RACHEL, Nevada — This tiny, magical place beckons interlopers as the "Extraterrestrial Highway" grants access to what has been described as a rugged, stark and wildly beautiful state. The town was named after Rachel Jones, a little baby girl born here on Feb. 15, 1978.
I've always felt drawn to Rachel, Nevada, and I've long felt a special personal bond with Rachel. She died from respiratory problems at the age of three after moving to Washington state, perhaps due to complications from the eruption of Mt. Saint Helens. Rachel died on May 24, 1980. I spent many of my early years in and out of oxygen tents while battling asthma. And there were times that my loving parents who had adopted me were told I would not make it through the night. But through their prayers, I somehow survived.
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About 114 years prior to the birth of Rachel Jones, the state of Nevada came into the union on Halloween of 1864. Some say Nevada was rushed into statehood in an effort to garner three electoral votes needed for the reelection of President Abraham Lincoln. Formerly a part of the Spanish Empire and "New Spain," and later a part of Mexico, Nevada had been packaged into "Alta California." Some cite the year 1769 as vital, while pulling out the name Gaspar de Portola from the annals of history. Others cite the splitting of the "Two Californias" in 1804 as an important development in the region. Of course, back then little exploration and colonization was possible due to various geographical, climatic, logistical and other factors. The area was home to various American Indian tribes, including the Ute. In 1826, Jedediah Smith headed an expedition into Nevada.
After the victory in the Mexican-American War of 1848 (also known as "Mr. Polk's War"), Nevada became a part of the Utah Territory. In 1859, the Comstock Lode was unveiled. By 1861, Nevada was carved away from the Utah Territory. Nevada is also known as "The Battle Born State" as it came into being during the American Civil War. (West Virginia was also added to the Union around this time.) By the year 1900, after various booms and busts, the population of Nevada sat at 40,000 — a typical crowd for a baseball game at Yankee Stadium.
Not many people realize the name Nevada means "snow covered." (One might think of the actress Neve Campbell in this regard.) Nevada is not densely populated. In fact, 75 percent of her citizens live in Clark County. Over 85 percent of the land is managed by the U.S. federal government or the military. Las Vegas, Lake Tahoe and the Sierra Nevada are prominent features. It's called "The Silver State" because of one of its famed natural resources. There are those today who believe the United States dollar should be linked to silver. (As opposed to gold, since all of the gold bullion in the world put together would not take up a tremendous amount of space. Some say there are 2.5 million tons of gold in the world. Estimates vary on the amount of gold mined in antiquity, and how much gold has been mined since 1492.) Hard-money advocates inside and outside of Nevada feel that silver is more secure than a system based upon digital money, paper, ink, the petrodollar, and plain old faith in the system.
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Nevada is well known for Wayne Newton, on-site and online gambling, raucous behavior and the saying, "What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas." The latter might have been best captured in the Hollywood film, "The Hangover." There's the heat, which during the summer months can seem overwhelming. There's the Arizona Strip, a section of highway connecting Nevada and Utah that at the time was the most expensive section of road ever built in the United States. The Hoover Dam is an engineering marvel. Mormon pioneers and settlers braved the aforementioned heat by using evaporative cooling at night as they soaked their sheets and slept on them while the hot desert air offered the natural air conditioning of evaporation.
Between Rachel, Nevada, and St. George, Utah
Rachel and The Little A'le'Inn was featured in the broadest sense in the two-part episode, "Dreamland" on "The X-Files." This was within the story arc of "Dreamland" that fans of the show met a shadowy "Man in Black" character named Morris Fletcher, adroitly played by actor Michael McKean. McKean has also appeared in "The X-Files" spinoff, "The Lone Gunmen," as well as in "Better Call Saul." Fletcher's character added to the mythology surrounding Area 51.
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The History Channel takes a look at Area 51:
Yet long before "The X-Files," this writer was driving to Rachel, Nevada, in a quest to learn more about Area 51. In fact, I made it from Babylon, Long Island, to Miramar in San Diego without GPS, Google Maps or the Internet. I only used the Rand McNally Road Atlas. Along the way, I passed through the town of St. George, Utah, where I interviewed cancer patients who had been invited by the federal government to observe atomic weapons tests in Nevada. Their stories and troubling plight were made famous in the popular media. A total of 952 atomic weapons were detonated over the course of four decades.
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"On May 19, 1953, a 32-kiloton atomic bomb was detonated at the Nevada Test Site. The bomb was code named Harry, but local residents gave it the nick name Dirty Harry after massive amounts of fallout blanketed the surrounding area. Exploding on the Yucca Flat, Harry had a blast three times the size of the Hiroshima bomb. On May 14, 37 members of congress had arrived to see the blast that had been scheduled that day. Delays kept pushing it back and as the delegation became impatient, only 23 members had stayed long enough to actually see the blast. In a trench 4,000 yards from ground zero, 900 servicemen witnessed the detonation.
