Nighttime in Nevada: Window to the Universe
A sign on the door of the A-lee-Inn (get it?) reads "Welcome UFO's and Crews," which is exactly what I'm looking for. I've heard UFO reports for years; I even have trusted friends who've seen 'em, but I never have. Maybe a weekend hanging around true believers and experts will change my luck.
Rachel sits on the edge of a top-secret government test site called Area 51. There have been several well-documented sightings of inexplicable phenomena in the night sky around this place, and each year thousands of tourists drive through to search for ET and buy outrageous souvenirs at the A-lee-Inn. This weekend is special though -- a gathering of folk with hand's on experience in things extraterrestrial.
As I'm eating an Alien Burger, I meet teacher, playwrite, and UFO poet Laurie Boxer. Laurie says she's sick of all the ridicule heaped people who believe in alien life. And as the daughter of a comedy writer for the Three Stooges, she knows that humor can be a powerful weapon.
Laurie's mind is still open even though she's never seen a UFO herself. Her interest began the night a retired Air Force Colonel told her a story right out of the "X Files." He'd had a few drinks, and it all sounded too bizarre to be true.
The conference itself takes place in a nearby Quonset hut outfitted with a tinny sound system. I listen to lectures with titles like "The Hidden Reptilian Empire," "The Military Involvement in Alien Abductions" and, my favorite, "Slime Falling from the Sky in America." The speakers are articulate and well-armed with footnotes and scores of fuzzy flying saucer photos. But the heavy lacing of conspiracy theory makes me squirm in my seat. I don't know about anyone else, but I just want to experience the twilight zone for myself. I'm looking at the sky when I leave the hall, and I accidentally bump into another UFO camper. Coming back to earth, I focus on her name tag.
As day fades to night Ima Redeemed and others retire to their RV's circled like wagons in a field. I spread out a tarp and climb into my sleeping bag, all the time looking up' hoping.
It's now the middle of the night, completely silent and dark except for a million sparkling pinholes in the cosmos. As I contemplate my inconsequence in the vast universe, the consequence of freezing to death takes over -- the goose-down in my bag has flown south. I can't take it any more so I retreat to the car to warm up.
I wish I had Laurie Boxer's patience, waiting 30 years to spot a UFO. Or maybe like Ima Redeemed, I just need more faith. But one thing I know for sure: I'm in the right place. The night sky is so big, so open, so clear. If there is a window to the universe this must be it.
From the intergalactic Open Road, I'm Hal Cannon for The Savvy Traveler.
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