It's basically impossible to enter Area 51. It's only slightly less impossible to see it. The top-secret military base is smack in the middle of the Nevada desert, in a dried-out lake bed surrounded by mountains. The closest peaks are heavily guarded so no one can spy on the activity below. There's just one mountaintop where you can catch a glimpse of the goings-on at the base: Tikaboo Peak, the closest you can legally get to Area 51.
An Unwelcoming Mountain
To scale Tikaboo Peak, here's what you'll need:
- A car with four-wheel drive
- A shovel
- As much water as you can carry
- An intense desire to see Area 51
- An understanding that you probably won't see aliens
The car and shovel are for the first phase of your journey: a 25-mile drive on a rough dirt road that sometimes needs manual shovel repairs. This takes you most of the way up the mountain. For the last leg, though, you have to hike. Here, the water and sunscreen come into play. The hike is a little over a mile, but ultra steep and with no water stations along the way — and it's so hot in this region, a local town is called Caliente. When you reach the peak, grab those binoculars and take a peek at Area 51, which is as close as it will ever be at 26 miles away.
For Area 51 enthusiasts, it can be exciting and meaningful to see the base in real life, but the visual on its own isn't particularly striking. It's the visual plus the rumors that swirl around it that can make Tikaboo Peak worth the trip.
The Area 51 Rumors
There's really one big rumor: that the base has ties to aliens. It all started in 1989 when a man named Bob Lazar told the press he had worked at Area 51 helping to design flight technology modeled after extraterrestrial spaceships. He alleged he made real flying saucers that flew with anti-gravity technology. The government strenuously denied this, obviously. But in the wake of his claims, people in the area started spotting a lot of UFOs in the night sky.
Lazar's account has since been called into question. He lied about some of his credentials, and may not have worked in the intelligence world at all. Government officials lied, too, though. Initially, they claimed Area 51 didn't exist. As the years passed, however, they released increasingly complete information about the base. We still don't know what's going on there right now — it's top secret — but we know what went on in the early days.
Area 51 opened in 1955 as a development site for new combat aircraft, like stealth bombers and spy planes. One early Area 51 invention was the high-altitude spy plane, which explains many of the area's UFO sightings. People simply weren't used to seeing light so high in the sky; some sightings were called in by commercial pilots who didn't understand what could possibly be flying above them. At the time, not wanting to unveil their new technology, officials attributed these sightings to nature or "high-altitude weather research."
Some people still distrust the government account of Area 51's activities. Is it the truth at last, or just more cover-up? Whatever the answer, it's definitely entertaining to imagine Area 51 is a secret alien research lab where they keep the extraterrestrial remains of the Roswell crash — especially if you just took a grueling desert hike to look at the base through binoculars.
This article first appeared on Curiosity.com.