(CNN) — Everyone’s talking about Area 51 because of a satirical Facebook page where a million actual people signed up to storm the Nevada site to “see them aliens.”
It was all a joke! Storming a classified government site en masse is kind of a big lift and also very dangerous and illegal … right, guys?
But whether it’s the location’s secretive aura, the trendiness of conspiracies and unsolved mysteries or a secret collective desire to, you know, actually see them aliens, people are still fascinated. We’re not saying Area 51 is going to be the next hot tourist destination, but if you were to visit for non-nefarious reasons, here’s what you’d find.
What is Area 51?
Area 51 is a US Air Force training range in the Southern Nevada desert. Yes, it is an active military base used for flight testing, although it’s fairly secretive about what else happens there (which is one of the reasons why people think it has a bunch of aliens! Or at least one or two). Everything that goes on at the base is considered top secret, but the base itself is not secret.
Why does everyone think there are aliens there?
Historically, there have been a lot of UFO sightings in the area, which of course have nothing to do with all of the fancy top-secret military aircraft they test there. But conspiracy theorists are gonna conspiracy, and the legends got a big boost in 1989 when a man named Bob Lazar claimed that he worked with an alien spacecraft as part of his job in one of Area 51’s underground facilities.
There have been a handful of other people claiming they worked with, saw or heard something supernatural while working at Area 51. Combine that with the tantalizing reality of a top-secret military base in the middle of a craggy, otherworldly desert landscape, and, well, the imagination runs wild.
What does the government say about it?
If there were real aliens, do you think the government would just straight up tell us?! People would lose their minds! You think a weird Facebook meetup meme is bad? Imagine if we knew that there were actually aliens there.
Anyway, obviously, the government has been very coy about the whole thing, and it just acknowledged the existence of Area 51 in 2013 (not that it was a secret before). The acknowledgment came after citizens filed a Freedom of Information Act request that called for the release of information regarding the government’s activities. Washington went ahead and declassified documents revealing the purpose of Area 51 and, you guessed it, no aliens. Lots of plane stuff, though.
Can you just … go there?
Funny story: Area 51 doesn’t actually have any fences around it. You most definitely can’t waltz in like it’s your friend’s apartment building — when the sign says the use of deadly force has been authorized, it’s no joke — but the image of thousands of alien truthers rattling an ominous barbed wire fence is, well, misleading.
But just because you can’t — and definitely should not! — try to enter Area 51 doesn’t mean you can’t get your fill of UFO goodness nearby. In fact, the whole area is geared toward “The Truth is Out There” tourism, and includes several museums and points of interest along what is known as the Extraterrestrial Highway. Bet you can’t guess where that leads. (Hint: It rhymes with Schmoswell, Schmew Mexico.)
If you have jumped the gun and made it to Nevada with the intention of paying a visit to Area 51, why not visit some of these other exciting attractions?
• The Alien Research Center in Lincoln County, Nevada
• Hiko, Nevada, an old mining town that’s home to a giant ET mural and something called “ET Jerky” that we don’t want to know about.
• Rachel, Nevada, the UFO Capital of the World
• The National Atomic Testing Museum, which leads monthly tours of the Nevada National Security Site near Area 51. It’s not Area 51 itself, but it’s close! And you won’t get arrested. It’s a win-win.
Are people genuinely planning on storming Area 51? Most likely not. It’s like the Tide Pod challenge of Facebook conspiracy theories: harmless as a joke but possibly deadly if you’re reckless enough to try. So don’t! Gnaw on some ET Jerky and browse UFO message boards instead. Or just look up into the vast, twinkling blackness of a Nevada night sky. You might see your own UFO.