The air was crisp and despite the freezing temperature it still somehow managed feel like it was burning my skin. I could hear the ice crunch beneath my boots as I finished loading the van. Jen and the kids were enjoying their breakfast inside the house while I fought back the frostbite from my fingers waiting for the van to warm up. It was a small price to pay to ensure we hit the road early enough to justify our trip by the infamous Area 51.
When I was younger, I loved watching unsolved mysteries on tv. It came on late at night. The first time I saw it, it was by pure laziness. I wasn’t really wanting to watch it but it was before tv’s had remotes. It was way too cold to drop the blanket and get off the couch. Plus, my brother had already declared the floor was lava if I remember correctly and there was no clear path to get to the tv to change the channel. Little did I know, that single lack of enthusiasm would still haunt me to this day.
History of Area 51
Area 51 has allegedly been a secret government research facility located in the middle of the Nevada dessert. Stories dating back to the 40’s indicate the government is researching extraterrestrial things out there. It wasn’t until roughly 2013 when the government officially acknowledged the existence of the facility.
Historically, the Groom Lake location 150 miles Northwest of Vegas was an abandoned air strip. It was originally used during WWII but later became a test site and research facility for the U2 spy plane during the cold war. It became a military installation during the early 50’s. The testing of the U2 plane is what allegedly lead to the increased reports of UFO sightings in the area.
Declassified but not Demystified
The declassified documents from the CIA indicated the U2 plane would normally fly at altitudes around 60,000ft. Most commercial airliners were in the 20,000 ft. range. Reports of unusual flying objects at altitudes greater than anything ever seen likely caused people to think it was from outer space as opposed to being a manned aircraft.
Regardless of what is actually housed at the facility, there are several things that never made sense to me. If you ever look on google maps at the facility, there isn’t any parking lot. It wasn’t until recently I found out about a secret terminal at the airport in vegas called the “Gold Coast”. According to Britannica, it apparently has a rather large parking lot and is the location where all Area 51 employees park, board an unmarked plane, and fly to and from the facility at Groom Lake… Allegedly.
Look at the size of the parking lot compared to that of the regular airport. Seems a bit excessive for the facility seen at Groom Lake on the same google maps view. In other words, that is alot of people for such a tiny facility in the dessert.
The Long Way Back
Even with the all the mystery surrounding the place, I wanted to make the drive myself. Something about seeing the area in person just seemed like a fun thing to do. My wife had put up a little bit of a fight despite me asking multiple times to make the trip. I eventually wore her down and she gave the green light to take the detour. Normally the drive from my fathers house in Utah takes roughly 9 hours. This new route would take us 13 hours.
The basic route was to head down the 14 and connect to the 56 in Cedar City. The 56 would then turn into the 319 once we crossed over into Nevada. We would then connect to the 93 south until we finally found our Extraterrestrial highway, the 375. This would be the ultimate goal of the detour, but unfortunately meant we still had a ways to go to get home. The 375 would eventually connect to the 6, then 95 south at Tonopah. The final stretch was to head west on the 266 and 168 through part of the sierras before hitting the 395.
We were specifically trying to hit certain spots as waypoints. Despite the length of time behind the wheel, it was a much more enjoyable drive than taking the 15fwy through vegas. There are ample services available at the various waypoints, but you definitely want to plan out the trip based on your food and fuel requirements. There is alot of nothing in between the stops and you don’t see much traffic if you break down.
Heading west down highway 14 was a well known drive for us. We often take this highway when visiting my father. It offers beautiful views and is a well maintained road even in the winter. It can be interesting at night though due to migrating deer. I never understood why deer feel the need to jump in front of vehicles in the middle of the night, but it happens quite a bit on this highway. If you do manage to dodge the wildlife playing frogger, there is a great view overlooking the southern valley.
Passing through Cedar City is pretty straight forward. It is a small hub along the 15 freeway that boasts a tiny airport serviced by connecting flights out of Salt Lake for Delta. It has its own type of charm but doesn’t really seem to find its identity in rural America and isn’t quite a full on city. The city is relatively quiet, safe, and clean. It always feels like the perfect place to get gas and food before diving head first into the chaos of the world. The 56 leads west for miles out of town. There isn’t much to speak of except for the sparse population and open plains before heading into the mountains again.
Winding down the 56 through elevation changes was a fun way to each the kids about different environments. You could see the terrain and foliage change every few miles or so. The road continued on for an eternity while I began to question my plan for getting gas in “the next town” when I probably should have gotten it in Cedar.
Just when I was about to start doing the math on fuel economy and estimated range, the road opened up only to literally dead end into a gas station. Coasting on fumes, I prayed it had diesel. The station itself seemed like something out of a horror film. The paint was peeling, lights flickering, and the sign that was supposed to read “Shell” was broken and missing the “S”. It seemed conveniently distressed and uncomfortable in our time of need.
Jen and the kids were oblivious to the internal animosity and flashbacks of the movie deliverance playing through my head as I pulled up to the pump. Ironically, the advertisement on the pump began playing banjo music as I nervously pumped gas. Jen and Uncle Scott decided to head inside to get some hot chocolate while I continually scanned the surrounding area.
