The Legend-News

Monday, 2000 August 21 : Volume 3, Number 30

The Great Western Journey, Part Nine

I Wonder If Mulder and Scully Ever Felt This Way?

We got a little Convoy map...

Previously, on The Great Western Journey (a.k.a. pre-Convoy 2000): Ed and T A had become separated in Utah. Ed, tired from the long day in Ouray and the non-stop driving of the following day, had dropped too far behind T A's car to be able to make contact via CB radio. Sensing an imminent breakdown, Ed elected to stop for the night in St. George, Utah.

Friday, 2 June to Saturday, 3 June

Bright and early and rested on Saturday morning, I quickly travelled the half-hour to Mesquite and hooked up with T A. We stopped at a local auto parts store for a few more quarts of oil, then a fuel station down the street for gasoline and Cokes, and then we were off, southbound on I-15 to NV 168, northwest to US 93, north to NV 375 and then west to Rachel, Nevada.

Nevada 375, the Extra-Terrestrial Highway
ET: The ExtraTerrestrial Highway. This sign is on the east end of the road, at its intersection with US 93. The picture that's taped to the center of the sign is that of noted isolationist Pat Robertson, and his wife. On Pat's forehead is written "No More Aliens".

Along the drive on NV 375, we made a really interesting observation. There's a stretch of road that crosses a valley east of Coyote Summit, and that section of the road seems to go on forever in a fairly constant direction. Both of us being city boys, we're not very good at estimating the extreme distances that can be encountered out here in the wide West. We both guessed the distance from where we were to the point where the road curved: I said 8 miles, T A guessed about 11. We were both wrong: the real figure was closer to 14. And there wasn't any smog along the way.

Area 51 Research Center, Rachel Office business card If the picture above doesn't give you an idea of where we're headed, let me explain. Rachel, Nevada doesn't have too many tourist features. There's the local center of learning, the Rachel Office of the Area 51 Research Center; and a restaurant, the Little Áléinn. Yes, Rachel is the nearest town to that alledged hotbed of secret government activity, Area 51, a.k.a. Groom Lake or "Dreamland". There's no post office, though; the nearest one is in Alamo, which is about 50 miles southeast of Rachel.

Since neither I nor T A had ever been to Rachel, we started our investigation in the Area 51 Research Center. Besides the mouse pad that I bought ("Authorized Personnel Only" among its warnings) we heard a bit about the area and the security that surrounds it. That's when we found out about the observation tower on the mountain peak about seven miles east of Rachel; yes, we'd been observed as we drove west to Rachel, but what did it mean? After a few more informative queries, we departed the Research Center for the Little Áléinn (yes, it really is spelled that way). T A decided that he wanted to visit the "back door" to Area 51, which was about 10 miles off to the southwest of NV 375 along a dirt road ("turn at the white mailbox", they said). I, on the other hand, decided that wimping-out was preferable and elected to stay in town. T A told me that I should wait about twenty minutes then order a burger for him, because he should be on his way back by then. So while I stood in the parking lot and watched, T A set off back down the road and turned right at the white mailbox. I could see the cloud of dust that he raised as he travelled on the dirt road.

T A went off in search of adventure and I had lunch. I had an Áléinnburger, which was sort of a cheeseburger with Thousand Island salad dressing on a sesame seed roll. I nursed the burger, then perused the souvenir corner of the store and bought a coffee mug for Lisa. I ordered another Áléinnburger for T A and went outside to wait by my car.

The Little Áléinn, Rachel's fine dining establishment
Where to eat in Rachel, Nevada. Try the Áléinnburger; it's out of this world!
UFO in the parking lot of the Little Áléinn
A tourist vehicle in the parking lot.
No valet service.
Sorry, no valet service. U-Park-It.

A half-hour had passed, but T A hadn't yet returned. I took out my binoculars and looked in the direction of the dirt road to the "back door", but I didn't see any indication that T A was in motion. So I continued to wait.

