In January of this year my good friend William and I ventured out to the deserts of southern Nevada during the Red Flag exercises only to have our tent poles snapped in half by a freak snow storm that forced us to bunk at the Little A'le'Inn and go home early. Thinking that lighting never strikes twice, we vowed to return to complete our quest…
William and I arrived near Rachel the evening of the 16th (Saturday) and set up our camp near the southern end of the dry lake bed located North-East of town. After our previous trip it was suggested to us that we set up camp here, as the hills near the southern edge [supposedly] provide excellent blockage from the wind. By all outward appearances it is a remarkable place to camp. The ground is completely flat; it's easily accessible and is a good place to watch the sky. The light from the full moon reflecting off the near-white surface of the lake made it a stunning, eerie sight. The bugs soon began to flock towards us, including a nice sized scorpion, but we set up camp, relaxed for a bit then went to bed.
In the morning it soon became apparent the reflective surface of the lake not only looked awesome at night, but provided an excellent secondary heat source in the day…it gets hot FAST out there. After being chased barefoot over the lake bed by the most persistent and aggressive bee I think either one of us has ever dealt with (hey, some of us are allergic), we eventually left to go see what we could find, as there were no flights scheduled on Sunday. We spent most of the morning looking around Alamo and relaxing in Ash Springs. (If you haven't done so, try the jalapeño corn dogs at the "R" Place, not only are they delicious but for .99 cents you can't go wrong!)
We meandered back to our campsite and tried to ignore the heat and relax. Soon a breeze began to pick up and things became much more pleasant. We were sitting around talking when we noticed some dark clouds moving in from the North West. The clouds where hardly moving at all, but we continued watching them as we talked. Soon we started to see lighting striking and decided for safety sake to head into Rachel and wait for it to pass. We began to prepare our campsite for the storm. Five minutes after we had made this decision the wind began to blow extremely hard. We hurriedly tied everything down and jumped in the car right before a massive wall of dust from the lake bed engulfed our site. Not more than 30 seconds after the wall of dust had passed another HUGE gust of wind slammed into the tent that William had purchased two days prior. This second gust of wind hit the tent hard enough that it pulled out all the stakes and ripped off every single clasp holding the poles to the tent. Laying in a heap, the guy lines from the rain fly the only thing keeping it from blowing across the desert, the tent was rendered completely useless…AGAIN! First mine, now his. By now the rain had started to fall and the lighting was getting closer. We were in the exact same situation as we were in last January minus the snow and cold. We started to pull things from the tent but quickly decided to lift the whole thing into the back of the pickup truck and take off.
We drove into Rachel at a loss for words (besides a few colorful expletives) hardily believing this had happened again. Those of you who have been to the Little A'Le'Inn know how nice the operators are. They shared in our defeat as we sat, had Alien Burgers and re-grouped.
The night before Rachel was ground zero for the Extraterrestrial Highway Marathon, hosting over 400 people. Because of said marathon we were not able to get a room at the Inn Sunday night, but found a great room at the Alamo Inn in…well, Alamo. We had a pleasant evening there talking with guests and recouping from the afternoon's onslaught. But, the storm eventually caught up with us, completely soaking all of our gear in the back of the truck overnight. In the morning we laid/dried everything out, got organized again and then we heard the planes in the sky… (I know, quite the ordeal just to get to the interesting stuff)
We took off from Alamo listening to the scanner on our way back in. After parking atop Coyote Summit for a short time, we went back into Rachel to see if we could find someone with better launch/recovery information than we had. It must have been "German Day" at the Inn when we got there. We talked for a while with some people about Red Flag and the pilot who lost his life recently. We along, with the others wish to express our deepest condolences to his family, friends and air force colleagues for this tragic loss.
We booked a room at the Inn then drove out to Cedar Gate and watched the skies (and cows) for a while. We drove back and parked at the gravel pit area to the east Of Queens City Summit. While we were there we both saw a plane, dark in color, flying EXTREMELY LOW and too fast to identify, cross the valley floor near the area of Gunderson Road. We drove down to Gunderson Rd. and watched with no success. We returned to our perch near the summit and a short time later we were able to see an F-15 flying straight at us then banking to the north, while another unidentified plane crossed from the eastern edge of the valley towards the F-15.
Soon after that we heard Control come on the scanner and say the next scheduled exercise would be conducted at "Coyote Beta." Not knowing exactly where that is, we drove over to Coyote Summit and waited. While there we heard numerous planes in the sky but had little luck seeing them. I was looking south and William shouted at me to look. Coming nearly straight at us, not more than 400-500 ft. above the ground was an F-16 moving FAST. In seconds he was right in front of us, banked to the north, and dove over the hills and was out of sight. Neither William nor I are experienced photographers nor do we have any serious equipment, but William was able to capture him in his bank away from us.
Not much happened for the rest of the day, we went back to our room at the Inn and chilled for a while and ate. One of the highlights of the trip happened when we went into the Inn that evening and saw that a bat had somehow managed to fly inside. It was hilarious as everyone there tried to get the bat to fly outside. He was eventually caught in a hat and released out the door.
The payoff for the trip came when we were watching a fine film from the selection they keep at the Inn when we heard a couple sonic rumbles in the distance. We stepped out the back door and saw the sky FILLED with planes engaged in combat maneuvers. We brought out our lawn chairs and watched for nearly an hour as planes tore through the sky at one another, dropping chaff and flairs from time to time. All the planes kept the flashing beacons on (something we had never seen them do before) so it was very easy to track them in their maneuvers.
We went to bed and were up and on our way Tuesday morning. We lost another tent in the process, otherwise this trip was our best yet as Red Flag goes. Again, we'd like to thank everyone at the A'le'Inn for their kindness and hospitality!
And yes it was us who filmed the border incident in January. My apologies for not having a finished film posted somewhere. It was requested that I blur the faces of all those involved before posting it. I have had two crazy semesters trying to quickly finish up school and simply have not had time to do. Hopefully I can get it put together soon!