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Area 51 | Mid-Winter #2

Things don't always go as expected, and sometimes that is a good thing. It sure was this morning as I woke up and climbed down out of the tent to a dry day - none of the predicted snow or rain having materialized during the night!

Silly Mt. Irish weather station, you said it would snow.

There were - obviously - plenty of clouds in the sky at this point however, so we probably just lucked out - or at least @mrs.turbodb did, since she was still warm in bed! I on the other hand was freezing my tushy off. With no sunrise photo possibility, I decided to wander into the hills in search of more petroglyphs for an hour or so, hoping that the brisk breeze would blow the clouds away - I mean, a guy can hope, right?

Our lucky charm was still asleep in the tent as the brisk breeze started to blow the clouds away!

@mrs.turbodb got up to what was turning into a beautiful morning and as we ate breakfast, I proposed what would be the first of many changes to our plans for the day: instead of heading east - back out the way we'd come into the Mt. Irish area - what if we headed west, over the pass? You see, we were ultimately headed that direction anyway, since we wanted to check out the Extraterrestrial Highway, and going over the pass would cut some 30 miles off of our trip... if it went through.

I'd be remiss if I didn't note here that I'd looked at this prior to our departure and had run into two issues: first, no maps showed the road going through. Second, the pass was over 7,200', and, well, it was the middle of winter.

I didn't mention any of that to @mrs.turbodb, and so of course we made the decision to give it a shot, pointing the truck west and up towards the summit of Mt. Irish.

Looks passable from here.

I have to say that the road at this point was in great condition - graded and well maintained, perhaps in preparation for winter. At any rate, the sun was shining and we both really enjoyed the scenery as we made our way through a pinyon pine forest to the top of the ridge. Along the way, only a few small patches of snow presented themselves, our confidence growing that we might actually make it.

Everything changed at the ridgeline, however as the road flipped from southern- to northern-facing slopes. Immediately the temperatures dropped and the entire road was covered in 6 inches of crunchy ice and snow. The snow wasn't that bothersome - the Tacoma can easily navigate 6 inches of that, but the ice on some of the off-camber sections of trail had me a bit on edge. We decided to proceed with caution.

Let's not slide off the edge, OK?

At some point, it became clear in my mind that we were committed - the ice making it possible to travel downhill, but very difficult to retrace our steps should we come upon the end of the road. Like the through-ness of the road, I kept that to myself. And then, about a third of the way down the west side, we stumbled upon an old log cabin.

Except for the expertly crafted skeleton, it wasn't in great shape but I'm sure it's kept more than one winter adventurer warm(er) through a cold night.

Look at that dovetail joinery. On round logs. No wonder this thing is still standing.

A few minutes at the cabin - as cool as it was to find, there wasn't much to see - and we were back on our way, elevation dropping quickly now and snow starting to thin out. Things were looking good as long as the road connected with something here on the other side.

The snowy Tempiute Range in the distance.

I think @mrs.turbodb's anxiety dropped when we were out of the snow, but mine only did when it became apparent that we were going to be able to connect with NV-375 - the Extraterrestrial Highway - and not have to backtrack the way we'd come.

We'd made it. Now, onward to aliens!

The Extraterrestrial Highway was named in 1996 by the state of Nevada in conjunction with the release of the movie Independence Day, hoping to draw tourists to what is literally the middle of nowhere. Stretching between the small town of Rachel and US-93, it is 98 miles long and runs reasonably close to an alien landmark that many more have heard of - a secret military base known as Area 51. We'd end up driving the entire length without seeing any little green creatures, but that's not to say you won't if you make the same journey. I hear they usually only abduct the most intelligent beings for research purposes, so we weren't in any real danger.

So wait, the F-117 is a UFO?

Our first stop was on the western end of the highway at the cunningly named Little A'le'inn. Given the situation with Covid-19 and our desire not to infect anyone on their way to a remote planet, we didn't go in - after all, we had no idea if the aliens would be wearing masks.