We were able to escape without difficulty. There was nothing really wrong with the location but I can’t shake the feeling that something wasn’t right with it either. We jumped back in the van and headed south. A few miles down the road was the town of Caliente. I made a mental note that next time I would stop for gas here as we passed through the town.
Alien Research Center
After Caliente, the road was easy and mellow. It took a while to get to the next turn but there was no question where it was. It was marked by a giant 50′ metal alien standing in front of a hangar in the middle of a dirt field. The road itself had a funny Y turn to it that did make it difficult to know which way to go until logic and deductive reasoning takes over and your brain says “yeah… that giant metal alien is probably the right way to go.” Instinctively we turned and headed west into the unknown.
We pulled off the road at the hangar to investigate. It is a small store filled with trinkets and local legends about aliens and ufo sightings. It’s definitely worth the stop just to see it. The walls are filled with old photos of UFO memorabilia and alleged true sightings. We had to purchase a souvenir for the kids.
When I had originally discussed the trip with Jen she was adamant that it was a terrible idea. Her best argument was that the kids were too young and didn’t understand what aliens were. I countered by explaining that our parents subjected us to countless hours of useless tourist traps and we turned out ok. It wasn’t until we ventured into this particular shop that Jen began to smile and laugh with the kids at the oddities surrounding us.
The Call of the Road
After everyone had their fill of the strange and interesting world of the Alien Research Center we continued onward with the journey. We were effectively on the infamous extraterrestrial highway and heading straight towards Area 51. The road itself was barren and revealed endless dirt for miles.
We were able to find the classic road sign tagged up with stickers but unfortunately did not stop for photos. The best laid intentions went to waste because the road sign came and went by so fast we barely realized it was there. If you are wanting an iconic photo with the road sign, I would recommend stopping at the one on the junction between the 375 and the 6. It is much easier to find and doesn’t go blowing by you at 70mph.
Reality of Area 51
Driving several hours out of the way to see a mysterious government facility that you cannot even get close enough to see is a strange concept. We embarked on the journey fully aware that we could not get close enough to the facility to actually “see” it but we wanted to make the trek anyway. I can honestly say, it was totally worth it. Unequivocally and without any hesitation, the experience alone was worth it.
The road is well maintained and the scenery is actually interesting. Once you pass the general location of the facility you still have to navigate your way by the Tonopah test facility and the little known China Lake research facility. This whole trip is littered with a mysterious history that few people will ever get to experience first hand. It is something that our kids will hear about as they age and now they can reflect on their first hand experience of actually being there.
We did not see anything flying in the air. No UFO’s were spotted. No secret experimental aircraft caught on film. What we did find is that as a family, we all really enjoyed the time we spent talking about the mysteries and legends over the years. It brought genuine curiosity to the kids and kept them engaged during a long drive. They were full of questions and excited to explore the unknown.
I will leave this area with one final thought… I did not see a single bird for hours on that stretch of road. There was an occasional cow but nothing else. It struck me as odd that there were no birds.
You would think that the trip would have peaked at Area 51 and the rest would just be a mundane drive down a dusty road back to the house. However, the drive home continued to get more interesting. We stopped in Tonopah to fill up with gas before heading south on the 95. Originally we had planned to stop off in Goldfield and take a look at the International Car Forrest but the roads are dirt and were covered in snow. We made it all the way there only to skip the location due to the amount of snow on the ground.
Goldfield is an old mining community with true rural American Charm. The buildings are very reminiscent of the old west and perhaps even a little ghost townish. We will have to take another trip this way to explore it in more detail. From our passthrough, it definitely seemed like it warrants more time there.
Reaching New Highs
The road home was blocked by some tiny hills you may have heard… the Sierras. We still had to climb up and over them to reach the 395 and head down through the central valley. We had a choice of either taking the 266 over to Big Pine or the 374 through Death Valley.
At the time, Lily was sitting up front with me. We were chatting about various outfits for her LOL dolls. I left the decision up to her on which way we should go. Lily liked the sound of Big Pine better than Death Valley. I imagine had it been Josh up front it would have been a different outcome. At Lily’s instruction we set off down the 266 and headed towards Big Pine.
The road over the Sierras was incredible. I wish Jen wasn’t sleeping for most of it because I don’t have enough photos to do it justice. The road snaked its way through snow capped mountains with panoramic views of valleys that would have created a fatalistic feeling in the original wagon trains that braved the hills. I sometimes think about what it would be like to push a wagon train over a mountain like this only to see a dozen more waiting for you on the other side.
The Roads Wisdom
I suppose that is what life really is though. We work so hard to overcome obstacles only to find more on the other side. Our only real reward is that momentary view we have from the top where the world has a sense of beauty amongst the chaos sprinkled randomly across the horizon. We are all fully aware that the ride down will be enjoyable but climbing back out of that valley will be arduous and difficult.
It is the concept of finding joy in the challenge that evades most of us. It is easy to forget the horizon when you are stuck in the valley. Life seems to get much smaller when you focus on what you can see. However, if all you ever see is the impossibility of climbing out of a hole, you will never know the joy of the accomplishment. Like the Swami, Paramahansa Yoganda wrote in his book, The Divine Romance, to change your life, you must first change your mind. Find happiness in the Journey and your destination will never disappoint.