So just what was happening to T A? Here's his story:

I headed back up the highway in my car and took the dirt road, which I was told would be "ten miles from the gate." It was a dusty drive down a typical dirt road. I didn't see anything surprising.
I came around a bend at about the 10-mile point and the gate was about 100 yards away from me. No one was in sight but I could tell from all of the electronics on top of the guard shack that I was probably under observation. I pulled up to within 20 feet of the shack. I could see several cameras, one of which appeared to be of an infra-red model I had seen before; barbed wire, lots of signs, a couple of radar dishes, and a "port-a-potty". No plumbing but plenty of communications gear. The signs said everything from "No Trespassing" to "No photography permitted beyond this point. Violators will be detained and their equipment confiscated." The guard station was off-white with no external markings. Through the semi-opaque glass which faced the roadway, I could see a man wearing glasses who did nothing but stare at me the entire time I was there. I couldn't see what he was wearing as he was sitting and only his head showed above the bottom of the window. I yelled I had a question and had a pretty good feeling that, even if I wasn't miked (although I'm pretty sure I was with all of the gear around,) he could hear me but was just ignoring me.
I walked around, never touching anything, and read all of the signs and postings. I felt that taking a picture standing right at the gate might have been pushing things if they were so security-happy they wouldn't even talk to me. So, I got in my car, drove about 50 yards back down the dirt road, stopped right in the middle of it, and snapped a picture. Everything I did was deliberate and with absolutely no attempt at being secretive. I gave the cameras several good, long looks at my license plate and at me as I had the feeling these guys had no sense of humour at all. I got back in my car and headed back down the dirt road.
On my way back, I thought that there had been nothing at that gate that I hadn't seen at military or government facilities all over the world. I decided that a lot of what I had heard about Area 51 was hype. Then I spotted the truck.
About 3 miles from the gate, I saw something metal about 50 yards from the road. I couldn't really figure out what it was but it made me curious enough to stop and look. After staring at it for a few seconds, I realized that it was the cab of a dark brown pickup truck, with very dark windows, parked in a gully so that only the upper portion of the driving cab could be seen. I couldn't see any markings on it at all. It had a perfect view of the road. Anyone sitting inside the truck would have to be facing the road; facing almost directly at me. I had a cold chill run up my spine as I realized I was being watched.
I got out my camera and took a picture as I was certain the truck's occupant knew I had spotted him. However, I then did something that could only be described as crazy: I got back in my car, turned around, drove back to small rise where I could get the best possible picture of the truck, and snapped another picture. I turned around again and took off.
I'm sure they knew what I had done as, again, I had been very obvious about it. I thought that if I had sneaked around and snapped pictures on the sly, they would have considered me more dangerous than if I was completely open about it. That would just make me a tourist; a harmless one, hopefully. However, remembering that didn't keep me from watching my rear view mirror for that truck all the way back to the main road. When I picked up Silversmith's voice on my CB radio on the way back, I felt nothing but relief.
— T A Chafin

About ten minutes later I noticed a dust cloud over by the dirt road, obviously from a vehicle which was outbound towards the highway. T A returned and related his tale. Well, if the watchers weren't suspicious about us when we drove into Rachel, they were now.

I gave T A his lunch, and then we departed Rachel, heading east on NV 375 back towards US 93 and Las Vegas. But on our way out of the Rachel area we looked for the observation tower about which we'd been told. We spotted it easily enough, even though it was about three or four miles off to the side of the road. We got out of our cars and T A set up his camera and tripod and took a picture. I waved at the tower. And that was probably a really dumb thing to do.

As T A put the camera back in his car, I noticed another vehicle on the road far to our west. We didn't consider this to be an important fact, as we were on a public road. But once we resumed driving, we realized that the car back there was following us. We were speeding along at 70 miles per hour, under the posted limit, but he was gaining on us. He had to be doing at least 100 mph. We considered his actions to be unusual, but we didn't panic and continued our driving at 70.

The car soon arrived directly behind us. T A was leading, and I was in the rear, and that car — a late-model Chevrolet, I think — didn't pass us. In fact, as it approached my tail it slowed down and maintained an interval behind me of only a few car lengths. This was definitely suspicious. He continued to follow us for about three miles, then he began to slow down. He fell back farther and farther, until we noticed that he wasn't there any more. We couldn't tell where he went, but we had one really good idea: he must have turned on a road that was now about a mile behind us. And that road only went to one place: Area 51. The conclusion was obvious: the Feds were onto us.

No other interesting events occurred that day. We drove south on US 93 and back onto I-15. By 5 P.M. we where in Las Vegas and looking for a hotel.

Next: Places That You Shouldn't Walk In Las Vegas.

The Big News

Referring once again to The Legend-News of 26 June 2000, I mentioned in that issue that I had some Big News that was not yet ready for publication. Well, it's ready now.

Since I began C.W. McCall: An American Legend, and continuing with the establishment of the Other Wild Places mailing list, there has been a question in my mind. You, the readers, have asked that same question: "What are the true stories behind the songs of C.W. McCall?"

