Tuesday, March 31, 2009

The Seven Wonders of the Ufological World

One of the best things that happened to the UFO scene in 2008 was the arrival of Stuart Miller's magazine Alien Worlds. Alas, the magazine only lasted four issues, but in that time Stuart gave a number of writers the opportunity to talk about UFOs from some very interesting perspectives. I was one of those writers, and I'm proud to have been part of Stuart's adventure. Of the four columns I wrote, the following was my favourite. I've edited it slightly, only to take account of the passage of time.

ABOVE AND BEYOND by Paul Kimball
“The Seven Wonders of the Ufological World”

To many people, the UFO subject is a super-secret, paradigm-altering, world-changing excuse to be Grade A sticks-in-the-mud. Who are they? Well, you’ll know them when you see them, or more likely hear or read them, because they never get out and experience the real world. The rest of us, however, realize that you can study the UFO phenomenon seriously, and have some fun at the same time, and the world will not come to an end.

In my opinion, one of the best ways to enjoy oneself is travel. I figure that if the “real world” can have "Seven Wonders", the world of UFOs and ufology can have its own “Seven Wonders” - places that everyone interested in the subject of UFOs should visit before they shuffle off of this mortal coil. Some are related to actual UFO cases, some are related to the cultural phenomenon that is ufology, but all are worthwhile visits.

The Aetherius Society HQ - Los Angeles, California, USA
You may not have heard of the Aetherius Society, which is a shame, because they’re an interesting bunch (featured prominently in the classic 1992 documentary Farewell Good Brothers). The organization was founded by the late George King in London in 1955 as the result of what King claimed were contacts with advanced extraterrestrial intelligences. The group's tax exempt status was recognized by the US in 1960, which was decades before the recognition of Scientology, and a decade before Rael hit the scene, which makes the Aetherians the first UFO- religion. Through what they call Operation Prayer Power, they claim to be able to store prayer energy in a Spiritual Power Battery. This spiritual energy, invoked through prayer, can be directed under tremendous concentration and released at a later date to areas of the world in need… or so they claim. The great thing is that every Thursday night, whether you believe or not, you can pop by their headquarters and participate in Operation Prayer Power! Also, since 1955 the Aetherius Society has offered free “Spiritual Healing” treatments to all who request it. They claim that this is a natural healing method, based on ancient principles of metaphysical science, to bring relief to those who need it. Who knows? You may even be able to commune with one of the Space Brothers. If not, their Los Angeles HQ is only a few minutes from Hollywood Boulevard, where you can always find some strange creatures!

# 6
International UFO Museum - Roswell, New Mexico, USA
Personally, I don’t really like Roswell – the UFO case, or the city. I think the focus on the Roswell case by UFO researchers has been bad for the serious study of the phenomenon as a whole. As for the city, let’s just say that if aliens did come down in that area, it must have been a crash, because I can’t imagine that they would have picked Roswell – either then or now - as a tourist destination. It’s harmless enough, mind you, in the “United States has a thousand other cities like this” kind of way, but there’s nothing special about it, especially in a state where the much more interesting places to visit, such as Taos and Santa Fe, and even Albuquerque, are father north. Still, it’s Roswell, which has become, much to my chagrin, the Holy Grail of ETH-centric ufology, so a trip there is probably going to satisfy that group, as well as conspiracy theorists. The best place to start is the International UFO Museum, which takes UFO kitsch and runs with it, but in a way that doesn’t make you feel dirty when you leave. The good news is that the time to visit Roswell is in the traditional summer vacation month of July, when the UFO festival is in full swing – it still attracts a fairly large crowd, and is a fun event. The bad news is that the worst time to visit Roswell, unless you like extremely hot and uncomfortable weather, is also in July (and August), so if unremitting heat isn’t your thing, you might want to skip the festivities and pop by in the fall.

# 5
International UFO Congress Convention & Film Festival - Aquarius Casino & Resort, Laughlin, Nevada, USA
Next to the Colorado River on the Nevada / Arizona border, Laughlin, Nevada is a town that I like to call “mini-Vegas” – it has casinos and hotels and glitz, but not so much in the way of glamour…. which is why I find it charming. That, and the fact that in late February and early March you can travel to Laughlin and hang out for a full week at the Aquarius Casino and Hotel with hundreds of other UFO-buffs, believers, aficionados, and the occasional skeptic, at the annual Convention & Film Festival of the International UFO Congress. At the 2007 conference, if you wandered down to the hotel bar late at night (or more likely early in the morning), you might have been able to have a few drinks with former MoD UFO guru Nick Pope, abduction kingpin Budd Hopkins, Rendlesham investigator and raconteur extraordinaire Peter Robbins, author Richard Dolan, or even yours truly. While the Convention features its fair share of speakers who are evidentially-challenged (including the obligatory bunch of Billy Meier hoax supporters), it’s a week with good-natured people who share an interest in fantastic stories, and maybe even a bit of truth. The film festival features some pretty good stuff, as well as some laughably bad groaners, and the closing gala is always a good time. Also, if you have a car, pop across the state border and over the mountains to Kingman, Arizona, which is the starting point for a nice hour-long jaunt along legendary Route 66, and which is where a crashed UFO was supposedly recovered by the USAF in the 1953 (the locals love it when you ask about that). Best of all, a ten minute drive will take you up into the mountains, where you can pull off to the side of the road, park the car, sit on the hood, and stare into the clear-as-a-bell night sky looking for UFOs!

