RACHEL, Nev. — UFO enthusiasts began descending on rural Nevada on Thursday near the secret U.S. military installation known as Area 51, long rumored to house government secrets about alien life, with local authorities hoping the visitors were coming in peace.
Residents of Rachel, Nev., a remote desert town of 50 people about 12 miles outside the base, worried their community might be overwhelmed by unruly crowds turning out in response to a recent viral social-media invitation to “storm” Area 51.
The man behind the planned gathering, the date for which was never explained, worries about a “possible humanitarian disaster” in Rachel, which lacks a grocery store or even a gasoline station.
Nevertheless, dozens of visitors began arriving on Thursday outside the town’s only business — an extraterrestrial-themed motel and restaurant called the Little A’Le’Inn — parking themselves in cars, tents and campers. A fire truck was stationed nearby.
Area 51 was shrouded in secrecy for decades, stoking conspiracy theories that it housed the remnants of a flying saucer and the bodies of its alien crew from a supposed unidentified flying object crash in Roswell, N.M., in 1947. The U.S. government did not confirm the base existed until 2013, when it released CIA archives saying the site was used to test top-secret spy planes.
The documents, however, did not end suspicion about space aliens there.
Rachel and its surroundings have long celebrated their place in UFO lore as a tourist draw. A 98-mile road running through the area is dubbed the Extraterrestrial Highway, a purported hotbed of UFO sightings.
In June, California college student Matty Roberts posted a facetious Facebook invitation exhorting the public at large to run into Area 51 on foot to “see them aliens.”
When more than 1 million people expressed interest, the U.S. Air Force admonished curiosity seekers not to breach the gates at the military base, which it said is still used to test combat aircraft and train personnel.
Roberts then teamed up with Connie West, co-owner of the Little A’Le’Inn, to plan a music festival in Rachel dubbed “Alienstock” to entertain the expected crowds.
In early September, however, Roberts disassociated himself from the Rachel event, saying it was poorly organized and he feared it could devolve into a public safety crisis.
Roberts instead helped stage an alternative Alienstock set to take place Thursday night 150 miles away, in Las Vegas. Beer brand Bud Light signed on as a sponsor and designed limited-edition, green beer cans featuring alien heads.
About 40 miles east of Rachel, another small town, Hiko, Nev., planned a separate event called “Storm Area 51 Basecamp” at a gift shop dubbed the Alien Research Center. Organizers promised musicians, artists and “prominent ufologists” and by Thursday had sold 3,200 tickets, according to Linda Looney, manager of the shop.
“This whole thing has been a shock to this little community,” she said on Thursday, adding that organizers had hired 15 security guards and a private ambulance and ordered 80 portable toilets. “It’s going to be really cool. I’m excited.”
The expected influx of alien hunters prompted Lincoln County, encompassing Rachel and Hiko, to draft an emergency declaration that could be invoked if needed to call in help from the state.
Self-professed alien fan Stephen Ray said had traveled to the region with a friend from Colorado only to encounter a heavy law enforcement presence that was keeping visitors away from the base.
“I don’t think we’ll be able to storm it this time,” he said in Hiko.
The Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office said visitors should expect “a large presence of law enforcement.” Authorities urged everyone to bring ample supplies of food, water and fuel.
The official website of Rachel was likewise discouraging, and urged would-be revelers to stay away.
“If any event still happens it is going to be a pretty sad affair with no bands, no food, very little infrastructure and a lot of unhappy campers,” it said.