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Ceres, Nevada town share extraterrestrial bond
Round a curve and a hill driving last week west on Highway 375 and before me - on the boringly flat and expansive dry Nevada desert plain - I could see a clump of trees and buildings of Rachel.

On a road trip from Denver back to home, I had no plans of landing my Nissan Altima at this spot on the so-called Extraterrestrial Highway. It just happened. A desire to take a shorter route other than Highway 80 through Winnemucca or the "loneliest" Highway 50 through Ely meant we had to take the most southern trans-Nevada route. I checked my iPhone map before selecting the route and was amazed to learn I'd be going through Rachel, a place I had heard about for years from a number of Ceres Police officers who make a regular trek there.

The Ceres-Rachel connection is unique and I was beginning to wonder if it was exaggerated through the tales of Ron Richter, a retired Ceres officer. Here was my chance to check out this off-the-beaten path village some 400 miles from Ceres.

The desert being so large, it took quite a while of 90 mph travel to begin making out details. Drawing closer, I recognized the lime-colored 1985 Pierce fire engine donated by Ceres Fire Department parked in the back of the Little A'Le'Inn, a small bar and restaurant with trailers serving as a "motel."

Parked in front was a rusty grey tow truck with a simulated crashed flying saucer hanging from its tow arm. Yeah, I remember this truck from pictures. No, it wasn't the prototype for "Mater" of Disney's Car fame. The hook on the truck's tow bar - I kid you not - was the same one from which a young lady recently decided to be hung. It seems that she had two large holes pierced into the skin on her back near the scapulas. I cannot even fathom why anyone would want holes in their back let alone be hung like a slab of meat in a butcher shop but Ron watched it happen last March and photographed the creepy spectacle. I stumbled onto the images Ron burned to a CD of vacation photos he shared with the Courier.

As if that wasn't creepy enough, the aliens painted on the building and the fact that I was traveling on the Extraterrestrial Highway were.

Aliens and flying saucers and extraterrestrials? What gives? This wasn't Roswell, I told myself. No, all of this UFO talk traces to the fact that Rachel is roughly four miles as the crow flies from the legendary Area 51, the top-secret military base where people have reported seeing odd-flying craft. Not much is known about Area 51 because of its ultra top-secret operations and the fact that it's hyper security boundaries have fueled suspicions that our government is operating some kind of "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" contact with other worlds. I don't believe anyone in Rachel believes that Area 51 is nothing more than a base where new technologies of flying craft and defense are being developed but Rachel capitalizes on the alien theme well.

Richter tells me that surveillance technology is so keen that satellites probably had picked up my license plate from satellite, cross-referenced it to records and knew who I was before I even made it to Rachel.

My tires were crunching over the graveled lot of the Little A'Le'Inn. Only one car was parked in front.

I parked and walked back to Fire Engine #23. This was the former Ceres engine alright; someone cut out the center part of the Ceres emblem and I detected the faint imagine of CERES contrasted against the faded paint where the lettering had been peeled off. Ceres donated the engine in 2008, hardly worth anything since the pumper was past its 20-year lifespan and had a pump rating of 1,250 gallons per minute when the city's standard rose to 1,500. But it's better than what Rachel had and is available in case of a fire on any of its 13 streets.

I noticed a window sticker in tribute to Sgt. Howie Stevenson, the Ceres officer killed on Jan. 9 2005 outside of George's Liquors. His death was a downright police assassination premeditated by a traitorous so-called Marine.

The sign outside the diner says earthlings are welcome so I walked to the white outpost doubling as a bar and restaurant. The outside was adorned with paintings of cartoon aliens crashing a UFO through the wall and a sign near the roof showing a flying saucer and the words "Self Parking." A rubber alien head was peering out the window toward me and Utah and there was a large sign advertising Monster drinks - of course - by the door.

Inside a young lady was tending a table where two men were finishing breakfast. On the back wall, next to the ladies restroom, were three aliens with large craniums and eyes nailed to the wall. I doubt they were roadkill since they felt like rubber.

Hanging from the ceiling over the bar area was what looked like a thousand dollar bills all containing sentiments and signatures in Sharpie left by bar patrons. I'm sure there was a Howie Stevenson bill in theresomewhere.

Tucked away in the corner was a myriad of Rachel souvenirs - T-shirts and toys featuring freaks from outer space.

Richter told me once to ask for "Pat" if I ever came through Rachel. She owns the place and is akin to being the town mayor. Pat would free herself from the grill in a moment I was assured.

