While gamblers in warm, dry Las Vegas casinos plunk coins intoslot machines, two men stand vigil in the icy rain about 120 miles to the north, scanning the sky.
"Look at that!" yells Sean David Morton, pointing to a tiny, distant light. "It's bobbing up and down, making figure eights and weaving motions. It's zipping through the sky at an amazing speed."
Sean David Morton has spotted an extraterrestrial craft. Yup, a flying saucer, he says.
Late last month, Morton and his friend, Jeff Slack, joined about 40 other Los Angeles-area people from all walks of life. They drove here to a valley near a top-secret military testing site known as "Area 51" or "Dreamland" in search of unidentified flying objects.
For the last two years, spectators, skeptics and believers have flocked to this remote spot near Nevada 375, between the tiny towns of Rachel and Alamo hoping to see flying saucers.
Morton, a 30-year-old screenwriter from Hermosa Beach, jokingly refers to the group as the "Johnny Quest Adventure Club."
Visitors to this area near the Nevada Test Site park their cars by the side of the road, plop lawn chairs near a lone mailbox that serves as a landmark, and stare up at lights popping over distant hills and traveling through the sky.
Many say the lights are coming from Area 51 or from an adjacent even more secret, military facility known as S-4. Air Force officials will not comment on current operations in the area, other than to say the land is used for training.
But Gary Schultz, founder of Los Angeles-area Secret Saucer Base Expeditions--a loosely knit group of people who document saucer sightings--says he is convinced the government is operating "Project Redlight." According to Schultz, this is a secret facility at the perimeter of Papoose Lake, just south of the dry Groom Lake bed where he says testing is done to duplicate the technology of UFOs.
He says the government patrols the area in unmarked Bronco trucks, but on the last trip the only visible law-enforcement officials were Nevada Highway Patrol troopers and Lincoln County sheriff's deputies who chatted with group members and advised them not to park on the road.
"People are welcome to come to Lincoln County as long as nobody breaks the law," says Undersheriff Gary Davis, who says he has never seen any UFOs in his eight years with the department. He and other deputies say they don't mind if people come out to look.
Schultz, a chemical physicist with his own business in Los Angeles, first became a believer in UFOs about a year ago after he and his wife reportedly saw six flying saucers here.
"We were totally mystified and awed," Schultz, 45, said. "My summary was: 'This is outrageous. There's nobody up here. There should be hundreds and thousands of people up here watching flying saucers.' "
Since then, Schultz has encouraged others to make the trek, most often on Wednesdays because that is supposedly the heaviest day for saucer testing, he says.
Air Force officials will not offer explanations for Schultz's UFO sightings near Area 51, a 38,400-acre section of the Nellis Air Force Base bombing and gunnery range. It has been used for years for the development of sophisticated aircraft and was first withdrawn from public use more than 25 years ago by the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission and is now under the jurisdiction of the Air Force. Since the 1980s, the Air Force has had jurisdiction over the Groom Mountains as well, contending the range offered visibility of Area 51 below.
Recently, Schultz began organizing trips to a spot in the Antelope Valley, where he claims there is another secret saucer base. But the bulk of his trips have been to the Nevada site.
Last month's trip yielded mixed results with some people claiming they saw UFOs. But even the UFO crowd has its skeptics.
"Those could be headlights," said a man who asked to remain anonymous because he thought watching UFOs might hurt his career.
"Headlights don't bounce up and down and there's no road over there," Morton retorted.
The man looked puzzled.
Some of the regulars on this trip were convinced no saucer flights had occurred.
"Several people thought they saw things but I'm sure that they didn't," said Anthony Hilder, a radio talk show host from Anchorage, Alaska, who is researching what he says is a government cover-up of the saucer operation.
"As far as I'm concerned, no flights took place because of inclement weather and wind," said Norio F. Hayakawa, a Los Angeles funeral director who has made five trips to the area. Hayakawa claims the patterns of aircraft he has seen in the area--sudden acceleration, deceleration, zigzagging motions and 90-degree turns--indicate advanced technology with control over gravity.
But, calling himself a "doubting Thomas," he said he does not believe that visitors from other planets are involved.
Robert Lazar and others, though, say extraterrestrial technology is involved. Lazar is a Las Vegas scientist who claims to have worked on the power sources and propulsion systems of extraterrestrial crafts at S-4.
It was Lazar's claims on a 1989 award-winning Las Vegas television documentary that first drew attention to the area.
Many have tried to discredit Lazar, who is on probation in Clark County, Nev. on a pandering charge. His educational and professional background cannot be verified--a fact he attributes to government deletion of records.
But George Knapp, the KLAS-TV reporter responsible for the initial television coverage, said he is convinced Lazar's claims are true.
During the evening, watchers shared information about UFO sightings and theories--their own and those of others. They peered at photographs of strange lights and sketches of aliens. And then they went back to the business of seeing things for themselves.
UFOs have been a lifelong interest for many of the watchers. But even they acknowledge that nonbelieving family and friends may think they are a little nutty. Several asked to remain anonymous because not everyone on Earth understands their extraterrestrial passion.
One man said he was fired from his job as an airline pilot because he was quoted in a newspaper article saying that he believed in UFOs.
Morton's dreams of extraterrestrial crafts began as a child living in a Texas community near the home of "Mission Control," where his father handled public relations for NASA. At the dinner table, he said, he listened to astronauts discuss the UFOs they had to keep silent about in public.
Morton, Slack and other UFO enthusiasts make a hobby of collecting audiotapes, videotapes, pictures and articles.
Bundled in parkas, hats and gloves, many observers huddled in cars with fogged-up windows and saw no saucers.
But Morton, director of an upcoming TV documentary on UFOs, and Slack, a "Hooked on Phonics" salesman, drove about 6 miles from the mailbox landmark into the desert and trudged through scrub brush and cow dung to find the best vantage point.
Thick, dark clouds obscured the moon and pounding rain turned the parched desert sand into gooey mud as the pair stared skyward.
Morton and Slack say they saw more than a dozen saucers--their first sighting a trio of glowing, blinking crafts that erratically hovered, zipped and swooped above the horizon.
For Morton, the sighting was a dream come true.
Last summer, he spent three months traveling around the United States and Europe, compiling more than 500 hours of interviews with scientists, UFO researchers and those who claim to have been abducted or contacted by aliens.
"If somebody had a dog that had barked at a UFO, we talked to them," Morton says.
Whether or not the lights in the sky are saucers, they have been something of a boon for Rachel, a town that's not much more than a gas station, a few mobile homes and a diner.
When Joe Travis and his wife, Pat, took over Rachel's Bar and Grill in 1988, business was pretty slow. Eight or nine previous owners had gone belly up and often the only customers were a couple of cowboys downing brews at the bar, Joe Travis said.
But last year, the Travises changed the name of their diner to the "Little A'Le'Inn" and had T-shirts, hats and pens printed with pictures of saucers and extraterrestrials for the tour buses and caravans of the curious that now roll into Rachel.
"I think you have to keep an open mind," Joe Travis says. "I think you'd have to be pretty naive to think that our planet is the only one in the universe that supports life as we know it."