Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Signs That Stopped Me In My Tracks

When I was doing the research for Top Secret Tourism, I made several visits to the boundaries of restricted sites in the western United States. And while I couldn't actually get inside those places, I could at least take photos of the signs warning me to stay away.

Let's start with America's favorite top secret facility, Area 51. Below is a sign I photographed at its border. Maybe it's just me, but there is something irresistible about a "Photography of this Area is Prohibited" sign-----I just have to take a photo of it! If the sign had read "Photography of this Area is Mandatory," I would've taken no pictures. With people like me, you sometimes must employ reverse psychology:

Here's another sign forbidding photography of Area 51. That orange post at right is how the border is marked beyond the main road; they are spaced about 100 feet apart in the desert. As I discovered, the security guards get very interested in what you're doing once you hike away from the main road and start traveling in the open desert:

Plant 42 in Palmdale, CA is where top secret aircraft are built before their existence becomes known. The U-2 and SR-71 spy planes, along with the B-2 and F-117 Stealth aircraft, were built here along with all sorts of prototypes that never became operational
. If it flies and Uncle Sam doesn't want you to know about it, it's built here. Of course, photography is prohibited at Plant 42, and of course I had to photograph the sign informing me about that:

The Nevada Test Site is the most heavily nuked piece of real estate on the planet. 126 above-ground tests and over 800 underground tests have been conducted here; it's also been the site of chemical and biological weapons tests. That's why I wasn't too offended by the sign below telling me to stay out; I guess they were just concerned about my welfare:

Prior to the September 11, 2001 attacks, the security at the Nevada Test Site was often amazingly lax. For example, I discovered one unmanned, and unlocked, entrance gate a few miles north of the sign above. I actually got to drive about a mile inside the facility before I decided not to press my luck too far and retreated. The shot below is of an old Atomic Energy Commission sign on that road; it apparently led to the site of several 1950s above-ground nuclear tests:

I wrote more about my travels to the places above on a blog at the Feral House web site; here's the link and some interesting comments by listeners and readers.