June, 1993



A recent revival meeting reveals equal portions of paranoia and a distinct paucity of hard evidence.

By Dennis Stacy

The idea arose shortly after the local utility company raised Joe and Pat Travis' electrical bill a whopping 80 percent. The Travises, proprietors of the Little Ale-Inn, operate the only watering hole within 50 miles of the Air Force's supersecret Groom Lake facility, also known as Dreamland. Their own dream was a benefit UFO conference of which they would receive the majority of proceeds, the better to serve as a "command center" and impromptu jumping-off point for UFO researchers in search of H-PACs‹so-called Human-Piloted Alien Craft.

Whether H-PACs exist or not is of course a controversial question, one of the more controversial within all of ufology. Its origins can be traced to one Bob Lazar, a young, bespectacled physicist who claims he once worked at an area 15 miles or so south of Groom Lake known as S-4. While thus employed, says Lazar, he saw nine alien flying saucers. Lazar's job was to help reverse-engineer the propulsion systems of same, which he claims employ an exotic Element 115 to generate gravity waves. At one point, Lazar received a sample of Element 115, or so he says, and managed to perform a few rudimentary experiments on same before it was presumably stolen back by the powers-that-be.

In other words, little hard evidence exists in favor of H-PACs other than Lazar's own anecdotal testimony to that effect, and the fact that hundreds of would-be believers have since descended on Rachel and environs, binoculars and telephoto lens in hands, who also claim to have seen marvelous lights and objects performing aerial feats of derring-do of which terrestrial technology, however advanced, is thought to be incapable. The focal point of these observations is the legendary "Black Mailbox," some 18 miles south of Rachel on Nevada State Highway 375 at the juncture of a dirt-road dead-ending at Groom Lake itself. Park here and watch the saucers come up, particularly "Old Faithful," an alleged H-PAC that purportedly appears on schedule every Thursday morning at precisely 4:45 a.m.

Granted such an intriguing background, the Little Ale-Inn benefit was almost a given. Where else, other than possibly Gulf Breeze, could one hope to attend a UFO conference and possibly see a real-life UFO at the same time? Originally, the "Ultimate UFO Seminar" is to be limited to 75 participants, but thanks to some zealous promotion the number of anticipated attendees rapidly swells to two to three times that, overwhelming the overnight accommodations of Rachel, a combination truck stop and speed bump on Highway 375 with a normal population of about 100, situated at an altitude of 4790 feet. Joe and Pat have a few RV hook-ups to rent, along with some trailer rooms, but it's apparent that latecomers will have to fend for themselves in terms of sleeping quarters.

I fly out on Friday morning, April 30, via Southwest Airlines and in the company of Jim Foster, a fellow MUFON member who operates a woodworking shop in San Antonio. Apprised of the anticipated room crunch by former Bostonian Glenn Campbell, author of Area 51: A Viewer's Guide and now a Rachel resident, we rent the largest van we can find, which turns out to be a Ford Aerostar with removable seats. Stocking up on supplies in Las Vegas is somewhat of a trick‹casinos, yes, grocery supermarket stores, no‹but eventually we're on our way, fortified with food, water and a cheap styrofoam ice chest. For the next two nights, van and sleeping bags will be our home away from home.

Outside Vegas, beyond Nellis Air Force Base, we turn off Interstate 15 on Highway 93 headed north. The road leads up through rocky mountains on either side but we soon find ourselves entering the Pahranagat Wildlife Refuge, a series of small, spring-fed lakes and ponds spotting the valley floor. Both snow and rain have been relatively plentiful this past winter and spring so the lower lying areas are brimming with water, sky-blue surfaces dotted with ducks and other water fowl. Other birds are awing as well. High overhead, little larger than black specks, first two, four, then six jet interceptors engage one another in high-speed mock combat, weaving in and out of the jagged mountain peaks like angry hornets.


