Date: 29 Oct 93 18:11:31 GMT From the Salt Lake Tribune, October 17th, 1993, reproduced wi
From: email@example.com (Rich Thomson)
Date: 29 Oct 93 18:11:31 GMT
Organization: Design Systems Division, Evans & Sutherland, SLC, UT
From the Salt Lake Tribune, October 17th, 1993,
reproduced with permission.
No Peeking from Peak:
Air Force Wants to Seize Mountain to Protect Secret Base
by Joshua B. Good
Special to the Tribune
Rachel, Nev. -- Hikers who make it to the top of
6,089-foot White Sides Mountain get a clear view of
dry Groom Lake.
Trekkers can spot long runways, barnlike hangars and
crops of communications equipment in the distance.
Some people even pull out binoculars and telescopes
trying to get a peek at the latest U.S. Air Force
jets that routinely take off and land at the
The Pentagon wants it stopped. It plans to seize
4,000 acres around White Sides Mountain and end
public observation of an air base so secret
officials refuse to say it exists.
Environmentalists, aviation buffs and UFO watchers
have banded together to fight for access. On
Saturday, about 20 protesters crossed sagebrush and
walked to the edge of the restricted military zone
at Groom Lake. They set up camp at a place they
call "Freedom Ridge" -- about two miles from the
foot of White Sides Mountain.
From the ridge, protesters could look down and see
the air base, located some 125 miles west of St.
With protesters gathered around, Glenn Campbell said
in a mocked bravado: "Just let them try and seize
Freedom Ridge. We will defend that to the death."
But Nevada Rep. James Bilbray says the mountain
should be restricted for national-security reasons.
"Every time someone goes up on White Sides it costs
taxpayers a lot of money," Said Bilbray, a Democrat
serving on the House Armed Services Committee.
"They have to cover up what they're doing [at the
base] with camouflage netting or roll it into
hangars. They have to wait until the people get off
the mountain before they can go on with what they
were doing and that's not fair."
The base has been used by the Air Force and the CIA
to test secret aircraft, such as the U-2 spy plane
and more recently the F-117 stealth fighter.
Bilbray says the military security knows that spy
satellites routinely observe the facility, but the
base knows their orbit schedules -- and plans
However, he says, hikers with cameras are
Campbell sees no reason for the government's
secrecy. The 33-year-old leader of the White Sides
protesters says times have changed.
"We've already won the Cold War", Campbell said.
"We've got no one out there who can compete with us
on a technological ground unless we go to war with
Campbell describes himself as a UFO investigator.
He moved from Boston to Rachel in January after
reading about alien-spacecraft sightings at the
Groom facility. So far, he says, he has seen
nothing but military planes cross the sky.
When Campbell moved to the town of about 100 people,
he set up shop at the A-Le-Inn. The bar's owner,
Joe Travis, had painted a picture of a bug-eyed
alien on his sign to attract the numerous UFO
enthusiasts who make the pilgrimage to Groom.
At first Campbell was welcome. But his activism
about White Sides brought the Lincoln County sheriff
out to Rachel one too many times. In August, he was
ejected from the A-Le-Inn after a sheriff's deputy
came to confiscate pictures Campbell had taken near
the Groom facility.
Photography is prohibited near the base.
Grace Bukowski also has vowed to stop the Air Force.
She works for Citizen Alert, the state's most active
"We're gonna fight any military expansion in the
state. They've already got 4 million acres",
Bukowski said, "You don't get more 'til you fix what
Bukowski did not attend this weekend's protest. She
was arrested at Groom when she and three other
Citizen Alert members walked into the restricted
zone to work a friend's mining claim. Charges were
Jim Goodall, an aviation historian who lives in
Tacoma, Wash., plans a more direct approach. He
says he will sneak up to the border at night, armed
with his cameras until he gets a clear photo of a
new, secret aircraft rumored to be at the base.
"I'm a real pain in the a-- to my government because
I'm not someone you can brush off. I keep hanging
on", the 48-year-old said.
Goodall is a sergeant with the Minnesota Air
National Guard and is the group's wing historian.
