The New York Times / Isaac Brekken
Monday, July 22, 2019 | 2 a.m.
When Connie West first saw a fake Facebook event calling for people to “Storm Area 51,” she didn’t take it too seriously. Then, her phone started ringing.
“It doesn’t stop, our phone won’t stop ringing,” said West, the co-owner of the 10-room Little A’le’Inn in Rachel, just outside Area 51. “I had 112 missed calls overnight.”
Little A’le’Inn, which also includes a restaurant and bar, is one of few local businesses in the 7.1-square-mile town of 54 residents. But Rachel’s proximity to the Area 51 site has earned it modest celebrity status among aviation and UFO enthusiasts, and the inn is mostly occupied year-around, West said. Rooms are $63 a night.
The prank event for Sept. 20 has attracted more than 1 million people on Facebook and calls for everyone to “Naruto run” into the site at 3 a.m. The event jokes, “they can’t stop us all.”
“Naruto run” refers to the running style of the characters in the popular anime series “Naruto.”
West “giggled” when she first saw the joke event. But now it’s not a laughing matter. Communities outside the mysterious desert site are now gearing up for what they predict will be an uptick in visitors that weekend.
“It’s insane. Not that I’m not complaining,” she said. “It’s a little scary to think that many people could descend on a town of 54; how can you prepare?”
The Alien Research Center, a gift shop along Extraterrestrial Highway and about 40 miles outside Area 51, is also a popular stop for alien enthusiasts. But recently, the store has been bombarded with phone calls and media attention since the fake event went viral, store employee Linda Looney said.
Looney initially thought the event was ridiculous and figured most of the people who signed up were “just a bunch of wannabes and followers.”
But now she’s concerned over the uptick of visitors the shop may could have on the weekend of Sept. 20. The business, which offers areas for dry camping, has seen a large number of camping requests since the event was posted.
“I don’t think it’s just a passing fancy,” she said.
Lincoln County, which houses the site, has seen rising tourism over the past few years, spokesman Ben Rowely said.
“With mountain bike trails coming online and increasing outreach efforts, visitation is growing, but we’re certainly comparatively small,” he said. “There are only about 184 hotel rooms in the county.”
That’s why Lincoln County Sheriff Kerry Lee is concerned about the predicted uptick in visitors. His department has only 26 sworn officers, including jail staff.
“I think the vast majority of people will probably never show,” he said. “But if merely 500 or 1,000 show up, we could have issues.”
These issues include traffic, parking and general rowdiness, Lee said. And, of course, the elephant in the room: visitors actually trying to storm the site.
“I think this started out as a joke but there may be enough people taking it seriously and it could be a problem,” he said. “Someone is going to get hurt and people may go to jail. It’s not anything to joke about.”
Officials at Nellis Air Force Base don’t see the event as a laughing matter either. The base said in a statement that the Air Force is aware of the Facebook event and that “any attempt to illegally access the area is highly discouraged.”
While the number of visitors coming to Lincoln County on Sept. 20 is still unknown, West said she plans to stock her bar and restaurant. She may even clear some more land outside her business to accommodate for more camping sites.
“We will figure it out,” she said. “That’s all we can do for now.”