"Winds carried the fallout 135 miles to the town of St. George, Utah. The AEC had set up monitors in the town which detected readings of 6,000 milliroentgens. Many of the people who were outside and downwind reported feeling ill on the day of the blast. People complained of headaches, fever, thirst, dizziness, loss of appetite, general malaise, nausea, diarrhea, vomiting, hair loss, discoloration of fingernails, hemorrhaging, and burns to exposed skin. All of these are symptoms of radiation sickness and indicate exposure to relativity high doses of radiation."
For those who are interested in how the United States actually dropped atomic weapons on Nevada, a starter article can be found here. The New York Times published this report written by Howard Ball. Ball's erudite book on the subject can be found here. The Washington Post reported in 2007, "When the baby boomers of St. George were children, radioactive ash from nuclear test explosions in Nevada regularly drifted toward the red bluffs of their town and fell like snow. They played in it and wrote their names in it on car windows." An official U.S. government media snippet about the St. George fallout can be seen right here. A more intensive look can be found here.
While in St. George, I worked for an elderly man stricken by leukemia because of the tests. He was frail and dying. I did a great deal of gardening for him. We became friendly. He taught me about what happened because of the atomic tests in Nevada. Yes, we need(ed) to be strong as a nation to face down the Khmer Rouge, Mao, Stalin, Hitler, jihadists and transnational drug cartels who poison our teens and children. Yet there was something about what happened to the people of St. George that really shook my faith in our ruling elites. Like Morris Fletcher in "Dreamland," it appears that sometimes when our leaders meet behind closed doors, they don't have the best interests of the ordinary citizens in mind.
Rachel is about 100 miles from Vegas. When you pass through the Arizona Strip, you'll come upon Mesquite, Nevada. If you're traveling at night, all of a sudden the giant lights of Las Vegas will appear out of the desert to overwhelm your senses.
You'll detour around Las Vegas and eventually travel northwest to Rachel and Area 51. The Groom Lake facility features some of the very best in American military technology. Did you know that Area 51 is larger than the nation of Lebanon? Route 375, or "The Extraterrestrial Highway," is dotted with wind-blown tumbleweeds and bitty tornadoes the locals call "dust devils." The Little A'le'Inn is quaint and charming. The food is nice. There are souvenirs to be found. I bought a mouse pad, an alien doll and a plethora of related alien memorabilia.
Near Coyote Summit I waited for the night to emerge. The stars came out in all of their brilliance. I saw Beta Carina and the Big Dipper, amongst others. They looked so close, like the stars I'd seen in the deserts of Namibia and Saudi Arabia. I felt as though I could just reach up and pluck the stars down from the sky and put them in a jar for safekeeping. Other cars pulled up, many of them packed with families, children and even babies. People had come from all over the United States and around the world. They had traveled to Rachel, Nevada from New Zealand, Russia, the U.K., El Salvador, South Africa, France and South Korea. One could not help but to be reminded of the film "Close Encounters of the Third Kind," in which various people around the world were invited by aliens to the Devil's Tower in Wyoming. What brought these intrepid souls to Rachel, Nevada, and Area 51?
More than a few of the travelers I've met at Coyote Summit believe that just as we've learned a great deal about what really happened in St. George, Utah concerning the atomic bomb tests, in ensuing decades, we might learn more about Area 51 —no matter what the truth might be.
Another account about what happened in the area concerning the nuclear tests reads:
"There are no southwestern Utah neighborhoods or communities that have not been touched by the tragedy of cancer or birth defects or lingering bitterness over human and financial losses … Atomic Energy Commission press releases promised that atomic tests would be conducted 'with adequate assurances of safety.' Residents of southern Nevada and southern Utah who lived downwind of the tests initially believed what they were told.
"As one historian wrote, 'Their faith and trust in their government would not allow them to even consider the possibility that the government would ever endanger their health.' However, their experiences during and since the 1950s have convinced them of just the opposite--there was no safety for either people or livestock from atmospheric nuclear testing and the AEC knew it. Declassified transcripts released from 1978 to 1980 show that scientists knew as early as 1947 that fission products released by atomic bomb tests could be deadly to humans and animals exposed during and after the tests. The AEC chose to ignore warnings from its own scientists and outside medical researchers and continued with a 'nothing-must-stop-the-tests' rationale."
"Religious, conservative and patriotic Americans were deemed expendable by the U.S. government," says the New York Times.
I have been to Rachel, Nevada, many times. I continue to return. There's something about the place I find both charming and alluring. Maybe it's Area 51. Maybe it's the idea of benevolent, technologically advanced aliens who can save humanity from famine, biological weapons, Ebola, Fukushima and the plastic filling the oceans. Maybe it's the ancillary cultural narrative of "The X-Files." And maybe it's the down-to-Earth people I've met along the Extraterrestrial Highway.
Somehow I just know deep down inside that Rachel Jones would have wanted it this way. She's an angel now, looking down on those of us following in her footsteps to the place of her birth. And like doves we are all caught in the giant sails of God's traveling ship in the cosmos. Spinning, spinning, spinning like all the slot machines and roulette wheels at the casinos in Las Vegas and Reno, our hearts, minds and souls continue to seek meaning in heaven and on Earth, in this life and the next.