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Open Road: Window to the Universe

If you want to gamble, head to Las Vegas. But if you want to see an unidentified flying object, or UFO, head to Rachel, Nevada, 100 miles north of the gambling mecca. Rachel is no more than a wide spot in the road, but it's a very special road. This lonely highway is listed on maps as the extraterrestrial highway, and each year Rachel attracts the curious -- believers and tourists alike -- particularly on Memorial Day weekend...for the annual UFO/Friendship Camp-In. More from Hal Cannon of The Open Road.

Nighttime in Nevada: Window to the Universe
by Hal Cannon for the Open Road

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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.

Boxer: "You've come to our meeting, and so I suppose, you want to find out about UFO's. You want to sort out the false from the true, so just have a seat. I'll explain it to you."

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: "Are we alone? We'd know if we could. But we're not giving up, the question's too good. Are we alone? Well one thing is clear. If your mind is still open, you're not alone here."

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.

Laurie: "However, a short time later, I was picked up by the FBI and questioned in detail and for hours about this tiny little conversation I had regarded as meaningless, so I guess my government, thru my own tax dollars, convinced me this is real...by paying so much attention to this."

Lecturer: "In the early 50's, the CIA had an involvement there, and there were runways..."

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.

Ima: "Ima Redeemed."

Hal: "Ima Redeemed. Now this is a new name for you isn't it?"

Ima: "Yes...I was baptized on October 22, 1995...and the holy spirit gave me this name while I was walking through the forest in Oregon."

Hal: Have you seen UFO's?

Ima: "Yes, when I was in Arkansas in 1984 and I was looking up at a perfectly blue sky because I was laying down next to the pool and just sunbathing and all of a sudden I saw this shiny object in the sky, which I thought at first was a jet, it kept traveling and suddenly it stopped in mid-air and made a right-angle turn and zipped off."

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.

Hal: "I'm cold..I'm hungry. The stars are so bright here. I've looked everywhere and I haven't seen one UFO!"

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.

On the Web: UFO Info

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Art Bell, late-night Nevada talk show host

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