Two weeks ago, in my description of the visit to Ouray of T A and myself, I mentioned

"What we learned was more than any biography had ever told us. The sudden popularity of "Old Home Fill-er Up An' Keep On A-Truckin' Café", which led to the writing of more songs about the fictional truck driver ("If it wasn't for C.W., I'd still be working in advertising"); the trip in the early 1960s that became "Black Bear Road" (yes, the Jeep really did go over the side of the cliff); the time that Telluride was invaded by hippies ("Crispy Critters"); the literary licenses of "Audubon" and "Wolf Creek Pass"; the true location of the Lost Lake of "Wilderness"; Bill's trip down into "Camp Bird Mine"; and general puzzlement over "Kidnap America" (Bill didn't remember that song; he thinks that it was recorded for a local Republican political campaign in 1980)."

And that information has merely whetted your appetite for more. Now I'm not the authoritative source on all things C.W., but I do know who is. I asked that source if he'd be willing to answer questions about C.W. McCall, et. al. and he said "yes". So here's your chance to get the straight dope from the guy who started it all: Bill Fries.

I'm starting a new feature in The Legend-News. Unless I can think of a better name, I'll be calling it "Ask Bill". If you've got a question for Bill Fries about his life, work or songs, send that question to I'll collect your questions and forward them to Bill, and I'll publish the answers here in The Legend-News. I'll also be keeping these questions and answers in an online archive, so that you can read these frequently-asked questions before you submit your own.

A couple of notes: (1) "" is not Bill's "real" e-mail address; any messages that you send to it will be read and processed by the Space Cadet (moi). (2) You can ask any question, but Bill is not obligated to answer it. (3) "Ask Bill" columns will appear whenever Bill has replied to some of your questions, and that may not be on a regular schedule. Hey, he's got a life, too. :)

So send in those questions, and I'll pass them on. And just to keep you wondering, here are a few possible answers:

Song A’ Th’ Week

Continuing the Fries/Davis compositions from A to Z...

Black Bear Road
(C.W. McCall, Bill Fries, Chip Davis)
From the album Black Bear Road

Me an' RJ an' the kids was on a camp-out in the mountains, and we had us one'a them U-Drive-'Em Army Jeep cars which we rented from a fella by the name of Kubozke for thirty bucks a day, buy your gas along the way, take a rabbit's foot and leave a pint of blood for a dee-posit.

And he 'splained it all to us how we was supposed to get to Telluride, which is fifty miles away by way of the regular highway, however, there was a shortcut but unless we had drove the Black Bear Road before, we'd better be off to stay, stay in bed and sleep late. (Pay no attention to the gitar there.)

Well, we took up off'n the highway and we come upon a sign says "Black Bear Road. You don't have to be crazy to drive this road, but it helps." I says, "RJ, this must the shortcut road Kubozke was talkin' about." She didn't pay no mind, 'cause she was makin' peanut butter sandwiches for the kids in the back seat throwin' rocks and drinkin' Kool-Aid and playin' count-the-license-plates. But they wasn't havin' too much fun a-countin' license plate or cars, 'cause there weren't no other cars.

We went about a mile-and-a-half in about four hours, busted off the right front fender, tore a hole in the oil pan on a rock as big as a hall closet. Went over a bump and spilt the Kool-Aid and Roy Gene stuck his bolo knife right through the convertible top and the dog threw up all over the back seat. Peanut butter don't agree with him, you see.

So we had to stop and take off the top and air everything out and clean it up. The dog run off and RJ says she felt her asthma comin' on. I was sittin' there wonderin' what to do when the en-tire scenic San Joo-wan U-Drive-'Em Army Jeep car sank in the mud. At thirteen thousand feet above sea level.

Well, we shoveled it out and ate our lunch, the dog made a yellow hole in the snow and Roy Gene got out his Instamatic and took a snapshot of it. Mary Elizabeth drawed a picture of the road; it looked like a whole bunch a' Zs and Ws all strung together. And RJ took one look at it and said that the only way that Jeep car is goin' down that road is over her dead body. Then a rock slipped out from under the wheel and the U-Drive-'Em Army Jeep car went right over the edge of the cliff. Yahoo-oo-oo-oo!

"Doggone-it, Roy Gene! How many times do I have to 'splain it to you? When I tell you to put a rock under the wheel, I mean rock! Now look at that, what you have there is no bigger'n a grapefruit."

"Black Bear Road" can be found on the albums C.W. McCall’s Greatest Hits and The Best of C.W. McCall.