Near a wide spot in the road called Crystal Springs we turn left on Highway 375, a nice two-lane blacktop that twists and turns up through the Pahranagat Range, culminating at Hancock Summit, elevation 5592 feet. Down the other side we descend into the Tikaboo Valley, site of the Black Mailbox and a dirt road leading to Groom Lake. Twenty miles away lies Rachel, just over a crest in the Groom Range called Coyote Summit. To our left, a smattering of snow still glistens atop Bald Mountain, the highest peak around and home to some sort of structure rumored to be a government observation post.

Rachel won't win any state tourism awards, but then it isn't supposed to. To the hundred or so who call it home, the scattered collection of corrugated trailers and recreational vehicles is just that and nothing more. It's the shadow cast by the rumors creeping out of Groom Lake that have put Rachel on the UFO map. And for the next three days its population will almost triple.

In fact, there isn't even a town hall in which to hold a meeting, let alone a UFO seminar, ultimate or otherwise. Instead, a surplus military tent has been set up some 20 yards west of the Little Ale-Inn, flanked by two portable toilets and fronting a dusty dirt parking area about the size of a football field. It's here that most attendees, ourselves included, will spend the next two days bundled in sleeping bags against the night desert air or stripped to T-shirts, shorts and sandals by day. On our arrival the wind is gusting upwards of 20 to 30 miles an hour.

No one promised us a rose garden, however, and as the weekend unfolds the makeshift tent seems more and more appropriate, both literally and symbolically. Probably not since the faithful gathered at Giant Rock in the late 50's and 60's has there been such a fundamentalist-oriented tent-meeting ostensibly devoted to the UFO subject. Before week's end a lot of air, both hot and cold, will blow through the tent's canvas flaps.

lazar Shadow physicist Robert Lazar/Photo by Dennis Stacy
The first order of business is registration, preceding a 5 p.m. buffet dinner to be supplied by Joe and Pat Travis and helpers at the Little Ale-Inn. The only scheduled speaker this evening is John Lear, to be followed on the morrow by luminaries like Bob Lazar and George Knapp. I ask for a press pass but am told, this being a fund-raiser, that no freebies are available. This seems fair enough‹the cost of admission includes four meals‹ so I fork over the $50 entrance fee. A final crowd-count is unavailable, but a good guess is that just under 200 paying customers will wander through Rachel before the weekend is out, some more satisfied with the proceedings than others.

The meals are uniformly good, the speakers less so, sometimes to the point of indigestion. What was originally intended as a benefit and information sharing seminar centered around Groom Lake, a.k.a. Area 51, S-4 and Dreamland, rapidly devolves into no-holds-barred Bible-thumping and conspiracy mongering. Conference moderators are Norio Hayakawa and Gary Schultz; Hayakawa believes that a "technology exchange" is definitely taking place just out of sight over the hills behind us and that the government should come clean about same. Schultz sees a much darker (and poisonous) spider web of conspiracy, with strands stretching in every direction, all controlled by a "shadow government" out of Washington. UFOs, in fact, are only the half of it.

Accordingly, both John Lear and Bob Lazar are introduced as incomparable patriots and national heroes whose every utterance is to be taken as the gospel truth, as opposed to private individuals whose statements, opinions and experiences might otherwise warrant outside verification and objective confirmation before being accepted as ultimate proof.

After providing a brief background to Area 51 lore, Mr. Hayakawa, a former regional director for the Civilian Intelligence Network, turns the microphone over to Mr. Schultz, who proves extremely reluctant to relinquish same. Introduced as a "firebrand crusader," he more than lives up to his advance billing, although the words evangelical and fundamentalist also spring to mind. Schultz directs a southern California-based group, Secret Saucer Base Expeditions, which sponsors regular guided tours to the area in question.


John Lear delivers either the most impassioned speech of his life, according to Schultz, or else he reads his standard paper in a somewhat lifeless monotone, depending on your point of view, mine happening to lean to the latter. During questions and answers, someone in the audience of under 200 asks Lear why he left MUFON shortly after hosting the 1989 Las Vegas Symposium, and Lear jokes "because I still believe in flying saucers and MUFON doesn't." Certainly Mr. Lear has never met a flying saucer story he didn't believe in, and they all come tumbling out inside the flapping tent on this cold, windy Friday night. A typical example: "In 1979, our alliance with the aliens became a disaster...44 U.S. scientists and approximately 66 members of Delta Force security personnel were killed by the aliens in an altercation at a jointly occupied U. S.-alien base north of Los Alamos, New Mexico...the exact cause of the altercation is not known, but the cause of death was listed as external head wounds. This effectively terminated the alien alliance for an indefinite time."

