My good friend William and I make a pilgrimage to Dreamland every few years or so, and after a couple failed attempts we decided to cowboy up and go for it. We've been a few times, but this was to be our first visit during Red Flag.
We arrived in the Tikaboo Valley on Wednesday, hoping to catch the last few days of Red Flag. We set up camp (yes. as poor college students we were camping) in the large "bowl" just passed mile marker 22 on the 375. We chose it partly because it was supposed to be a great place to block the wind, a point that would later prove completely wrong.
We woke the next morning to nearly 6 inches of snow on the ground, and another 2 feet surrounding our tent where the snow had sloughed off during the storm. We decided to drive into Rachel to see if they could give us a heads up on the forecast and perhaps suggest a better place to camp. As always, they were extremely friendly (other than poking a little for camping in January), and suggested the dry lake bed north-east of town. We checked it out and decided to relocate.
When we turned into our "bowl", however, our tent was completely flattened. Upon further inspection we found out the wind had snapped two of the fiberglass tent poles completely in half and splintered a third. After a painfully cold and rapid removal or our gear we decided to spend what little money we had to get a room at the Ale-Inn.
Somewhat dejected we drove south and took pictures at the mailbox and then the border. That's where things got a little more interesting. We pulled up to the signs and saw parked at the base of "Camo-Dude Hill" the Lincoln County Sheriff along with a white Dodge Magnum (sans plates) and another sand colored pickup truck, plus the usual white Cherokee with Camo Dudes atop the hill. We got out to take a few pictures and walk around in the hills. Soon another pickup truck as well as a black SUV pulled over the top of Camo-Dude hill and down to the rest of the group. We watched and video taped as much as we dared from atop the hill to the right and inside the car. (Once I get my video uploaded I can get some much better screen shots of everything going on.) We watched as they took a young man from his vehicle and put him in the black SUV. Several of the men were in Camo, others were not. They searched the white car top to bottom. After a while we saw paper work exchanged and they seemed to be disbanding. We started angling our car so we could rest our camera on it for more pictures when the group pulled out. As soon he was on the "legal side" of the border the Sheriff got out of his car and approached us. To the best of my memory this is what he said.
"You're not breaking the law, but let me tell you something. If I have to come out here again, I am not going to give you a citation, I am going to arrest you and take you to jail like this guy. (Pointing to the Magnum) Don't come close to here, don't going walking around up there (pointing to the hill we'd come from) It's just a base there's no big mystery here. You're just causing problems for yourself and your country."
We said we were only there to watch flag and we'd be leaving shortly. The Sheriff, the Magnum now driven by a man in civilian clothes, and the SUV drove passed us, while the others went up Groom Lake road into the base.
We then went to Ash Springs to enjoy a swim in the hot springs, returned to Rachel, and again headed out to look around. This time we drove over to the Cedar Gate. We first drove all the way to the gate (no sign of people) before we turned back and walked around the Ranch for a while. While doing so we noticed a car approaching VERY fast from the direction of the gate. We got back into our car and started to drive away. We picked up the pace as did our apparent pursuers. They followed us at about 60 MPH until we reached the 375 again, at which point they discontinued pursuit. We were both on edge, having apparently just been run out of Cedar Gate.
That night we patrolled the scanner and looked for activity at both Coyote and Queens City Summit. The ever-present snow clouds made visibility nearly impossible however. Every now and again we could see flares and chaff being dropped but that was about it. While atop Queens City Summit we did see several bright flashes against the clouds followed by loud percussive bangs you could feel against the side of the car. God Bless live ordinance testing.
After a night in our cozy little room we bought the mandatory mugs and souvenirs from the gift shop at the Inn then headed off to look for planes once more. Again the clouds made it impossible to see much. Most of the pilots we picked up on the scanner would report altitudes far above the cloud level. As we left the valley to begin our trek home we felt one last massive sonic boom (we actually thought we'd blown a tire and got out to look) and we were on our way.
I admit the trip was not the best we've had. But after spending all our money and losing my tent, we WERE able see some things not a lot of people do, get chased out of Cedar Gate, and spend some time with the good people of Rachel. We'll be back in the near future...