From the Little A'le'inn in Rachel, we drove down a long lonely road known only as "Back Gate Road." Nearly 12 miles in length, the first 11 of those miles are dirt, while the final mile is paved. There is no cell coverage here. At all. And that's because it is here that one finds themselves at the rear entrance of Area 51.

I think this is close enough.

We rolled up on the gate slowly and stopped a few hundred feet from the entrance - no need to test the readiness of the Men in Black who surely sit behind the mirrored glass with Neuralyzers, ready to erase the memories of anyone who stumbles upon the secrets held within. I know they didn't use one on me because I distinctly remember the pain of slamming my finger in the door as I got out of the truck.

Probably going to lose that nail.

There's not much to do at Area 51, it seems, and so with a throbbing finger and the knowledge that we'd been there, we turned around and headed back the way we'd come - our eyes peeled for any low-flying aircraft, our hopes high that we'd get another barrel roll.

While the name of the Extraterrestrial Highway is perhaps a little foofy, for anyone who is a fan of high desert or basin and range landscapes, it is an amazingly beautiful drive. Now travelling east, we somehow managed a headwind again, the wind having shifted 90 degrees from its northerly gusting the night before, just to make us feel special.

We weren't in any rush at this point - though that wouldn't be the case for long. Our early start meant that it was still well before noon when we got back to Crystal Springs and the intersection of the Extraterrestrial Highway and US-93. With only 12 miles between us and the town of Alamo to the south - where we needed to be at 1:00pm so @mrs.turbodb could teach kids how to make these super-fancy Valentines Day cards for the local children's hospital - we decided to check out some local rock art and have lunch to pass the time.

But first, we had to check out the Alien Research Center.

This was the extent of our visit.

It turns out that the most interesting thing we found at the Alien Research Center was - by far - a roadrunner in the parking lot. Keen to put my new camera and its reportedly fast autofocus through its paces, I snapped a few dozen photos of this little guy as he mostly tried to avoid me.

Standing. Pretty normal.

Sitting. Wait, roadrunners sit?

Flying. Hang on, roadrunners fly?

Roadrunners are fast little buggers, and before long he'd scurried under a few fences and meep-meeped his way far enough out into a field that I gave up the chase and headed back to the truck so we too could continue on. See, as was becoming a theme for the day, we changed our plans again and headed a few miles east to Crystal Wash - the site of even more rock art here in the Basin and Range National Monument.

The glyphs here were definitely not as spectacular as those we'd seen at Mt. Irish or even the White River Narrows the day before, but we still enjoyed our stroll through the wash, discovering the mysterious clues left by those hundreds of years before.

A line in the sand is so temporal. When you're really serious, make a line in the rock.

Jazz-hands man.

Bighorn procession.

A cupule used for grinding.

Sun glyphs, and an arrow (?).

This series of glyphs facing the sky reminded me of ▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮  in the Volcanic Tablelands. Much more weathered here, however.

Chips from tool creation.

It turned out that our curiosity and eagerness to explore led to a bit of a panic when we realized it was only 17 minutes until @mrs.turbodb needed to be in Alamo, and we hustled back to the Tacoma and I pushed the skinny pedal quite a bit more than usual to cover the 14 miles between us and a spot where she could get cell service and setup her laptop for the demonstration. Luckily, we made it in the nick of time, and I even managed to find a 120V receptacle that she could use to ensure uninterrupted power for the duration of her call.

This was most definitely a lucky day for me. Well, except for the finger thing.

Not wanting to waste a bunch of time just sitting around Alamo - though I'm sure it's a nice town - I opted to wander off into the hills for a couple hours. My goal - predictably as I am a creature of habit - was to make my way to a disjunct segment of Basin and Range National Monument to find the Shooting Gallery petroglyphs.