There's more, of course, much more beyond your basic alien exchange programs, underground bases, and H-PACs at S-4, including the 80 or more extraterrestrial races currently visiting our planet, the some 40 crashed flying saucers over the years, et cetera, all nicely rounded out with color slides and videos.

Someone described only as "Captain Eric" follows Lear and gives an interesting illustrated talk based on Paul Bennewitz's assertion of an underground UFO base on the Navaho Indian Reservation near Dulce, New Mexico. Other researchers have had a hard time locating and confirming the base according to Captain Eric, presumably because they've concentrated their searches on Archuleta Mesa. The real base, if there is one, is suspected to be under Archuleta Peak, a few miles to the west, and accessible only in the presence of a paid Indian guide. Captain Eric offers several aerial photographs of the area, including the site of a jet crash a few years back. The saucers are said to fly in and out of the peak via a hangar door in a limestone ledge, although ground expeditions have reportedly failed to turn up any concrete evidence of same.

Video presentations continue after midnight, but for us it has already been an extremely long day. So shortly after 2:30 a.m. Texas time we turn in, scrunched together in sleeping bags on the floor of the van, a half-moon lighting up the parking lot like a searchlight and washing out the stars overhead. At 4 a.m., cramped and cold, we step outside for a stretch. The moon is down now and the stars above blaze like icy diamonds, barely twinkling in the clear, still air. In the east Venus looms as bright as any flying saucer's landing lights.


Homestyle breakfast as served in the Little Ale-Inn the next morning couldn't have been more welcome; in fact, all four meals supplied by the Travises and helpers, laid out buffet-style atop a pool table, are excellent, whether washed down with coffee, iced tea or a cold beer. The Inn can't contain everyone present at any given meal, so there's considerable peak-time overspill, with people parking their plates and sitters anywhere they can.

Campbell Rachel resident Glenn Campbell/Photo by Dennis Stacy
Several of Saturday's scheduled speakers cancel at the last minute, including George Knapp, former anchorman at KLAS-TV, Las Vegas, the CBS affiliate that first aired Lazar's claims, and journalist Tony Pelham, leaving a slight scent of fizzled firecrackers. More and more the ultimate UFO seminar, with its jury-rigged auditorium, sound system and video screen, assumes the irrepressible atmosphere of an edge-of-town revival meeting. Blue noses and highbrows might have been appalled, but as the weekend wears on I find myself appreciating an almost perfect blend of form and function. If you're going to throw an evangelical flying saucer camp meeting, do it in the middle of the desert outside a "secret" Air Force base ‹inside a tent‹and do it right, snobbery, creature comforts, the loyal opposition and other considerations be damned.

To say the prevailing attire is casual dealer's choice would be an understatement; a three-piece suit would have looked as out of place here as a white bridal veil on a Man in Black. Both would have been dirt-brown in a matter of minutes, anyway, thanks to the powder-like dust thrown up by passing cars and a stiff breeze that keeps the Ale-Inn's American flag at full attention for most of the weekend. (Incidentally, if you're ever out this way, the Ale-Inn may have the best little UFO library in the state of Nevada.)


As far as undercurrents of anticipation are now concerned, the most ill-suppressed is the much awaited appearance of one Robert Scott Lazar, who could just as easily have passed himself off as Lazarus. In fact, with a beard, sandals and white robe he might have been able to pass himself off as Jesus Christ. When he does show up, well after noon, it's behind the wheel of a Corvette with his latest female flame. He's dressed in a white turtle-neck shirt (he later changes to an Indy 500 T-shirt) and dark jeans, and is immediately mobbed at the bar of the Inn, presumably by the merely curious, but also by some who apparently want to touch the man who touched the saucers, or at least who claims he has.