A short while later a pleasant and motherly figure in Pat Travis Laudenklos stood by the counter as if in thought. I introduced myself as the editor of the Ceres newspaper. She seemed to know who I was but was as surprised as I was to be there. She extended her hand in a friendly welcome accompanied by a wide smile.

In no time, her daughter, a dark-skinned and darting eyed Connie West segued into the conversation with a friendly banter about what great guys Ceres cops are.

I suddenly got the feeling these two didn't get much outside company to visit with and anyone who stopped by was an instant friend.

Pat and I shared our common sorrow at losing Stevenson in a senseless and horrific crime. Ceres felt the loss as an epicenter of a tragedy while shock waves rippled across the desert to Rachel. As we spoke about "Howie," Connie offered to fetch her lap-top to show photos of Ceres officers enjoying their time there.

Stevenson often vacationed in Rachel with Richter to watch F-15s and F-22s based out of Nellis Air Force Base play Red Flag war games. Each successive years a number of officers and their sons - no ladies allowed I was assured by Connie - were introduced to the fun, which included hunting, four-wheeling in the desert, pistol target practice, hiking, shooting games of pool and good natured harassment of the hosts. Okay, and drinking at the bar where one police officer doubling as the bartender developed a concoction called Alien Blood.

Pat invited me to check out a corner of the room where there was a "shrine" to Ceres.

My eyes magnetized to one photo taken outside the building looking in. Howard Stevenson was peeking through the window where the alien head was now. I realized I was standing in the same location Howie was. It was chilling. I remembered witnessing Stevenson be sworn in as a sergeant, a job that would fatefully put him in the crosshairs of tragedy.

Connie returned and opened her laptop on a table. Ceres officers had last been to Rachel in March and she hadn't even seen some of the photos from that visit until my visit. As she cruised through the thumbnails, she exclaimed, "I'm gonna kill them," followed by gasps of pictures - none obscene - that would be more likely shot by 12-year-olds. Enough said.

"You gave them your camera?" I asked.

"Who gives them anything?" she replied in a tone like I should have known better.

Pat said they even take over the bar, acting as bartenders for themselves and other terrestrials.

"In all the years I've never lost one dime when they are back there," remarked Pat pointing her thumb back at the bar. I wouldn't expect anything less of men sworn to uphold the law.

And in case anyone suspected there might be hanky pank going on, Connie said all of the officers have been like her brothers. Both Pat and Connie spoke about the Ceres officers as gentlemen but also capable of dabbling in sophomoric humor. Boys will be boys, after all.

Pat informed me that I cross on a hill I passed by earlier was where some of Stevenson's ashes were scattered. The remainder were spread near the memorial grove at Ceres River Bluff Regional Park and a mountain side off of Highway 120 where Stevenson liked to go hunting. All these places were near his heart and it was only fitting that his earthy remains be there. I am told that his brothers in uniform each packed 60-pound bags of concrete mix and hiked up a hill to make a memorial, complete with metal cross, on a hill overlooking the valley where Rachel is. Some locals joined them.

It was then that Richter noticed that Rachel had no fire protection. A 1960s model fire engine was obsolete because parts were not available. He came back to Ceres and asked Police Chief Art deWerk and the City Council if they could gift it. Typically such a vehicle would go to a poor village in Mexico.

"Americans help Americans," said Richter.

Connie shared other glimpses of what goes on in the desert. When Ron - who is like an uncle - comes, Connie posts a sign to the affect of "NO ENTRY" on a section of property. That's because he backed into a plastic pipe in the ground causing some damage, (tongue in cheek) no doubt because he was tired and not because he had been drinking.

Connie could have spoken all day but we needed to go. We packed up two souvenir T shirts and said goodbye, totally impressed by the connection we felt to this place.

We left at about 11 a.m. and trekked through Tonopah and over the Sonora Pass to get home around 5 p.m. There was enough time to catch the Ceres City Council meeting that night. My head was spinning from the three-state trip over a 9-hour experience.

I mentioned to Deputy Chief Mike Borges of my visit and that I heard interesting things about his men. He buried his head in his hand, fearful he might hear something he wouldn't like.

He needn't worry. Rachel, like nearby Area 51, has not relinquished much of its secrets. Ceres' finest seem as though they behave themselves - well, mostly.

If you ever get the chance, stop in and ask for Pat or Connie yourself. Be prepared to sit and listen a spell. They don't get a lot of company out in the desert.