Area 51 raid morphs into festival outside secretive base

RACHEL, Nev., Sept 20 (Reuters) - A call to "storm" the secretive U.S. military base in the Nevada desert known as Area 51 attracted several dozen revelers to a heavily guarded entrance early Friday, but most did not attempt to enter the site, long rumored to house secrets about extraterrestrial life.

A festive scene emerged around 3 a.m. PT (1000 GMT) on Friday, the date and time a Facebook user had jokingly invited people to run into the base on foot to "see them aliens." Among the UFO enthusiasts and curiosity seekers, one man wore an orange space suit and some sported tin foil hats and alien masks. A sign in the gathering read "Free E.T. from the government."

"A bunch of random people in weird costumes standing outside of a government base, why would you want to miss that?" said a YouTube personality who goes by the name Atozy. "That's a once in a lifetime experience."

One young woman ducked under a protective gate and was briefly detained by authorities and released. Others stayed outside the perimeter, according to law enforcement officials keeping watch over the crowd.

"They're just here to see what's going on," said Sergeant Orlando Guerra of the Nevada Department of Public Safety Investigation Division. "They’re here to have fun."

The U.S. Air Force had issued a stern warning to the public not to trespass into Area 51, which it said is used to test aircraft and train personnel.

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Area 51 and attractions
ARCHIVO - En esta fotografía de archivo del 10 de abril de 2002, un vehículo se desplaza por la llamada carretera extraterrestre cerca de Rachel, Nevada, el poblado más cercano al Area 51. (AP Foto/Laura Rauch, archivo)
An Alien sculpture lines the side of the road in the town of Baker, California, which claims the world's largest thermometer at 134 feet, and it also known as the 'Gateway to Area 51' on March 4, 2019. - The Alien sculptures are part of the business Alien Fresh Jerky remains a popular spot for a break for drivers going to and from Los Angeles to Las Vegas. (Photo by Frederic J. BROWN / AFP) (Photo credit should read FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images)
An Alien sculpture lines the side of the road in the town of Baker, California, which claims the world's largest thermometer at 134 feet, and it also known as the 'Gateway to Area 51' on March 4, 2019. - The Alien sculptures are part of the business Alien Fresh Jerky remains a popular spot for a break for drivers going to and from Los Angeles to Las Vegas. (Photo by Frederic J. BROWN / AFP) (Photo credit should read FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images)
An Alien sculpture lines the side of the road in the town of Baker, California, which claims the world's largest thermometer at 134 feet, and it also known as the 'Gateway to Area 51' on March 4, 2019. - The Alien sculptures are part of the business Alien Fresh Jerky remains a popular spot for a break for drivers going to and from Los Angeles to Las Vegas. (Photo by Frederic J. BROWN / AFP) (Photo credit should read FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images)
AREA 51, NEVADA, USA, JULY 20, 2016: DigitalGlobe satellite image Area 51. The United States Air Force facility commonly known as Area 51 is a remote detachment of Edwards Air Force Base, within the Nevada Test and Training Range. (Photo DigitalGlobe via Getty Images)
Area 51 guide at the National Atomic Testing Museum. (Photo by: Jeffrey Greenberg/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)
rea 51 Alien brothel and diner. Dennis Hof's Nevada's biggest brothel ownershas taken a rundown brothel and opened ane Area 51 Alien Cathouse, with a new science fiction theme. The alien themed center is located just south of the area formerly known as the Nevada Test Site. Former Hollywood Madam Heidi Fleiss designed the costumes and decor. Nevada is the only state in the U.S. that allows brothels. (Photo by In Pictures Ltd./Corbis via Getty Images)
Area 51 Alien brothel and diner. Dennis Hof's Nevada's biggest brothel ownershas taken a rundown brothel and opened ane Area 51 Alien Cathouse, with a new science fiction theme. The alien themed center is located just south of the area formerly known as the Nevada Test Site. Former Hollywood Madam Heidi Fleiss designed the costumes and decor. Nevada is the only state in the U.S. that allows brothels. (Photo by In Pictures Ltd./Corbis via Getty Images)
Welcome to Rachel, Nevada road sign. Rachel is near Area 51
Woman photographing sign along Highway 375 near Rachel, Nevada. The Highway, which travels near the top secret government base Area 51, was officially designated as the Extraterrestrial Highway in 1996.
Sign for Little A'Le'Inn and flying saucer hanging from tow truck, Rachel, Nevada, near Area 51.
Parking sign with spaceship, Rachel, Nevada, near Area 51, along Highway 385, also called the Extraterrestrial Highway.
Guard Gate at Area 51 (Groom Lake, Dreamland) near Rachel, Nevada (Photo by Barry King/WireImage)
Guard Gate at Area 51 (Groom Lake, Dreamland) near Rachel, Nevada (Photo by Barry King/WireImage)
Area 51 (Groom Lake, Dreamland) File Photo near Rachel, Nevada (Photo by Barry King/WireImage)
UFO & Alien Gift Shop at Little Aleinn on the Exraterrestrial Highway (Highway 375) where Area 51 (Groom Lake, Dreamland) is located in Rachel, Nevada (Photo by Barry King/WireImage)
Area 51 (Groom Lake, Dreamland) File Photo near Rachel, Nevada (Photo by Barry King/WireImage)
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Jason Strand, 23, said he traveled from Utah to the rural Nevada site as part of a group of nine friends to take in the scene. He said he was not inclined to dart into Area 51.

"We're came out here to see the dumb people make a run for it," he said.

Area 51 had long been shrouded in mystery, stoking conspiracy theories that it housed the remnants of a flying saucer and the bodies of its alien crew from a supposed unidentified flying object crash in Roswell, New Mexico, in 1947.

The U.S. government did not confirm the base existed until 2013, when it released CIA archives saying the site was used to test top-secret spy planes.

The documents, however, did not end suspicion about space aliens there.

Area 51 sits about 12 miles (19 km) from Rachel, Nevada, a tiny outpost north of Las Vegas that is hosting a music festival to entertain any UFO hunters or others heading to the region. Some residents had urged the public to stay away because they worried the town of 50 year-round residents would be overwhelmed with unruly tourists.

As of early Friday, a few hundred campsites had been set up by visitors outside the Little A'Le'Inn, an alien-themed motel and restaurant that is Rachel's only business.

"I'm relieved it's here," said Connie West, co-owner of the inn, who had scrambled to set up a campground, bring in portable toilets and otherwise support the influx of visitors. "It's happening. There was no stopping it." (Reporting by Lisa Richwine; Additional reporting by Omar Younis and Jim Urquhart; Editing by Steve Orlofsky)

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