The NEW Area 51
In the June, 1997 issue of Popular Mechanics, Science/Technology Editor Jim Wilson wrote, "Area 51 has shut down." He made this determination after trying to see the Groom Lake facility, making a few wrong turns, and ending up at a seldom used entrance to Range 61 of the Nellis Air Force Range. Not only did he discover that Area 51 is closed, but he found the New Area 51. He determined, "It is the White Sands Missile Range Utah Launch Complex." And if anyone was interested in taking a look, he added, "Located south of Utah Route 70 and east of the Green River, it is like the Groom Dry Lake Bed...". Naturally I had to see for myself.
My first problem was finding Utah Route 70. It wasn't on any of my maps, but there was an Interstate 70 running right past the city of Green River. Try as I might, I could not find any Groom like dry lake beds. The closest looking terrain was barren mud slopes, tailings from the days of Uranium mining. Oops! Well, I only stayed a few hours and wasn't glowing when I left.
The first thing you notice as you approach the Launch Complex are three large storage buildings on the right. A sign near the gate of one reads "Magazine Area No. 11". While there were no munitions used in these tests, this would be a likely location for the solid fuel used in the Athena rockets or even the rockets themselves. All three buildings are easily visible from I-70, and all three are fenced, with locked gates. It would have been easy to squeeze through the barbed wire, but the fence, gate and lock were enough to meet my criteria for "Don't Go There". I continued on down road.
Further on, there's a road leading off to the right. Signs say it goes to Crystal Geyser. That in itself is an interesting geological feature. It's also used by river rafters and canoeists. In his article, Jim Wilson included a satellite photo with a red circle around the Pershing missile launch site which is located near Crystal Geyser. He said it was "suitable for takeoff of the type of aircraft that will be tested from the New Area 51". I wasn't aware of it at the time I visited and didn't go there, but if you get to the area before my next trip, be sure to let me know what that looks like.
But I did stop at a building about a half mile down this side road. The sign in front says, "GREEN RIVER SECTION, WSMR/MET TEAM/ASL". It was the meteorology (weather) station. A short hike to the building showed there is nothing there that hasn't been vandalized. Light fixtures, windows, even the porcelain throne in a small room were smashed to little pieces. Doors - those that were left - were open and in most cases falling off their hinges.
At first I couldn't figure out what that tall part of the build was used for. It seemed to big to be a garage. But that's where the weather balloons were inflated and then guided out the 20 foot high overhead door and launched.
But no sign anywhere of secret airplanes, UFOs or ion propulsion engines. But I wasn't giving up. I went back to the main road headed east/southeast toward a small, low mesa.