Alien Territory: The Rise of UFO Tourists
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November 21, 2019 (national geographic.co.uk)
• UFO-themed tourism has become big business. From Roswell, New Mexico to Sri Lanka, Chile, Russia, Japan and Australia, tourists are booking UFO hot spots for their vacations.
• After the “Storm Area 51” Facebook challenge that went viral this past summer, the Area 51 military facility where many believe spaceships, alien artifacts, and even the remains of alien bodies are stored has become another “must see” for the UFO tourist. Nate Arizona seized the moment and started an Area 51 guided tour where he brings clients to the gates of Area 51, under the constant scrutiny of security cameras and “cammo guys” wearing mirrored sunglasses and driving white SUVs. “Don’t worry,”says Nate. “[A]s long as we don’t enter the base proper, we’ll be absolutely fine.” Nate’s ‘Paranormal Tour of the US Southwest’, which also takes in the nearby Extraterrestrial Highway and the town of Rachel, Nevada, eight miles from Area 51, recently became one of Airbnb’s official ‘experiences’, and bookings are landing quickly.
• Airbnb’s head of Adventures, Caroline Boone, says the company is “delighted” with the demand for Nate’s paranormal tours. But it is the committed conspiracy theorists that’s driving the current trend — causing a rise in bookings both in Rachel and other UFO hotspots. Cody Theising, the manager of the ‘Little A’Le’Inn’ in Rachel, says that she has also seen an uptick in bookings. “There’s definitely been an increase in business out here in the last couple of years. We’re seeing a lot more tours… coming through.”
• Armando Martinez from Denver says he ‘absolutely loved’ Nate’s Nevada tour. Armando thinks paranormal tourism is growing for one simple reason — more people are believing in it. “Improvements in technology, particularly mobile phones, means there’s far more evidence of the paranormal being collected. There’s so much documentation out there now that you have to really step back and re-evaluate things, and tours like this are great for that kind of perspective.”
• Roswell, New Mexico is the site of perhaps the most famous UFO crash in July 1947, and what many believe is the mother of all government cover-ups. UFO tourism has kicked into hyperdrive of late and the ‘grey dollar’ is being spent as never before. Dennis Balthaser runs extraterrestrial-themed tours in Roswell, twice daily, five days a week. “By the end of this year I’ll have cleared 300 tours,” says Dennis who books visitors from the UK, China, Australia, South Africa and Japan, as well as most US states.
• Other UFO hot spots in the US include the Pacific Northwest, where the National UFO Reporting Center received three times the annual average of reported UFO sightings in 2018; Kecksburg, Pennsylvania where a car-sized, acorn-shaped metal object covered in hieroglyphics fell to earth in a fiery blaze in 1965; and Sedona, Arizona which hosts some of the most frequent UFO sightings in the world.
• In 2008, Chile opened a UFO Trail near the town of San Clemente, an ET hub that’s generated hundreds of sightings. Arguably the best way to experience it is with one of the local horse-riding operators, which carry telescopes in their saddle bags and teach you about the stars while discussing the Earth-bound craft that supposedly came from them. These extra-terrestrial sightseeing expeditions typically end with an intergalactic debate over pisco sours around a campfire.
• Sri Lanka’s UFO tourism focuses on ‘alien mystery tours’ in the North Central Province. Japan’s own UFO tourism capital is Asuka, a tiny village famed for its mysterious carved granite monoliths including the Rock Ship of Masuda, a 15ft-tall, 800-tonne block with a straight central ridge and two one-metre square holes cut from it.
• The self-proclaimed UFO capital of Australia is Wycliffe Well, locate in the Northern Territory where there is a recorded UFO sighting every couple of days, on average. Visitors can stay in cabins at the Wycliffe Well Holiday Park where the walls are covered in newspaper clippings of UFO sightings. Stay more than 48 hours and you’re ‘guaranteed’ a sighting of your own.
• Russia’s answer to Area 51 is the remote village of Molyobka, 600 miles east of Moscow. Here in the foothills of the Urals, locals have reported seeing a range of phenomena, including hovering lights, strange symbols written across the sky, and even translucent beings. There are persistent rumors of people developing enhanced intelligence or superhuman powers after visiting the area.
From the gate, Area 51 looks deserted. It would be so easy to simply step over the dotted line in the road here, to enter America’s most mysterious military installation. But Nate Arizona knows better.
“Don’t even think about it,” warns my previously jovial guide, brow furrowing under his neon-coloured bandana. “You’d be face first in the dirt with a gun to the back of your head before you knew what was happening.”
For alien enthusiasts, this is ground zero. The secret air force base in Nevada has been at the centre of extra-terrestrial speculation since the 1940s. Many believe UFO wreckage from the infamous Roswell Incident of 1947 is hidden inside this perimeter — along with the remains of its intergalactic pilots. Others speculate that the facility is dedicated to the reverse engineering of recovered alien technology, or even time travel. Whichever way you cut it, an awful lot of people believe that if the truth is out there, it’s probably in here.
The ‘Storm Area 51’ Facebook joke, which went viral earlier this summer (with two million people signing up for the mass invasion of the facility in order to ‘see them aliens’) put this highly classified military base firmly back in the public eye. But another trend has been growing out here too: that of UFO tourism.
Nate’s own tour, which also takes in the nearby Extraterrestrial Highway and the tiny town of Rachel — a hub of purported paranormal activity — recently became one of Airbnb’s ‘experiences’, and bookings are landing faster than the Martian invasion force in HG Wells’ classic sci-fi novel The War of the Worlds.
“People get very excited about coming out to Area 51, but once we arrive at the gates, they realise how serious the whole thing is,” says Nate as we march along the perimeter, looking for a better vantage point. “The US government didn’t even officially admit this place existed until 2013, after all. There are motion sensors and cameras everywhere, and they follow your every move. Don’t be under any illusion — there are multiple guards watching us right now.”
Those guards are what ufologists call ‘camo guys’ — the real-life equivalent of the Men in Black from the Hollywood film. I’ve heard these defenders of the Earth drive unmarked white SUVs, sitting sphinx-like behind mirrored sunglasses as they trail visitors from a discreet distance. Sure enough, as we approach another gate, Nate spots a white SUV parked on a bluff, which flashes its headlights as we approach.
“The camo guys are just letting us know they’re there,” says Nate. “Don’t worry — as long as we don’t enter the base proper, we’ll be absolutely fine.”
Under these watchful eyes, we continue our exploration, Nate pointing out satellite towers, barracks and even a bizarre mirrored pyramid visible within the perimeter. As we pass, mounted cameras grind and whir in our direction and the inscrutable SUV maintains its vigilant watch.
Shadows slowly lengthening, we finally retreat to Rachel — a dusty, one-horse town a bumpy, eight-mile drive from Area 51. At its only motel, the appropriately monikered ‘Little A’Le’Inn’, manager Cody Theising says they too have seen a noted uptick in bookings as UFO tourism has taken off.
“There’s definitely been an increase in business out here in the last couple of years; we’re seeing a lot more tours like yours coming through,” says Cody, as I sip one of the Little A’Le’Inn’s signature ‘Spiced Abduction’ cocktails next to a sign that reads ‘Earthlings Welcome’.
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