On August 18, Joerg Arnu, a resident of Rachel, Nevada, stepped before his local Lincoln County commissioners. He had come to voice opposition to an event called Alienstock that was set to descend on his town. Starting September 19, an unknown but possibly huge number of visitors were to swarm his hamlet. Said festival had spun off from a joke Facebook event, a suggestion gone viral that a herd of humans could break into Area 51 and learn the military base’s alien secrets. The joke spawned the very real Alienstock and the “Storm Area 51 Basecamp” experience planned for the other end of Highway 375, a stretch of pavement officially labeled Extraterrestrial Highway. The creator of the Facebook post has since moved Alienstock to Las Vegas, but the residents of Rachel are still bracing for an onslaught of visitors.
Arnu isn’t into it. He is not into the joke that has already inspired at least two people, young Dutch YouTubers, to breach the Air Force’s perimeter. And he is not into the party that threatens to take over his very little locale, a place located freakishly close to Area 51’s back gate. He has tried to put an end to its flight path. With the original festivities scheduled to start today, it’s unclear whether the horde will be huge or whether this bang will end with a poorly attended whimper.
It’s interesting, though, that Arnu became the voice of opposition: He’s actually one of Rachel’s most public-facing residents. He runs the town’s website as well as an Area 51–focused page called Dreamland Resort, named after Area 51’s radio call sign. Both websites advise people on how to visit safely and productively. Both pages, though, currently host the following admonishment: “At this time we have to warn people against coming to Rachel for the botched [event] … We expect riots when those visitors that may show up and paid good money find out that the reality looks nothing like what they were promised. People will get hurt. STAY AWAY FROM RACHEL.”
There’s some irony in Arnu’s anti-Storm stance. After all, on Dreamland Resort, Arnu has spent 20 years chronicling his Area 51 adventures and discoveries, creating probably the world’s most thorough public repository of Dreamland documentation and providing a place for other investigators to congregate. He created the site because he wanted to share Area 51 with the whole planet. Area 51 is where several super-secret, very cool aviation projects originated.
We don’t know much about what goes on there today, but flights from two of its early projects—the U-2 and Oxcart spy planes—account for more than half of all US UFO sightings during the late 1950s and 1960s. So says the CIA. The technology was so advanced, so secret, and so strange compared to the flying objects people were used to that “unidentified” was the only conceivable label. And Arnu likes to help people understand this strange place’s true history and its true, if more mysterious, present.
But sharing it all with a raucous, amorphous festival—one that might not have enough security or porta-potties, and that will definitely have too many people who want to break the Air Force’s rules? That’s different.
A speck in the dusty desert, Rachel, Nevada, consists of just a few blocks of small houses and a hotel/bar/restaurant/souvenir store called the Little A’le’Inn. It’s not a suitable spot for a Burning Man–esque conspiracy party. Its remoteness is, of course, the biggest reason the military can operate a hush-hush testing facility. Arnu’s concerns, which he shared with the commissioners on behalf of some residents of Rachel, are reasonable: With way too many devices in town, the cell phone network would get overloaded. Rachel’s residents, many of them older, wouldn’t be able to get help if they needed it. The two-lane highway would get clogged. People would crash into each other. And someone was bound to slam into the open-range livestock that wander freely in the very, very dark night.
The problems wouldn’t end there: People would run out of gas, and the closest pump is around 50 miles away. Campers would get too cold at night, too hot during the day, and too dehydrated all the time, unprepared for the extremes of desert living. There wouldn’t be enough food or toilets. People might pick pockets or break into the homes of part-time residents. Also, in a gathering that would likely attract at least a few unhinged attendees, Arnu worried about the potential for violence.
The council heard his complaints but gave the A’le’Inn a permit anyway. And although the Facebook creator pulled out (worried about the potential of a Fyre Festival 2.0), the A’le’Inn is still welcoming guests. And even if it weren’t, people would still show up. It is, after all, a free country. “It’s like the beast that once you create it you can’t kill it,” says Arnu. “People will come. People will come to Rachel.”
Arnu understands the appeal better than most. He first came to Area 51 on a day trip in 1998, driving out from Las Vegas. He’d been reading what he could about the place—this isolated swath of nothing-land that existed first as a development and testing hideaway for the U-2 spy plane, then for the A-12 Oxcart, its successor, and for experimental winged projects ever since. Though he’d heard strange stuff, he had only a bare idea of what went on there. “There was nothing really reliable on the internet that you could really read up on, so everybody had their own speculations, and I just had to see for myself,” says Arnu. “Instead of my curiosity being satisfied, it was really amplified.”
