. In a time when people are losing all sense of control over their daily lives, perhaps traveling to this zone of strangeness (to borrow Peter McCue’s phrase) and looking that lack of control in the face gives us comfort. In that way, looking for secrets at Area 51 reflects our modern fears and concerns. Much like how meeting beautiful Venusians reflected our fears and gave us hope in the mid-century.