Saturday, Sept. 21, 2019 | 2 a.m.
RACHEL — Down the vast and narrow Extraterrestrial Highway in rural Nevada, the burnt amber sunset was blurred as dancing silhouettes in the distance kicked up dust to the sound of electronic music.
On any other day, about 50 residents inhabit this modest town about 150 driving miles northwest of Las Vegas. On Friday night, they welcomed hundreds of human visitors for the "Alienstock" event.
What began as a viral meme on Facebook this summer about storming Area 51 — the mythical, secretive and military installation in the Nevada Test and Training Range facility — turned instead into festivities this weekend in the tiny Lincoln County towns of Rachel and Hiko.
Tourists from across the world came in peace, and some even in alienware. There were no arrests — rather, everyone was overly nice and in a celebratory mood. The gates to Area 51, subject of lore and conspiracies, were adequately guarded.
In Hiko, where the “Storm Area 51 Basecamp” festival took place behind the popular Alien Research Center gift shop, Noemi Barajas’ tattoo needle buzzed and dug into Jackson Carter’s skin.
At the mobile tattoo shop, Carter, 28, saw a drawing of a cow being abducted by a spaceship and decided to permanently mark the occasion by getting a $51 tattoo. A morning radio show host in Salt Lake City, Carter said he was dared by a co-host to attend, and he wasn’t one to turn down a challenge, so he dragged a friend along.
Like all attendees, he learned about the event on social media and was eager to host an online poll for his listeners to guess which tattoo he’d gotten. To fit in, he donned a tin foil hat, a favorite fun costume with fans of conspiracies, he said.
However, “you end up cooking your head like a baked potato,” he joked.
Standing in a long line at the gift shop, John Gonzalez wore a hat with an alien design themed around the festivities. He fondly remembers the Art Bell radio show that got him into extraterrestrial conspiracies during his childhood.
Gonzalez wanted to experience the region, which he said is the base for “everything paranormal.” He walked to one of the gates to the military facility where friendly guards let attendees take photos, and he reached across the restricted area and dug his hand into the sand.
As to the trip, he said, “I haven’t seen anything paranormal yet, but maybe if we stay here long enough, we might see something interesting.”
Also outside the shop, Noah Davenport, 13, sported a tin foil hat, and alien sunglasses and antennae. He was giddy as he described a video his father had filmed earlier at one of the military facility’s gates. He too floated his hand across the restricted area.
Noah and his father, Nathan Davenport, of Orem, Utah, regularly spend time together, and this road trip was no different. They arrived Thursday night and were camping behind their pickup. On Friday, both wore matching shirts themed around the event.
Also matching were Jason and Elizabeth Donnelly. At their Jeep outside the festival in Hiko, the married couple prepared their bubble-wrap costumes. Both fans of the paranormal and the desert, the event was “wacky” and “goofy” like they expected it to be, they said. “A new community,” she said.
Jason Donnelly is a visual effects artist who recently has been working in sci-fi films, so the road trip was fitting. Inside the venue, the smiling couple in bubble wrap carried around an inflatable alien.
James Shestina and his friends were selling alien-themed shirts at Hiko, a lengthy distance from their home in Dayton, Ohio.
Shestina is a farmer who owns an online T-shirt business on the side. His wife was on a camping trip this weekend, and he needed something to do. So, he gathered his friends, manufactured shirts, flew to Las Vegas and drove to rural Nevada.
At $20 apiece for the alien-themed shirts, they were only looking to cover the cost of the trip, he said. After all, at the end of the month, he’ll be back to work on his 320 acres of corn field.
Kenneth Loehr, 19, and his mother were on their ninth day of a road trip across the U.S. in which they were touring colleges. He couldn’t pass the opportunity to include the Area 51-themed festivities in the itinerary and began planning to include it about a month ago. “I had to come to this,” he said. “I love it ... it’s like the Woodstock for my generation basically.”
Vendors at the Hiko festival, Jennifer and Gary Graves bickered and teased each other. The married couple drove from Colorado to sell goods from a mine they own. When “popped,” the stones display crystals inside.
Playing along with the theme, they named their colorful creations “Alien Poop” and “Alien Embryos.”
The Graves are retired and embarked on the long road trip for fun. Jennifer believes in aliens, Gary does not, but it didn’t hold them back from playing along with each other. “She’s always loved it,” he said, about his wife’s fascination with the paranormal.
Asked if they thought Area 51 contained aliens, Gary Graves responded with a resounding “no,” while Jennifer joked that the government probably moved them in anticipation of the event. In a more serious tone, she said, “As a matter of fact, there’s been a lot of wonderful technology that’s come out of Area 51.”
At the end of a 50-mile drive from Hiko to Rachel, northwest on Extraterrestrial Highway, hundreds of attendees camped and partied off road in the desert. Electronic music played from one stage and a rock band played on another. Volleyball players looked like silhouettes as the venue was low-lit.
And there they were in the middle of the grounds, Noah and Nathan Davenport, father and son taking it all in.