Area 51 Golden Anniversary (May 27-29, 2005)
by Peter Merlin

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Peter Merlin and Tom Kinzel overlooking Railroad Valley
Tom Kinzel and I attended the Area 51 Golden Anniversary Campout at the tail end of our annual expedition.

Each year, Tom and I explore part of the western United States in search of ghost towns, mines, caves, prehistoric ruins and petroglyphs, nuclear test sites, plane wrecks, abandoned missile silos, fossils, and interesting natural features. Often we incorporate most or all of these things in a one-week or two-week itinerary. Sometimes we plan the trip around a special event (solar eclipse, Space Shuttle landing, etc.). In this case, we designed the itinerary to end with the Area 51 Golden Anniversary Campout.

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Tom and Trevor Paglen entering Nye Mine
After spending several days circumnavigating the state of Nevada, we spent the night of Wednesday (25 May) at the Lost Hope Mine near Montello. In the morning, we drove through Wendover and visited the A-12 (Article 123) crash site. The impact crater still bears the shape of the A-12, which struck the ground in an inverted attitude with some forward momentum. The tail fins gouged two grooves in the earth. The outlines of the engine nacelles and aft fuselage are also clearly visible. Aircraft debris litters the area surrounding the crater.

We continued southward and visited a few mines before spending the night in Ely.

The next day we explored mines near Ely, Currant, and Sand Springs. As we approached Queen City Summit, we took a side trip on Cedar Pipeline Ranch Road to look for the turnoff to the Oswald Mine. We were nearly run off the road by a large, fast-moving bus that was apparently headed toward Tonopah Test Range. Osawld Mine proved a disappointment and so we headed to Rachel for a brief stop at the Little Ale'Inn.

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Tom Kinzel inside Terrell Mine
Next, we drove all over Tempiute Mountain in search of interesting mines. None were available for exploration, but we did find the wreckage of an F-4E (68-0518). It was late in the day when we rolled into the campground. In the waning daylight I set up a six-panel display of Area 51 history in photos and text. Unfortunately the wind made it difficult to keep parts of the display in place. Too bad. I worked pretty hard to put it together. It included a large number of photos that had never been published, and many which have never been see by personnel outside of the various programs. It was a rare public glimpse into the true history of Groom Lake. I also displayed a collection of small pieces of eight aircraft that had been tested at Area 51 over the last half century including a piece of the U-2 prototype (Article 341), the first airplane ever tested at the Site.

On Saturday, Tom and I introduced Trevor Paglen to mine exploring and wreck hunting. At one mine, he had the opportunity to spend time in a tunnel with several dozen Townsend's Big Eared bats (Plecotus townsendii) flying around. At another, we found a variety of interesting buildings and tunnels to explore.

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Peter Merlin with the crashed D-21 rocket booster
Finally, we searched for the crash site of a D-21B reconnaissance drone that was accidentally dropped from a modified B-52H during a test flight from Area 51 in 1967. I defined a search grid and the three of us took positions 100-feet apart and walked for nearly a mile. We then moved over and covered a parallel strip of ground in the opposite direction. During that pass, I spotted a dark, manmade object in the distance, nearly a quarter-mile away. As I got close, i could see that it was part of an aircraft. In fact, it turned out to be the nose cone from the drone's rocket booster. We had found the site! (I will write a more detailed story about the accident and our search for the crash site at a later date)

It took all three of us to lift our trophy into the truck. We had just enough time to get back to our campsite before full dark. We all felt it was appropriate that we should return to the campout with an actual piece of a test vehicle from Area 51 and we were prepared to display it and answer any questions. Surprisingly few people at camp were interested in seeing it, however.

Overall, the campout was a successful event. It was well organized and Joerg's preparations paid off. The turnout was good, and all participants seemed enthusiastic. Norio Hayakawa and others entertained the crowd with music (live and otherwise). I took a few minutes to read a poem about Area 51 by J.E. Coleman who worked on TACIT BLUE at the Site. Tom and I departed early on Sunday. I hope everyone enjoyed it as much as we did.

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Peter Merlin with his Area 51 History Display at the Area 51 Anniversary Campout

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