Thanks to the internet, the concept of a government secret has been rendered little more than a quaint James Bond plot device. For example, in decades past, the public only had conjecture and hearsay to feed its curiosity about the inner workings of the US government's shadowy military base on the southern shore of Nevada's Groom Lake, a site better known as "Area 51."
But today, thanks to technology like Google Maps, we can all achieve a clear birds-eye-view of the secret facility conveniently linked with user-submitted telephoto images supplying a ground level perspective. Now anyone with a smart phone can be treated to an unobstructed view into the secret military installation that — officially — doesn't even exist.
So, c'mon, X-File with me.
Starting Your Tour
The base at Groom Lake, sometimes referred to as "The Dreamland Resort," has been used by the Air Force since WWII as a testing ground for all kinds of experimental aircraft. However, the government only tacitly acknowledges the facility's very existence. The airspace over the area is restricted and the perimeter is littered with signs warning that "photography is prohibited" and the "use of deadly force is authorized."
Which might be considered overkill if there was just a bunch of rocks and tumble weed.
Fueled by the base's secrecy, Area 51 has become a focal point of the UFO conspiracy community. Theories range from reverse engineering of the crashed UFO at Roswell to the setting of actual intergalactic sit-downs with visiting extraterrestrials. The conspiracy factory has been further energized by local reports of unusual phenomenon spotted in the skies over the area.
So, are there alien autopsies being performed at a secret UFO chop shop somewhere in Area 51? Last summer, a handful of retired contractors who claimed to have worked at the facility came forward with tales of advanced technology programs being carried out in a vast underground infrastructure built below the base. But sadly, the retirees had no tales of extraterrestrials or any spaceship teardowns. Bummer. But kindly retired contractors be damned, I'm still curious! And thanks to Google, we have been given a partial window into the mysterious desert base.
Area 51 may be one of the easiest nonexistent military bases to find. Simply type "Area 51" as a location search on Google Maps. Make sure you click on satellite view and there it is. (The results even come with the requisite jackass "reviews" of the location commenting how well the staff treated them after their UFO crashed nearby):
As you can see, the satellite image doesn't reveal anything all that Spielbergian. Area 51 is a sprawling dessert complex with various runways. There's a network of large nondescript buildings (possibly hangars) littering the area along with a few planes sitting outside and several cars parked about. There are a few roads leading in from the vast rocky brown Nevada badlands.
One strange feature arises as you search to the south of the main complex. Here, you will find this character etched into the desert floor out of roads and buildings:
This is the aerial view (located at: +37° 12' 48.15", -115° 48' 41.79") of some weird assortment of mounds and paths. To me, this shape somewhat resembles a toaster lying on its side inside a geometrical prison. It is interesting to note that you could only see this very definitive figure from the air. Could this be Area 51's own version of the Nazca lines created to guide alien visitors or other futuristic aircraft? Or is it just a normal example of infrastructure that an overactive imagination might construe as an imprisoned cartoon toaster? For now, we can allow alientoastergate to fester in the UFO supposition machine.
If you switch over from satellite view to map view, this whole segment of the Nevada dessert becomes part of a vast monotonous gray block. This is how Google renders many military or government facilities in map view. Either Google has been asked to remove the data, or the topographical void is the result of a dearth of public info. Either way, the satellite view of these facilities, including Area 51, remain crystal clear.
Which seems like kind of an oversight.
From a cursory overview, there are no signs of vital national interest that would need concealing from Al Qaeda or the Chinese. Still, the Google Street View car probably wouldn't be welcome to drive around the facilities thus giving the world the ability to virtually explore every pathway. However, Google has allowed for other makeshift "street views."
Time to Cheat
The map of Area 51 also links to several Panoramio photos taken from around the perimeter of the facilities looking in. Panoramio is a company purchased by Google in 2007 that adds a layer of user-submitted, geographically-tagged photos to Google Earth and Google Maps. On Maps, you can locate these images by dragging the little person icon who lives on top of the zoom bar over to the actual map (works on both satellite and map views). Hold it there a moment and various dots will pop up around the area. Drag the little figure over the dot and you will be shown a thumbnail of an image geotagged to that location. Drop the little figure there and you'll be linked to the full-scale image.(Alternatively, you can just click on the "More..." tab on the top and click the box marked "Photos".) In Area 51's case, you can find linked photos that people took of the base from around the surroundings via telephoto lens, giving you a more comprehensive eye level perspective of the area.
Here's a long panorama shot of the Area taken in 2008 by user "Kenny Jaysson Avello...." One Area 51 Panoramio poster, "macbic110274" comments that a friend who wishes to remain anonymous took the long distance photos from nearby Tikaboo Peak, which overlooks the valley in which the base is located. (Tikaboo is currently the closest vantage point the public has into Area 51 after the government closed two closer areas in 1995 due to increased attempts by the public to capture images inside the facility).
These long distance shots show the sort of infrastructure you might see at an airport anywhere around the world, as well as a bevy of satellite communication dishes scattered throughout. From this vantage point, many of the buildings are as boring and non-descript as they are from the birds-eye-view. Scenic charm was not a priority for whoever designed this place.
Even the Tikaboo Peak images around the main hub of Area 51 fail to provide anything truly sci-fi-tastic. However if you veer to the south of the main facilities, you will find this captionless image that user "Las Vegas 666" snapped in 2003 that shows either an aerial chemical trail or some kind of vehicle traveling down the road or runway in the distance. One commenter chimes in with "spooky." I'll give it that much.
So, there you go, an upclose look at the notorious Area 51. While it sadly doesn't present any earth shattering proof of extraterrestrial encounters, it does offer a window on how technology really has leveled the playing field, giving the general public an unfettered view into a secret government facility — a view that only a decade ago would have been unfathomable.
Still no little green men, though!
PS — For those who might complain about posting information on a military facility online, this information is already widely available and contains nothing that hasn't been viewed many times before.
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