When you hear about a trip to Area 51, most of us imagine that strange and abnormal things will happen during the trip. Well, this expedition was certainly one of those tales. Saturday morning the group met to go over the day’s activities, the usual safety brief and reminders about “taking it easy.” The morning was cold and overcast, which was nice, as it was 98 degrees on the drive in the day before.
Our first stop for the day was at the old airfield where some of the X programs were flown from. It was exciting because we were able to drive into one of the hangers and take pictures.
Leaving the hanger, the trail was an adventure trail (very faintly visible). This trail led us to the next trail section. Most of our group made good time, but several participants were new to offroading, including the Lexus and rental Expedition, so they were learning what their vehicles could do.
The next section was all about cruising. The trail was smooth and in better shape than most of California’s freeways. As we got closer to one of the mountain ranges, we turned to the side trail and went into a fun canyon section. This trail was tight and felt like a world rally stage. Once we made it to the other side of the range, the trail opened up into a LONG straight section. It was about 10 miles of dead straight and flat trail before a turn. On this section we had some fun rollers that made for a few laughs.
As we neared the end of this section, we had some tight turns. One of the trucks missed a turn and had a catastrophic failure. From here, I will split this overview into two separate stories, the first will be an overview of the main group’s experience, and the second will be of our recovery efforts.
While a few of us were tending to the catastrophic failure, the main group continued on. We made stops at the Little A’Le’Inn, the Area 51 main gate (no one was arrested), Petroglyphs, the Alien Science Center and finally we ended in Las Vegas. Everyone made good time, even the Lexus and Rental were managing to keep up. The new Raptor owner was the boat anchor, delaying the group here and there as he, too, was learning what his vehicle could do. The last section of the day is where all three owners (Lexus, Rental and new Raptor) received a fast introduction to expedition offroading. The Lexus and the Raptor blew a tire, and the Expedition dinged its running board.
Now, on to the story about the recovery efforts. This is where the Area 51 oddities start. After transporting the driver and passenger of the failed truck to Las Vegas, myself and the driver picked up a flatbed trailer and a second truck and went back the 160 miles to where his truck was left. On the way there, we were drenched from a thunder storm. Then, as we approached Rachel, Nevada, we were snowed on. Finally, as we arrived to the broken down truck, we had clear skies and sunshine once again. As we recovered the vehicle, we watched 2 massive thunder storms approach us. This brought the outside temperature down fast, and it quickly became incredibly windy. However, as we began to prepare for the impending down pour, it was as if the aliens intervened with a helping hand. Miraculously, as the storm was about 20 miles from us, it split and traveled around us. The wind died down and the temperature stabilized. It was the strangest sight, as we had clear skies above us and lightning all around us. After dragging the truck onto the trailer and hitching up, we drove another 160 miles back to Las Vegas. We finally arrived to the hotel at midnight.
On day two, the group was smaller. The Lexus and Expedition bowed out, and one Raptor slept in. The rest of us left for the trail at 8am on the dot. Our group, which now consisted of all Raptors, drove the 40 miles to the trail start. With the memories of Saturday’s catastrophic failure still in everyone’s mind, radio use and adherence to safety were being strictly followed. At the start of the trail it was sunny and 85 degrees outside. We made fast time over some of the best trails of the trip. We stopped at a lake bed for some photos and fly byes. From the lake bed we made a stop at Devil’s Hole and the headed to Beauty. On the way, we decided to skip the two sections of trail that had not been pre-run, as the start to one of them was completely gone.
Once in Beauty, we all fueled up the trucks and ate lunch. Following lunch, we continued on to Rhyolite for pictures and then made our way through Death Valley. As we approached the Limpcot Mine stop, the strange started up again. During the last 2 miles of this section, a massive thunder storm rolled through and left 2 inches of water on the lake bed we were traveling on. This made for an adventurous section. If we traveled too fast, we were blinded by mud and water, but if we traveled too slowly, our trucks would get stuck in the mud. The challenge was to find just the right speed to be able to make it safely off the lake bed.
By the time we all made it to the mine, the temperature had dropped and we could see another massive storm coming toward us in the distance. As the next section had several canyons to run down, it was agreed to call the event for safety concerns. We had covered ¾ of the distance back to Tonopah, and after the adventure on the lake bed, we decided it was not worth the risk to try and finish the last ¼ of the trip. So, we all aired up and completed the trek to Tonopah on paved road. On the way there, the storm hit and it came down in BUCKETS. Shortly after the down pour started, hail was added to the deluge. Temperatures dropped from 85 degrees to 31 degrees in a matter of a minute. Fortunately, we were driving on the freeway when this occurred, because had we still been on the trail, it would have taken us hours to get off trail and it certainly would have caused a serious risk to the group.
This was one wild and crazy weekend, as the weather and events made it go all sorts of directions. We have future plans to pre-run next year’s event, and hopefully we will make it through without any spooky or crazy events.