Lazar is a slight, youngish man with thick lips and glasses and a somewhat stylish swept-back Hollywood hair-do who seems genuinely uncomfortable at being surrounded by a curious crowd, as I would, too, were I to be mobbed everytime I stepped outside of my car or opened my mouth. If he's hawking his story he's definitely adopted a low-key marketing approach, although rumors are also rife of a large pending advance for a movie treatment of "The Bob Lazar Story." Scuttlebutt is that Lazar doesn't hold much truck with most UFO researchers these days, rarely makes public appearances of this nature, and agreed to only on this occasion in order to help raise funds for the Travises. Certainly there was no accompanying entourage selling his somewhat stilted homemade video tape. What he does do for the next two and one-half hours between sips of water is field questions from an eager audience, which tosses up its share of softball floaters and only a few curves.

Lazar's story can only be summarized here. A more detailed account can be found in several places, including Timothy Good's Alien Contact (a revised, updated version of the author's earlier Alien Liaison), which has just been published in this country this month by William Morrow and will be reviewed either in this same issue of the Journal or the next, space permitting.

Briefly, Lazar claims to have graduated from Cal Tech with a master's in electronics and from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) with a similar degree in physics. Unfortunately, confirmation of his academic career seems hard, if not virtually impossible, to come by. He says that shortly after graduation from MIT, "I believe in 1982," he went to work for the Los Alamos Laboratory in New Mexico. A few years later, now living in Las Vegas, Lazar is reportedly hired to help in the reverse engineering of nine alien flying saucers sequestered in high secrecy at an area called S4, situated near Papoose Lake, some 10 to 15 miles south of Groom Lake, i.e., Dreamland, the whole encompassed within the Nellis Air Force Range and Nevada Testing Site, the latter presumably under the auspices of the Department of Energy. From December of 1988 until April of the following year, Lazar spends only six or seven days actually on the job, that is, being flown out of Las Vegas on a 737 to Dreamland, loaded aboard a bus with blacked-out windows, and then transported to Area S-4. But what a week it was for ufology, giving rise to gushing fountains of unsubstantiated allegations about H-PACs, gravity waves, anti-matter generators and alien interventions on this planet dating back at least to the time of Christ, who may Himself have been but an extraterrestrial exercise in crowd control on a massive planetary and temporal scale.

As UFO stories go, Lazar's certainly ranks tops. Gary Schultz obviously has no trouble accepting it whole, and neither for that matter does John Lear. Both have been to the mountaintop and returned home believers. But it's also worth mentioning that the Las Vegas area sprouts high-stakes stories year-round in much the same way that bluebonnets blossom in Texas in the spring. My blackjack dealer at the Barbary Coast hit 21 on five cards, too. Does that mean I get to draw down on the dealer, that the entire state and federal governments of Nevada and the United States and all their employees somehow conspired to scoop up my measly $2 minimum wager? I suppose anything is possible, which is not necessarily the same as likely. For the record, Lazar's most credible piece of evidence is a single W-2 tax form from the "United States Department of Naval Intelligence" authorizing the withholding of $71.94 in social security from total wages of $958.11. Someone is getting off cheap.

That said, Lazar definitely comes across better in person than on video. Asked a question outside his expertise or experience, he simply responds "I don't know." Even an objective observer like Glenn Campbell remains reluctant to make a definitive pronouncement. "I've got a private opinion about Lazar," he admits, "but I think it's premature to express it. At the moment it's simply another UFO story and stories have a tendency of sorting themselves out one way or the other over time as data accumulates. They either get substantiated or discredited. A lie is a different matter altogether because you have to invent an entire world or complex scenario in order to back it up and maintain its viability. The more you lie the better you're chances of eventually being caught out. What impresses me about Lazar's story is that it remains so consistent and constant over time. I would have thought that he would have blown it big time by now if it were only a personal fabrication and nothing more."

I don't say it aloud, but the thought occurs to me: does ufology give rise to paranoia or is it a case of vice versa?

