What is it and why should we care?
by Tom Mahood, November 1995
Of the many stories floating out of the nooks and crannies of the Nellis Complex, none have really ever mentioned Area 19. Area 19 would appear to be a rather mundane location for anything to happen, correct? Well, maybe...and maybe not. There is a collection of oddities and slightly peculiar circumstances that suggest Area 19 may be worthy of a little attention.
Area 19, along with Area 20 to its west, form the northern "cap" to the Nevada Test Site (NTS). This sizable chunk of real estate was added to the NTS in response to the 1962 Test Ban Treaty, which ended atmospheric testing. The bomb boys needed somewhere to play with their toys, and Yucca Flat was a little too close to Las Vegas for the rockin' and rolling induced by the larger blasts. The distance and geology of the Rainier Mesa and Pahute Mesa areas made them seem like an ideal location for massive underground tests.
Well, nothing too strange about that. What is there that suggests anything out of the ordinary?
The Power Line
What first attracts attention to Area 19 is a simple power line. It's visible on both the Las Vegas aircraft sectional chart and the Pahute Mesa 1:100,000 USGS map. It begins at an even larger line near Highway 95 at Lathrop Wells, and runs almost due north through the NTS, terminating in Area 19. It would appear to be one of the main power feeds for the entire NTS, with considerable load carrying capability. According to NTS maps, the line terminates in Area 19 as a 34.5 kilovolt line at a 1,000 KVA substation. Where the power goes from there is not shown.
Its point of termination is also worth a closer look. The maps show the line ending in the center of an unusual double ring of roads, a configuration not seen in other areas of the NTS. Strangely, there is no facility listed on any NTS document, at least that I've seen, at the line's termination. Officially there just isn't anything there. Yet aerial and satellite photos do indeed some "something" there. Finally, the very boundaries of Area 19 seem to be drawn "around" where the power line terminates. The location is absolutely centered in the middle of the northerly "bulge" of the Area 19 boundary.
Area 19 is about as far from anywhere as you can get within the Nellis Complex, shielded from prying eyes by many, many miles. It is much more remote than even the legendary Groom Lake base itself. A quick look at a large scale map reveals the location is fairly centered within the overall Nellis Complex, with viewing opportunities from neighboring peaks out of the question. However the recent airspace change at the north boundary of Area 19 does open the possibility of an air excursion near, if not exactly over, Area 19.
According to documents from the NTS, most (but not all) of Area 19 is set aside for nuclear weapons testing, and is shown as being assigned to the Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL). However, Paul McGinnis (who has done a lot digging into certain areas of the NTS...click here for his web site) was informed by the fine folks at the NTS that Areas 19 and 20 were under the control of the Defense Nuclear Agency (DNA). He was further told that the NTS had no knowledge of what classified programs the DNA had underway in those two areas.
The Cheshire Airstrip
There is a fairly reliable (at least in my judgment) story of a "disappearing airstrip" and some sort of related semi-underground facility (click here to see the full story). The location given for this airstrip was Dead Horse Flat, in the center of Area 19.
On two occasions I've related the Area 19 suspicions to individuals I know who were planning "press tours" of the NTS. A press tour is usually a very small group of media representatives, being shown around the NTS by a press guide, and they are allowed cameras. Now the fun thing about press tours is that they pretty much can go wherever they want, as long as they have their guide to keep them out of trouble. This even includes Area 11 (Also known as Plutonium Valley), the site of plutonium dispersal experiments a number of years ago. It requires a limited "moon suit" but the NTS seems happy to oblige.
Not so when the request is to visit Area 19. On one occasion the press group was told it was simply too far and there wasn't enough time. At another time, a different press group was told "The roads heading up there aren't maintained any more, and it's uncertain if we can get through", a curious statement considering that the access, Pahute Mesa Road, is paved. Neither response is particularly suspicious, unless taken in context with the other circumstances.
Now here's where we can go off the deep end, if not careful. These are rumors and should be weighed accordingly.
The first is really not a rumor, at least to me, as I know the parties involved, but is strange enough that it should be listed under the category. Not long before his death, Ben Rich, the manager of Lockheed's Skunk Works, was asked a question. He was asked "Hypothetically speaking, if we had possession of extraterrestrial debris or even craft, who would you suppose would be handling it?" To this Rich literally growled, "Los Alamos!" and wouldn't discuss it further. While it could simply be speculation on Rich's part, it hints at an oft-rumored Los Alamos link. And LANL does have some sort of jurisdiction over Area 19.
Another rumor comes from a former worker at the NTS. It was his recollection that "an awful lot of drilling" was done in Area 19, but relatively few nuclear blasts. He says there was a story released that the drillers hit an underground lake, and as a result the NTS was not able to fully utilize the area. This seems to tie in with the fact that while there were a goodly amount of blasts done in Area 20, and some in the southerly part of Area 19, the records show very few in the heart of Area 19. The worker did seem to think there was something '"odd" about Area 19.
The final rumor is a doozy. I can't attest to its validity or the reliability of the source, and pass it along only as another bit of spice for the soup. It is, however, quite entertaining. The story related to me was that a number of years ago, there was some sort of secret SDI laser facility at the termination of the powerline, in the center of the ring of roads. During testing there was an explosion that destroyed much of the facility, resulting in its abandonment. Some time later, the "saucer boys" renovated the facility and moved in. They established a facility that housed a single, remotely controlled disc. The facility was a fairly elaborate underground complex (aren't they all!) with vehicular entrances to the south. The disc, your generic 10 meter variety, was powered by capacitors, allowing flight for a fairly limited time only, and did not carry pilots or passengers. The story also includes some sort of anti-aircraft emplacements at points along the double ring of roads. Whether they were to protect the facility from pissed off aliens attempting to recover their property, or simply to blow errant Cessnas out of the sky was unclear.
So, I guess I've provided clear evidence that there is a secret underground facility in the heart of Area 19, complete with its very own saucer and that Groom Lake was just a very public diversion. Yeah, right! Seriously, this may just all be a collection of routine circumstances, looked at in just enough of a skewed light to form a pretty crazy picture. Unfortunately it is human nature that if you look at something long enough, you begin seeing things that really aren't there. However anything REALLY secret is going to be very hard to spot. The people who do this for the government are a very clever bunch and probably do their jobs quite well.
I think Area 19 is worthy of at least a little scrutiny. I'd sure like a tour....
Back to the Main Nellis page