He also has free-lanced for several aviation
publications and sold photos of the stealth fighter
before the Air Force publicly revealed the aircraft.
On Oct. 6, the Air Force filed a petition with the
Bureau of Land Management office in Reno, asking
that 3,972 acres of land on White Sides be withdrawn
from public access.
The purpose of the withdrawal they wrote, would be
to "ensure the public safety and the safe and secure
operation of activities in the Nellis Range
The Nellis Range is a 3 million acre military
reserve used for combat training, weapons testing
and -- at the secret air base -- a lengthy airstrip
for worldwide reconnaissance flights.
When the base expanded in 1984, the Air Force took
89,000 acres of public land. They set up guard
posts and turned hunters, miners, ranchers and
reporters away at gunpoint.
Nevada politicians raised a stink, saying the land
grab was illegal.
Although after-the-fact, Congress approved the land
withdrawal in October of that year.
This time around, the land withdrawal process will
be more different, according to Curtis Tucker, the
BLM area manager who oversees much of Central
Nevada, including White Sides Mountain.
"A decision could take six months to a year", Tucker
said. "Of course, I don't know how much political
pressure will come to make it happen sooner."
Tucker said a representative of the secret facility
approached him in the spring to explain why the Air
Force wanted White Sides shut off to outsiders.
"He was nonspecific. We talked in generalities",
Tucker said. "It basically gets down to there are
some assets they don't want people to see".
What they don't want people to see, according to
published reports in aviation trade journals, is a
secret high-flying spy plane code-named "Aurora."
The super-secret jet is said to attain speeds of
4,000 mph (Mach 6) and seismologists in Souther
California now call the plane's earth-shaking sonic
Air Force information officers offer some surprising
answers when asked about the plane or the secret
"You're not going to get anyone in the Air Force to
talk about it", said Maj. Monica Aloisiom, a
public-affairs officer stationed at the Pentagon.
"[Groom] is probably a secret test facility and I
don't have a need to know that, so I don't know
The Air Force has a history of running people out of
the Groom area.
During the late 1940s and early 1950s the Sheehan
family, led by Dan Sheehan, mined at Groom.
But atomic blasts damaged the mine and above-ground
buildings at Groom, according to Department of
The Sheahans' horses were killed after they
developed open sores. The Sheahans blamed
Then, in the summer of 1954, Air Force pilots flying
from the Las Vegas Gunnery Range attacked the
Sheahan mining operation.
"Buildings have been struck by bullets, several
people have narrowly escaped being killed and some
pilots have even gone so far as to dive down and
strafe our workings", Dan Sheahan wrote in a July
7, 1954 letter to then-Nev. Gov. Charles Russell.
In 1958, the Air Force bought out the Sheahans.
That is when the military began the U-2 spy-plane
mission, according to a book written by Francis
Gary Powers. He was the U-2 pilot captured by
Soviet forces in 1950 when his spy plane went down
In his book _Operation Overflight_, Powers referred
to the secret air base in the Nevada desert where he
trained "as one of those you-can't-get-there-from-here
It was run by the CIA, he wrote, and called
"Watertown Strip" or simply "the ranch".
Powers spent nearly two years in a Soviet prison
after his capture. In 1977, he crashed a Los
Angeles television station's helicopter and died.
During the Reagan administration, the Groom facility
got a big boost as part of the president's Strategic
Defense Initiative (SDI) plan.
That is when the Air Force seized the 89,000 acres
adjacent to the base in 1984, presumably to protect
the stealth fighter and other black-budget aircraft.
In 1989, UFO enthusiasts began traveling to the base
after stories spread that live aliens were being
kept at so-called "Area 51". They have climbed
White Sides and the ridges overlooking the air base
looking for outer-space critters.
If the Air Force succeeds and takes White Sides, the
people who trek into the desert to look at lights in
the night sky have a backup plan.
"I've already found a spot", says aviator Goodall.
"You can't see the facility, but you can see
anything that takes off from the facility."
Joshua B. Good is a Las Vegas free-lance writer.
E-Mail Fredric L. Rice / The Skeptic Tank