One also expects Lazar to be an enthusiastic supporter of every UFO case around; surprisingly, that doesn't prove to be the case. Asked about the darting lights shown on video tape taken by the space shuttle mission SST-48, Lazar answers clearly and unequivocally that he thinks the images are those of "dust particles close to the camera lens." What the Lord giveth the Lord taketh away, and for a moment it appears as if Lazar might be stripped of his special status. It's the only time the audience turns against him and seems openly skeptical.


After dinner, master of ceremonies Schultz continues to regale the assembled with tales of government perfidy, sprinkled with liberal quotations from the "only authorized version of the Bible," which just happens to be on sale outside. A small, admittedly minority segment of the crowd urges that Campbell be allowed to speak at this time, of which I am one. The moderator says he has a schedule to a&ere to, and all in good time. No printed schedule has been agreed to previously, so the imposition of one now is slightly surprising to say the least. Moreover, at least three featured speakers have already canceled, so it's doubly difficult to determine why Campbell isn't allotted a reasonable time at the podium. Instead, Schultz launches into an amplified diatribe against the shadow government and all its ills that begins with the death of David Koresh and the Branch Davidians outside Waco, circles to include the Stealth-2 bomber debacle and the Council of Foreign Relations and ultimately arrives at the doorstep of S4 and Dreamland, not to mention that of the Lincoln County Sheriff and Wackenhut, the civilian agency contracted to provide security.

I don't say it, but the thought definitely occurs to me: does ufology give rise to paranoia, or vice versa?

At one point someone asks what Waco and David Koresh have to do with flying saucers, and at another someone demands their money back. Meanwhile, to scattered applause, we leave for White Sides, the sole remaining overview‹following an 86,000-acre, 1986 government land grab‹overlooking Groom Lake and environs. Rumor has it that White Sides will be seized next and conceivably at any time, perhaps this very weekend! How long can we risk waiting?

The drive out from Rachel is uneventful; we encounter neither the dread Broncos nor the County Sheriff. We do find a new sign, however, at the White Sides turnoff, informing us that there is a highly restricted military installation to the west, and that photography of same from outside the area is strictly prohibited. (See cover.) Campbell tells us it hadn't been there a week before, when a video crew from WFAA-TV in Dallas went out to White Sides; the crew hadn't been in search of saucers, but the Aurora airplane. All they got was a few shots of a curious black, unmarked helicopter and a grand hassle. True to reported form, Wackenhut called the Sheriff, who drove up and demanded the crew's cameras and film, which they refused to hand over. Taken into nearby Alamo, they were allowed to call the station's lawyers, who argued that there was no sign prohibiting such photography at the time. In fact, the existing signs are a couple of miles on down the road, just prior to an occupied guard shack, but they hadn't driven that far. Sometime within the past week, the new sign had gone up, effectively eliminating that excuse for the moment. In the meantime, the video crew were allowed to keep their cameras and video cassettes.

We intend to start the climb before sunset and come down in the dark, but it's now nearly dark before we even set out walking. Fortunately, there is a half-moon overhead, eliminating the need for flashlights. The first third of the hike is easy going enough: simply follow the dirt road‹ignoring any yellow bricks‹until it dies out in a dry gully. But from there it's all uphill, probably a thousand feet or more, and at a grade that only gets steeper the higher we go. The clean-living Campbell and companion make it look fairly routine. Foster and I, both of whom have spent too much time in too many smoke-filled rooms, most of our own making, have a harder go of it and are soon huffing and puffing to keep up. It occurs to me more than once that chasing UFOs might be a younger man's game. I don't really expect to see any H-PACs cavorting in the night sky over Groom Lake, but I am determined to glimpse the base itself. Isn't this one of the reasons why we came to Rachel in the first place?

Well, to make a long climb short (be prepared to spend at least an hour and a half on the way up alone), we settle for a saddle ridge a few hundred feet below the secondary peak. The view from here isn't as panoramic as from the very top of White Sides, but we can still see the yellow and red lights of Groom Lake and one of the world's longest runway twinkling in the distance. Area S-4, the "secret saucer base," lies somewhere to the south.