He knew, though, that other people were probably having the same online experience he was: There wasn’t much Area 51 info out there. He wanted to make his findings, unlike pretty much everything else about Area 51, public. “What’s the point of knowledge if you don’t share it?” he says. “It’s pointless. I couldn’t imagine just keeping it to myself.”
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Thus was born DreamlandResort.com. “Pretty soon after I started the website, I realized a lot of people coming out there were sort of lost,” he says. “They didn’t really know what to do or what to bring.” He started to build it out, adding an FAQ page for these n00bs.
Today, the website is a sprawling operation: It has extensive history sections, pilot audio captured on scanners, satellite images Arnu commissioned, trip reports, maps, and panoramas taken from the one mountain peak—Tikaboo—from where you can see inside Area 51. Around 2002, he actually live-streamed a broadcast from the top of that mountain, relaying his radio transmission to the radio of a friend in Rachel, who had an internet connection and put it online.
Perhaps most importantly, though, DreamlandResort.com has a discussion board. Soon after Arnu started it, the forum became the go-to gathering place for Area 51 researchers. The curious passed knowledge of the site by word of mouth, email chains, and AOL message boards. The site also showed up higher in search results back then than it does now. “There wasn’t all this clutter,” Arnu says. “When you do a search for Area 51 today, it’s news, trendy this, trendy that.”
Trendy, you know, base-raiding. “I cannot wait for this to be over,” he says, “and to crawl back into my little corner of the universe and run my website.”
When I first met Arnu, in the fall of 2018, I’d asked him if he’d be willing to drive me around the Area 51 perimeter and do an interview for a UFO culture book I’m writing. We spent a day cruising close to the security guards’ Ford Raptor trucks, talking not at all about the ET narratives that largely trace their origin back to one man, Bob Lazar, who in the late 1980s claimed he worked on reverse-engineering an alien craft and whose story has holes like those nuclear tests used to blast into the ground nearby.
Arnu is more intrigued by the verifiable tales told over the scanner in his Chevy Tahoe, revealed in satellite images, and detailed in declassified documents. He collects stories from the RoadRunners, a group of former Area 51 employees who meet biennially in Las Vegas to discuss the glory days. He linked up with them early in his Dreamland career. “My imagination just went crazy,” Arnu says of his first chats with the old-timers. “If this was what they were doing in the ’50s, holy crap, what are they doing there now?”
His explorations have, of course, provided hints. “It’s a testing facility for our stuff and also for foreign stuff,” says Arnu. “‘Foreign’ meaning foreign nations and not foreign planets.” He’s seen Russian jets and radar systems recently, as well as drone technology. Back in July, he believes he may have caught audio from a test of the B-21 stealth bomber, a new aircraft that isn’t supposed to fly until 2021, or its subsystems. (You can listen here to this craft, called ROMEO, talking to its ground controller.)
He’s always paying attention to the sky, and the invisible waves of communication that zip through it. He spools up his scanner and listens, often catching snippets of ongoing tests. You can be sure that no one on-base will be testing anything interesting during the festival/raid/storm, though—which is a shame. When I visited last October, Arnu and I witnessed two jets flying Star Wars–like around mountain walls, and in the evenings, from my campsite, I saw lights—from military tests that made me fully understand why people think UFOs live here. Flares, for instance, dropped in patterns whose dots your brain connects into saucers and motherships, seem to appear out of the ether, hover, and then disappear. But with so much public attention on the base this week, the chances that any pilots will zoom anything cool across the sky seem zero-ish.
One good thing about the tractor beam currently sucking up the town: Younger people are showing up in greater numbers at Dreamland Resort, curious not about which EDM bands might be coming or might now have canceled but, instead, about what’s really going on in Nevada’s most famous dried-up lake bed. It gives Arnu hope that someone, someday, will take his digital torch and run with it.
When he first launched his website, an experienced researcher named Tom Mahood passed a bunch of his research on to Arnu, like an Area 51 site starter kit. “Hopefully I can do something similar when the time comes for me to slow down and not be as active anymore,” he says.
Whoever that recipient of the repository may be, Arnu won’t be meeting them this week at any iteration of Storm Area 51. He’ll be locked in his house, watching the door and the windows, protecting his property from the perceived threat of spaced-out invaders.
In a normal week, he’d trek out to the communal cluster mailbox, where Rachel residents often gather to chat. But from Thursday through the weekend, he says, the Postal Service won’t be delivering. “It’s not rain; it’s not hail,” he says. “It’s the Area 51 riot.”
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