Area 51, the mysterious military installation on the edge of the Mojave desert in Nevada, has fascinated people for decades. But that fascination may come to a head as thousands of people are expected to descend upon the site to take part in a viral event called “Storm Area 51.” KUNR’s Paul Boger reports from Rachel, Nevada.
It started as a joke.
Created by Matty Roberts, a bored, college student from Bakersfield, California, attendees of the Storm Area 51 event was supposed to rush the gates outside the base and see if aliens were inside.
It didn’t take long for the U.S. Air Force to put the kibosh on that. And the supposed raid morphed into a kind of weekend festival in the desert.
Here’s the thing: no one knows how many people might show up to an alien and UFO themed festival.
Ok, so Jim Galeary of Sparks set me straight.
"It's unidentified aerial phenomenon, which is the new nomenclature for UFO," Galeary explained.
We chatted outside his tent as he set up his laptop and gear. He runs a website that tracks UFO sightings. As one of the first people there, he seen the number of people coming to the event grow steadily filling the vast empty lots with a patchwork of tents.
"There was already people here from Australia, from Poland," Galeary said. "There was people from Canada and Alaska. I mean, people from all over the world are looking to find out some stuff."
Looking around, cars are pulling into the hamlet from across the country. License plates from California, Idaho, Florida, New York keep rolling in.
Connie West is the owner of the Little A’Le’Inn. The restaurant, bar and motel is really the only business in Rachel, Nevada, a town with a population of 50-60 people.
"I had to reach out to other states to get the portajohns," West said. "Medical is covered. Security is here. Everything that everybody said was not going to happen, and I said it was going to happen, is happening."
She says her permit is good for as many as 10,000 visitors. One thing’s for sure. That bored college kid from Bakersfield won’t be one of them. Citing concerns over safety and logistics, he’s moved his party to Vegas.
But law enforcement doesn’t seem to be taking any chances.
A few miles south of Rachel, along a dirt road with no signs, are the gates to the infamous Area 51. No military personnel can be seen, but outside, several law enforcement officers from various agencies keep guard. A chain-link fence and razor wire separate civilians from the mysteries inside.
But none of the festival-goers that I spoke to seem the least bit interested in the actual storming part of the event. Most say they’re just looking forward to a chill time in the desert, something more akin to Burning Man than a raid.
Van Ray and Simon Roybao of Phoenix and Las Vegas respectively met at the event. They say that’s what they were hoping for.
But will it be worth it to everyone else?
According to officials with the Lincoln County District Attorney’s Office, the event may cost taxpayers as much as $250,000, with most of it going to pay for the increased law enforcement and other first responders.
To offset that tab, some businesses, like the handful of gas stations and motels along the path, may see an increase in visitors.
But Leilani Mize, who works at one of those gas stations in Alamo, a town about 45 minutes down the road from Rachel, says business hasn’t been that great so far.
"About normal traffic coming through. We had to send home one person because we thought we were going to busier, but we weren't," she explained."
County officials say if they’re unable to recoup their expenses, they may take legal action against the event’s original organizers and Facebook to get their money back.