The problems wouldn’t end there: People would run out of gas, and the closest pump is around 50 miles away. Campers would get too cold at night, too hot during the day, and too dehydrated all the time, unprepared for the extremes of desert living. There wouldn’t be enough food or toilets. People might pick pockets or break into the homes of part-time residents. Also, in a gathering that would likely attract at least a few unhinged attendees, Arnu worried about the potential for violence.

The council heard his complaints but gave the A’le’Inn a permit anyway. And although the Facebook creator pulled out (worried about the potential of a Fyre Festival 2.0), the A’le’Inn is still welcoming guests. And even if it weren’t, people would still show up. It is, after all, a free country. “It’s like the beast that once you create it you can’t kill it,” says Arnu. “People will come. People will come to Rachel.”

Arnu understands the appeal better than most. He first came to Area 51 on a day trip in 1998, driving out from Las Vegas. He’d been reading what he could about the place—this isolated swath of nothing-land that existed first as a development and testing hideaway for the U-2 spy plane, then for the A-12 Oxcart, its successor, and for experimental winged projects ever since. Though he’d heard strange stuff, he had only a bare idea of what went on there. “There was nothing really reliable on the internet that you could really read up on, so everybody had their own speculations, and I just had to see for myself,” says Arnu. “Instead of my curiosity being satisfied, it was really amplified.”

He knew, though, that other people were probably having the same online experience he was: There wasn’t much Area 51 info out there. He wanted to make his findings, unlike pretty much everything else about Area 51, public. “What’s the point of knowledge if you don’t share it?” he says. “It’s pointless. I couldn’t imagine just keeping it to myself.”


The WIRED Guide to Aliens

Thus was born “Pretty soon after I started the website, I realized a lot of people coming out there were sort of lost,” he says. “They didn’t really know what to do or what to bring.” He started to build it out, adding an FAQ page for these n00bs.

Today, the website is a sprawling operation: It has extensive history sections, pilot audio captured on scanners, satellite images Arnu commissioned, trip reports, maps, and panoramas taken from the one mountain peak—Tikaboo—from where you can see inside Area 51. Around 2002, he actually live-streamed a broadcast from the top of that mountain, relaying his radio transmission to the radio of a friend in Rachel, who had an internet connection and put it online.

Perhaps most importantly, though, has a discussion board. Soon after Arnu started it, the forum became the go-to gathering place for Area 51 researchers. The curious passed knowledge of the site by word of mouth, email chains, and AOL message boards. The site also showed up higher in search results back then than it does now. “There wasn’t all this clutter,” Arnu says. “When you do a search for Area 51 today, it’s news, trendy this, trendy that.”

Trendy, you know, base-raiding. “I cannot wait for this to be over,” he says, “and to crawl back into my little corner of the universe and run my website.”

When I first met Arnu, in the fall of 2018, I’d asked him if he’d be willing to drive me around the Area 51 perimeter and do an interview for a UFO culture book I’m writing. We spent a day cruising close to the security guards’ Ford Raptor trucks, talking not at all about the ET narratives that largely trace their origin back to one man, Bob Lazar, who in the late 1980s claimed he worked on reverse-engineering an alien craft and whose story has holes like those nuclear tests used to blast into the ground nearby.

This content was originally published here.