The most well known secret military base in the world is Area 51. Its a part of Edwards Air Force Base situated within the Nevada Test and Training Range. Its located 83 miles northwest of Las Vegas, and about 30 miles from the tiny town of Rachel, population 54. Area 51 is a six-mile-wide by 10-mile long test facility for top-secret military aircraft situated near the dry bed of Groom Lake. Rumors persist that Area 51 has a much more sinister purpose. Conspiracy theorists believe the secret facility houses several alien spacecraft and perhaps even a few alien bodies.
In 1955 the United States Air Force bought the land and designated it Area 51 on a map to provide a secure place to test the U- spy plane. The dry lake bed surrounded by mountains gave the air force a perfect airstrip. The CIA would not concede the existence of the base until 2013. When the official history of the U-2 project was published it described Area 51 as "the new facility in the middle of nowhere."
The U-2 was not the only strange aircraft in the southern Nevada skies. During the 1950s the United States procured several Russian MIG fighter jets. The Air Force used them in mock dogfights with American fighters. The D-12 reconnaissance drone, the A-12 reconnaissance aircraft, and the B-2 stealth bomber and other stealth aircraft were all tested there.
In the mid-1950s it was believed that the maximum height any airplane could attain was 40,000 feet. At that time commercial airliners did not fly over 20,000 feet. So when objects appeared in the skies at 60,000 feet or more, speculation developed that these strange objects were "flying saucers" from outer space. Of course, the Air Force could not admit to flying secret aircraft. So they turned out explanations ranging from high-altitude weather balloons to natural phenomena. This further fueled the stories of aliens and spacecraft.
In 1947 an unidentified object crashed near Roswell, New Mexico. Air Force, public information officer Walter Haut, stated that the object was a "flying disc." The Air Force quickly disavowed the statement. However, rumors continue to spread to this day that an alien spacecraft and several alien bodies were recovered and taken to Area 51. Ufologists speculate that the alien craft is still lying in a hanger at the research facility.
A 1989 interview with a man who claimed to have seen nine alien spacecraft in Area 51 hangers became an international news story. Bob Lazar said he had worked at a location called S-4 south of Groom Lake where he alleged that hangars had been built into the side of a mountain to house the nine flying saucers. The interview has spawned numerous books and TV documentaries, and it has drawn the curious to southern Nevada in the hundreds of thousands who want to travel the Extraterrestrial Highway.
Other than a chain link fence and some scary No Trespassing signs, Area 51 seems like just another piece of Nevada desert. Beyond the boom gate, however, an array of cameras keep watch on every angle. On a nearby hill, a white pickup truck with tinted windows maintains silent surveillance. For the ultra-curious who just can't get close enough, be cautious. Trespassing onto Area 51 for any reason will result in arrest and heavy fines. Area 51 is in a remote desert, therefore be sure to stock up on water, snacks, and gasoline. There is little if any cell phone or GPS available so it is a good idea to have a physical map.
In 1996 the Nevada legislature named a stretch of state road 375, which runs near Area 51, as the Extraterrestrial Highway. Tourists and UFO enthusiasts flock down this lonely highway to the small town of Rachel, located near the midpoint of the highway, to visit the Alien Research Center and the A'Le'Inn, where they find food, lodging, and alien goodies. The slogan at the A'Le"Inn is "ETs and earthlings welcome always." Proprietors of the inn warn visitors to fill their gas tanks before heading to Rachel because there is no gas available there.
Area 51 is a huge destination for those interested in geocaching, where people hide containers, called "geocaches," for other people using a device equipped with a Global Positioning System to find. There are more than 2,000 geocaches along the Extraterrestrial Highway. To the west of the base is the Alien Cathouse, billed as the only alien themed brothel on the globe.
At one time there was an inconspicuous hill about 12 miles from Area 51 where the public could get a fairly good view of the activities of the base. But soon the security perimeter was expanded to include the hill, and a fence cut off access to the mound. Now the closest observation point is Tikaboo Peak, at more than 7,000 feet in height it gives the best public view of Area 51 but is 25 miles away.
A group that studies Google Earth images have concluded that there is ongoing construction of new buildings at Area 51. The base has reportedly expanded its testing of futuristic aircraft to include directed energy weapons, improved stealth technology, lasers, electronic warfare systems, and next-generation drones. But the only thing most of the public will ever see today is the not-so-secret commuter airline, call sign Janet, that transports workers from Las Vegas's to the base.