Monday, Sept. 16, 2013 | noon
Population: 54 per the 2010 census, others estimate around 100
Location:On Highway 375, about 150 miles from Las Vegas via car or 52 miles from Alamo.
GPS: 37.645974°, -115.745736°
Elevation: 4,835 feet
Rachel is a relatively new town, started in the 1970s by a farmer. It boomed for a little while thanks to a nearby tungsten mine on Tempiute Mountain and was first known as Tempiute Village and later Sand Springs. It was renamed Rachel after the first – and only – child born in the Sand Spring Valley. (She was born in 1978 but sadly passed away two years later due to an illness in Washington state.) The town boomed for a while the mine was open but then contracted after it closed.
That probably would be the end of the story for Rachel if it hadn’t been for a man named Bob Lazar. He said he had been a government scientist and worked in an underground base south of Rachel, near Area 51. He said he worked on real UFOs.
So, now Rachel is famous for being, well, Rachel, the town closest to the UFOs and the secretive Area 51. Yes, that Area 51. Groom Lake. Dreamland. The site that the government said didn’t exist, at least until recently. That Area 51. Don’t ask what happens there. It’s secret. Very, very secret. Some people say the government just tests spy plans. Others, like Lazar, say the government is working on extraterrestrial crafts.
What’s the truth? We can’t help you on that. Despite the government’s recent acknowledgment that the place exists, it’s not giving tours, and trying to sneak on base isn’t wise.
There are sensors in the ground around the site that alert the ever-present guards, who are known as “cammo dudes.” It’s something of a game between the people who want to see what’s going on and the cammo dudes. Helicopters dispatched from the area have also been known to fly low and sand blast people who get too close. But cross the line and it’s no longer a game. They’ll arrest you and hit you with a heavy fine. A British TV crew found itself detained and had its equipment confiscated. (And by the way: Those signs that say the guards are authorized to use force aren’t for show. That’s a real warning.)
In Rachel, residents have tried to capitalize on the alien theme. Like the Little A’Le’Inn, a small restaurant/bar/motel with some RV hookups that also has plenty of alien-related merchandise. And the makers of the 1996 movie “Independence Day,” which was centered on Area 51, put a time capsule in town to be opened in 2050.
So, now people go out to Rachel to see whatever there is to see. Perhaps they’re looking for an encounter. Of course, the most typical encounter with a non-human species happens on the highway when a stray cow decides to see what’s on the other side. They are big and they may not move – cows aren’t the brightest nor are they the swiftest. So be careful, especially at night. Cow vs. car never ends well for either side.
Beyond all of the alien chasing, there are several ghost towns in the area, and there's camping and hiking. Rachel is a central place to launch expeditions to sites like Lunar Crater to the north and the Mount Irish Wilderness Area to the southeast.This website, billed as the official website of Rachel, has some very good information - see the camping section and the link for nearby places for a good rundown.
The future: What you see is what you get. It’s hard to see much more without a mining boom or a big project, like a prison, being built. Rachel’s place on the highway helps as a convenient stop, but there isn’t much traffic. Not that people are asking for more – they like the quiet. How quiet? In 2012, the state Transportation Department estimated that 40 vehicles a day went on Highway 375 near Groom Lake Road.
If you go: There is no gas station in Rachel. The nearest gas is 45 miles to the south in Ash Springs or 110 miles northwest in Tonopah, so make sure you gas up before you go. If you want to see the road that leads to Area 51, there’s Groom Lake Road, between mile markers 34 and 35. This is where the famous “black mailbox.” (It’s now white.) You might see a white bus ferrying employees to the site. Up near Rachel, there’s Back Gate Road, which also leads to the site. It’s called Back Gate Road. On either road, people have been able to get near the guard shacks, but remember, you’re not going to be welcomed. You’ve been warned. And watch out for cows.
On the Web:
For general information, see this site. It has links, photos and coordinates of various sites nearby, including ghost towns of Tybo and Reveille.
The Dreamland Resort page is a vast repository of information, including photography and visitors' trip reports. If Area 51 interests or fascinates you, it's worth a look. There is also helpful information for visiting the area.
The creative mind behind lazygranch.com has plenty of observations and photos pertaining to Area 51, the military, aviation and the desert.
Glenn Campbell spent several years in the 1990s living in the desert and researching Area 51. He was the authority on all things about the base. Although he has long since moved away and on to other projects, he occasionally posts on his Area 51 Loose Ends blog and has made his '90s viewers’ guide, which still has valuable information, available free online.