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Groom Lake (Area 51)

     Though strictly speaking, this is not a nuclear site, it is adjacent to the Nevada Test Site, and has been involved in so much conjecture, and in so many secret programs, that it seemed to demand inclusion on this list. First off, I should mention that I have no pictures to post here, and have never visited this place --- no one has. Visitation is prohibited. There is little historical significance to the site, little to interest the tourist, and probably nothing to see. This is the stereotypical top secret testing site, and those set to watch it are very serious about keeping people out. There are motion and seismic detectors, and air patrols, as well as foot and vehicle patrols. The inner area is well fenced, and the outer boundaries clearly marked with warning signs. The photo below, of area 51 was taken from a non-American  observation satellite, and is widely available on the web.
     Though it may seem, from the photo, that the area has given up all of it's secrets, it should be considered that the position of all of the spy and observation satellites is known to the fraction of an inch, and the time of arrival down to the split second. It is unlikely that anything important was out in view, at the time that this, or any other satellite photo was taken. With ground observers, it is different. You can't really plan for them. About the only thing that you can do, is to make certain that they do not come around, which is the tactic taken by the government.

     Visitation is strongly discouraged, both by the desolation, and isolation of the location, and by more active measures. The signs posted leave no doubt, nor do the unsmiling guards, who show a very strong and overt presence. Venturing too near will earn the potential visitor arrest, a $600 fine, possible jail time, and perhaps a visit from the FBI. It will also, needless to say, get one a special place in government archives, which could come back to roost someday. So there is nothing to see, and a whole world of trouble involved in the attempt; but some people just have to try. Largely, it is the UFO fools, who always try to see this place. Somehow the rumor got around that there are aliens, flying saucers, and who knows what else, sitting here behind these well guarded gates.
     Though there are top secret tests of classified aircraft going on here, the government has never made a serious attempt to keep a secret of what this place is, or of what goes on here. This is where the stealth bomber, and stealth fighter first flew, as well as a number of other experimental aircraft. This is also where the experimental aircraft, which will become the next generation of high performance fighters and bombers, are being flown today. The UFO rumors got started because people would often see some very strange things in the sky. Why presumably intelligent people should be surprised by unusual things appearing in the skies around a military test base, is a bit of a mystery to me. Why these same people should come to the conclusion that this could only be due to activities involving extra terrestrials is no mystery at all --- these people are crazy.
      Adding to the mystery, as well as the conspiracy paranoia, is the fact that the base does not appear on public U.S. government maps, charts, or satellite photos, including USGS topographic maps and civil aviation charts. Satellite photos taken years ago, and declassified have the Groom Lake sections removed. Still, America is not the only nation with spy satellites, and satellite photos are widely available from other sources. As if this were not enough, this is one of the very few places in the country, where warning signs announce that you can be legally shot for trespassing.
     In order to put a stop to these annoying people, the Air Force commissioned Operation Blue Book, back in the 1960's. This was done in part because aliens
 could be considered as much a threat to national security as any Earth bound national power, and it would likely be the Air Force, which would initially have to deal with such a threat. So for years, Project Blue Book became a sort of a clearing house for reports of UFO's and many other unexplained phenomena. All such reports were dully investigated, most were immediately dismissed as obvious hoaxes, mistakes on identity, hysteria, or wishful thinking. A few, very few, were never adequately explained, mostly due to the lack of any concrete evidence as to their true nature. Some people have taken advantage of this to draw their own conclusions. Sadly, for people with imagination, the unexplained is not the same as the unexplainable.

       Visitors, conspiracy buffs, and UFO crazies continue to annoy the keepers of the base. As the observers find new mountain tops, valley views, and vantage points, from which to get a glimpse of the place, the government extends the boundaries to shut these viewers out. So how close can you actually get. Well, not that close, any more. The closest approach, for member of the public is probably Sedan Crater, in the Nevada Test Site. It is about 13 miles away; but might as well be half way around the world. The only public access to Sedan is during the guided public tours of the site. Visitors on the guided tours of NTS, are not routinely allowed to wander off on their own, nor has the tour ever been known to take a side trip out to Area 51. Our guide did mention one instance, in which a visitor was accidentally left at Sedan, in the little portable rest room. Still, 13 miles across the desert is no joke, and there is a gate, and seismic detection gear. Eventually, Area 51 will be declassified, and will probably permit visitors, as do many Cold War sites. People will then visit, and wonder what the big deal was. Some already wonder.