RACHEL, Nevada: The alien invasion was underway, and David Day wanted no part of it.
Some 3,000 visitors were beaming into his tiny hometown this weekend, snapping selfies outside the secretive Area 51 military test base, running through sagebrush in alien costumes and dancing to throbbing club beats as part of a viral online joke bewitched to life.
Day pointed to the signs nailed to his front gate in Rachel, Nevada, population 40ish (50 on weekends).
Go home. no alienstock.
People in this sparsely populated expanse of scrub desert and sun-blasted mountains have gotten used to conspiracy theorists and UFO chasers who make the two-hour drive from Las Vegas hunting for an extraterrestrial truth behind the secrecy and security of Area 51 — and leave with nothing but an alien tote bag or a roll of little-green-man toilet paper from the souvenir shop.
Did the whole thing start as a joke?
But in late June, law enforcement and residents here began bracing for an onslaught, after 2.1 million people said they would rush the base on foot at an event organised on Facebook called “Storm Area 51, They Can’t Stop All of Us.” The event creator later said the whole thing had been a joke, but online masses committed to launch anyway.
Residents worried that even a tiny fraction of that many out-of-towners could lead to chaos, choking the two-lane roads, scarring the desert with trash and camper trailers, and even draining the water table. “People in Rachel moved out here to be away from all the crap,” Day, 61, said Friday morning. “We don’t know what to expect.”
But by Saturday, it appeared the invaders had come in peace.
Law enforcement officials said they had made just a handful of arrests, including one man charged with indecent exposure after relieving himself at Area 51’s security gate.
What were the police terms for visitors?
Most people were heeding warnings from county sheriffs, state police and the Air Force not to assault the gates of a heavily guarded military base. At 3am. Friday, about 150 people made the 9-mile drive up a dusty road and surged toward the back gate, but mostly just laughed and pantomimed an invasion.
Police officers stationed just outside the back gates laid down the ground rules — do not cross that line, watch out for rattlesnakes — and politely deflected selfie requests from hundreds of people who drove up throughout the day. When a green alien asked if he could get a photo of one of the officers pretending to handcuff him, the officer offered these terms: “Once the handcuffs go on, they don’t come off.” The alien demurred.
“They’re hiding something,” said Noah Nelson, 16, who drove from Alberta, Canada, and took part in the storming-not-storming. “Maybe it’s aliens.”
“Or the moon landing set,” his brother, Austin, 21, said.
Are there aliens in Area 51?
Like a lot of people here, they were joking. Sort of. A few visitors in alien goggles said they accepted the reality that Area 51, part of the Nevada Test and Training Range, had been used to develop spy planes, not hide alien spacecraft. But like the “X Files” poster said, they wanted to believe.
“We just wanted to see people like us,” said Mike Main, who drove with his mother from Tampa, Florida.
While some local residents spent the weekend pounding No Trespassing signs into the ground and stringing plastic webbing around their trailer homes, Don Williams said he had been won over by the visitors, who had arrived from as far as Massachusetts and even Australia. “I love it,” Williams, 54, said as he and his brothers built a green concession stand — Outpost 51, obviously — on their property.
Has it always been like this?
As one of the very few black residents within 50 miles, Williams said, he remembered feeling like a visitor from another world when he first moved to Rachel 25 years ago, homeless and looking for any place where he could find shelter and a job.
He now works on an alfalfa farm outside of town and helps care for some of Rachel’s older residents, including his 78-year-old mother, Lula Fike, who moved out here three years ago. On Friday, Fike parked her scooter along the dusty frontage road to watch people arrive in spacesuit costumes, foil hats and just-printed T-shirts declaring they had Stormed Area 51 (a bargain at $30). “I don’t think they’re looking for trouble,” Fike said. “But I know how to shoot a gun, and I’ve got weapons in my house.”
Where did all the people stay?
For days, interlopers have been streaming into town in camper vans and RVs, motorcycles and in some cases cramped two-door sedans that barely made the drive from Fort Worth, Texas. Since there are nearly no hotels for 50 miles, they set up tents in the dirt, bargained with residents for a bedroom in a trailer and rented $80-a-night (Dh294) camper spaces. Some just pulled onto a patch of empty land and slept under the stars.
Retirees who roam the country said they had detoured to Rachel and the nearby Hiko, Nevada, home to the Alien Research Center, where another weekend event featured music and speakers steeped in the search for intelligent life and the history and lore of the military base.
Was the raid a success?
Some organisers were discovering that online fandom didn’t necessarily mean people would burn a weekend driving into the Nevada desert. The music at the Hiko site was called off for Saturday after so few people showed up, the Las Vegas Review-Journal reported, though organisers said in a Facebook message that there would still be food stalls and alien discussions.
Twenty-somethings who had driven from Los Angeles said they were sick of hypercommercial concerts and festivals, and liked being able to pull into a dirt lot where music was blasting from stage and people were lining up for pancakes outside one of the few businesses in town, the Little Al’E’Inn. “We don’t have a Woodstock,” said Seth Carlson, 32. “I can’t tell my kids I didn’t make it to Area 51. This is history.”
Who said what?
We put on a safe event for the people that showed up. It was a gamble financially. We lost.
This is the most fabulous time … It’s been a great turnout, and it wasn’t the humanitarian disaster that everyone claimed it would be.
They’re hiding something. Maybe it’s aliens … Or the moon landing set.
Things are ramping down. The low turnout was a best-case scenario for a county with 5,200 residents in an area the size of Massachusetts.
I don’t think [the people storming Area 51] are looking for trouble. But I know how to shoot a gun, and I’ve got weapons in my house.