Situated on the east flank of Badger Mountain, the Shooting Gallery is an archaeological district rich in rock art, hunting sites, and settlements. Used for over 6000 years, this area was most heavily frequented some 3000 years ago, a living here requiring deep knowledge of the environment's plant and animal resources. The largest concentrations of rock art are clustered into three groupings - each grouping several acres in size - though there are smaller sites found throughout the area. For me, one of the draws of this place, was that nothing here is marked and there are no trails - I would be wandering much like the ancient artists, my skills of discovery put to the test as I searched for decorated surfaces.

Giving myself about an hour, I headed for the most distant grouping and soon found myself wandering through what had clearly been a series of shelters, and a high concentration of petroglyphs. I'm sure these figures have great symbolism to those that created them, but sometimes I wonder if some of the other members of the group were like "another sheep? C'mon man."

Protection from sun, but not much else.

A few bighorn sheep.

Seven sheep.

OMG sheep.

You guessed it, more sheep.

Bighorn sheep weren't the only thing, obviously, and as I climbed my way from boulder to boulder, squeezing between cactus and scratching my way through brush, I found myself better able to predict where I'd find something amazing. This was an extremely cool experience - one where I was almost connecting with something deep inside, long forgotten.

People holding hands motif.

Stay out of the flash floods, kids.

Many places have a newspaper rock. Perhaps this is the newspaper rock of the Shooting Gallery.

I was very excited when I found this deer with a starburst rack.

A mountain lion, apparently.

This set of concentric circles was a special discovery - the application of red pigment (pictograph) within the chiseled rings (petroglyph), a relatively rare find.

I found you again, Pahranagat Man.

After about an hour, the Shooting Gallery proved to be - so far at least - my favorite stop of the trip. I probably could have spent another couple days climbing around in the granite boulders of this little valley, smiles and celebratory whoops escaping my face as I discovered more of the treasures contained in the area. However, I had a @mrs.turbodb to pick up, and we had decisions to make about the remainder of our day!

As I headed back to the truck - now cognizant that I'd been away for nearly two hours - I noticed that somehow I had cell reception and quickly relayed my ETA to @mrs.turbodb. Luckily she seemed content to hang out for another 45 minutes as I made my way back, and before long I was climbing out of the Shooting Gallery and back towards Alamo.

After narrowly avoiding getting pulled over by the local police for speeding through town - a grace not afforded to the SUV that came barreling up behind me - I found @mrs.turbodb right where I left her and we decided that rather than stop a few miles away at the Pahranagat National Wildlife Refuge for the night, we'd continue two hours further south - to Las Vegas - so that we'd be closer to our first destination in the morning. We had no idea where we'd camp, but figured that we'd probably be able to find something, and that by showing up at night, we'd be able to scout out the best place to gain access to a trailhead that has become increasingly difficult to access as more and more housing has gone up in the area.

Well, it turns out that the something we found was on the periphery of one of the new developments, the Tacoma conspicuously hidden in plain sight with a bunch of construction vehicles. Neither of us loved it, but it seemed safe enough, and I figured that the worst that could happen was that someone would report us and we'd be asked to leave.

It was 5:45am the next morning when three trucks rolled up and pointed their headlights at our tent - "What the f*@# is going on there?" - the first thing we heard as they climbed out to take a look... Needless to say, that got the adrenaline going a little bit as I quickly pulled on my clothes.

But now I'm starting into another story, aren't I?


The Whole Story


  1. Brandon
    Brandon March 15, 2021

    Another great write-up with excellent photos and a cliffhanger too. The dovetails on the cabin were solid and a testament to their craftsmanship. By the way, do you carry snow chains in your Tacoma?

    • turbodb
      turbodb March 15, 2021

      Thanks Brandon!

      I used to carry chains when I ran 31" tires, but now with 33's I don't carry chains anymore because they just won't fit in the wheel well as the suspension cycles. (Not always enough room for the tires even, hahaha!) I suppose I could throw some in for the rear though; still generally enough room back there.

  2. Kenny
    Kenny March 15, 2021

    Great write up. Was there a name to the pass you crossed?

    • turbodb
      turbodb March 15, 2021

      Thanks Kenny! I don't know if the pass has a name, but it's the only road in the area, LOL.

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