We break out binoculars for a closer peek. "It's shut down for the weekend," Campbell says. "Usually there are a lot more lights." Campbell also points out the guard shack in the dark below us, noting that it's the first time he's ever seen it blacked out. The dirt road snakes past it and down to Groom Lake like a giant white worm. Maybe the guards have night scopes trained on us, even as we spy back at them? If so, they don't bother to call the Sheriff.

Saucer There is at least one landed flying saucer in Rachel - or will be shortly after this frame is rounded out with plywood/Photo by Dennis Stacy
We sit hunched on hard rocks in silence. The sweat exerted on our upward climb now coalesces in our arm pits like a cold wet sponge. A breeze blows up from the desert floor below, crests the ridge, and cools us to an extraordinary degree, urging us back downhill, to any activity that will burn calories. We resist as long as we can, beyond the realization that Dreamland is indeed dead for the weekend. It's a little disappointing to think that any self-respecting flying saucers are keeping to a 40-hour work week and not running up overtime on their shadow government salary. Eventually, we start back down, revealing the one indisputable truth about White Sides: it's cold on top at night, and a heckuva lot easier going down than it is coming up.

Other truths about the area are harder to come by even if you're the kind that likes to challenge hired government agents up close, which we weren't. We did talk to another weekend warrior who had "innocently" driven right up to the guard shack in his 4-wheel-drive vehicle, expecting polite directions to a nearby ghost town. Instead, he was promptly apprehended outside his car, frisked, and not allowed to retrieve his jacket from inside. For the next hour he was forced to stand in the freezing cold until a Wackenhut Bronco drove up from Groom Lake and finally escorted him back to the restricted line where he was turned over to the County Sheriff. Taken to Alamo, he was summarily fined $600 for violating the restricted area, a fine the judge later reduced to $35 for administrative costs.

You may or may not be so "lucky"; certainly the judge could probably make the fine stick if he wanted to, depending on what hour of the night he or she is rousted out of bed by the authorities. We also hear stories of people who claim that they were actually shot at by the guards, hassled by low-flying helicopters, or suffered mysterious flat tires in the proximity of the former. All said and done, this is not an area in which you want to break down.

Are you likely to see anything anyway? "It's a crap shoot," says Campbell, who admits he's seen a few strange lights in the night sky and may have once heard the Aurora crank up. "I've been living here for over three months now, and I still haven't seen anything that I could honestly and indisputably say was a human-piloted alien craft and nothing but." Campbell's own sightings can be found in his Area 51 Viewer's Guide, along with illustrations of the different kinds of aerial phenomena you can expect to possibly encounter, from the occasional "red darter" to floating "golden orbs." Photos of these and other objects can also be found on the walls of the Little Ale-Inn. The Guide itself can be purchased directly from Campbell for $15 plus $3.50 priority postage. (Glenn Campbell, HCR Box 45, Rachel, NV 89001.)

"To a large extent," Campbell adds, "what you see depends on what you anticipate seeing." There are at least three subcultures now descending on Rachel, he notes, "ufologists, aviation buffs and the military frequency freaks. They all set up in separate places, rarely interact with one another, and pretty much see what they came to see. If you hear from a ufologist that he saw an H-PAC last night, you can ask the aviation buff on the next hill what he saw and he might tell you Aurora, the TR-3A or some other Stealth platform. The radio freak won't care what he saw, he'll just tell you what frequency it was tuned to. Ideally, they ought to get together and share data more often."

Tomorrow the tent will be taken down and Rachel will pretty much return to normal. The sun will shine and set, and visitors from around the world will step up to the bar of the Little Ale-Inn and ask for a cold beer, Alien Burger, fries and directions to the Black Mailbox. White Sides will still be accessible to the public or it won't. Pictures will be taken and stories told. And maybe next year the ultimate UFO seminar to end all UFO seminars will be held once again, hopefully in a bigger tent with room for everyone.


HTML by Area 51 Research Center, 6/27/96.