# 4
UFO Landing Pad - St. Paul, Alberta, Canada
In honour of Canada’s 100th anniversary as an independent nation, the town of St. Paul, Alberta, decided to do something special in 1967 – indeed, it was something so special that it might even be said to be out of this world! The good citizens undertook, as a privately-funded centennial project, to build the world’s first UFO landing pad! Dedicated at the time by the Deputy Prime Minister of Canada, and visited since by myriad dignitaries, including Queen Elizabeth II and Mother Theresa, the landing pad has endured for over forty years as a symbol of the hopes of St. Paul’s residents for a better tomorrow… and as a pretty unique tourist attraction! In 1993 the town added a flying-saucer shaped building which serves as St. Paul’s Chamber of Commerce, which should make it a first stop for any extraterrestrials stopping by Earth to check on trade opportunities. In 1996, an addition was built to the existing Tourist Information Center to house a UFO Interpretive Display, which shows photographs of UFOs, crop circles and cattle mutilations. Purchased from the J. Allen Hynek Center for UFO Studies, it even shows ingenious methods to hoax the public, and is one of the two such displays in North America. What makes all of this even weirder is that St. Paul is also the home of Fern Belzil, a retired cattle rancher who is Canada’s leading cattle mutilation investigator. Pop by the Restaurant Chezlyne for lunch, and you may just catch Belzil there, always ready to chat about cattle mutes… although you might want to wait until after you have your hamburger!

# 3
Rendlesham Forest - Woodbridge, United Kingdom
Not only is Rendlesham Forest the site of one of the most famous UFO cases of the 20th century (it was voted #3 in my film Best Evidence: Top 10 UFO Sightings), but it's also a genuinely creepy place that has supposedly been home to all sorts of other weird incidents, from devil dogs to ghosts. Make your way to the charming town of Woodbridge, and then head out to the Forest, which is a few miles away. There you will find a UFO walking trail that takes you past the key places from the classic 1980 case, including the old Bentwaters airbase. As I said, the Forest is still very spooky, even if it isn't the same as it was at the time of the UFO incident due to damage wrought by a subsequent hurricane. The wind whistles through the trees, and it's no stretch to say that if you're there anytime near dusk you don't want to be alone! Even better, if you get lucky like I did when I was there in May, 2006, you'll get buzzed by a black helicopter, which will come in low and tight over the treetops - the sound echoes throughout the Forest as it approaches, which was actually pretty unnerving. There's a nice campground right next to the Forest that can serve as an overnight place to stay near all of the action for the really adventurous. Who knows - if you wander into the Forest at night, maybe you'll run into whatever Charles Halt and his men ran into almost three decades ago!

# 2
Area 51 - southern Nevada, USA
Area 51 is a remote tract of land in southern Nevada. Situated on the southern shore of a dry lakebed is a large military airfield, one of the most secretive places in the world. The base, which lies within the United States Air Force’s vast Nevada Test and Training Range, has as its primary purpose the development and testing of experimental aircraft and weapons systems. Other names used for the facility include Dreamland and Groom Lake. The intense secrecy surrounding the base, the very existence of which the US Government barely acknowledges, has led it to become the frequent subject of conspiracy theories and UFO stories, thanks to the tall tales of people like Bob Lazar and Dan Burisch, many of which hold that the base contains crashed alien spacecraft, and even extraterrestrial beings, one of whom was supposedly named J-Rod. Of course, given the uber-secret nature of the base, you can’t actually get on it to have a look (and if you try the use of deadly force is authorized), but you can drive around the outskirts on the Extraterrestrial Highway, where you can make a stop in Rachel, Nevada, to visit the Little A’Le’Inn, which contains a small motel, gift shop and restaurant, where locals will regale visitors with stories of little green men… or grey men… or tall whites… or… well, you get the picture. Finally, if you really want a good bird’s eye view of Area 51, take a trip to the top of the Stratosphere Tower on the Las Vegas Strip. At 350 metres, the Tower is the tallest free-standing structure in Nevada, and the second-tallest free-standing structure in the United States west of the Mississippi River, and is capped by the Top of the World restaurant, a rotating flying-saucer shaped section from where you can get a great view of the areas surrounding Sin City, including, on a clear night, Area 51. Who knows what you’ll see flying around?

# 1
The Integratron & Giant Rock - Landers, California, USA
For many in ufology, the Contactees were simply frauds and con artists. For some others, their stories were real, and they actually came in contact with aliens from other worlds. To me, they are best described as UFO performance artists – harmless, entertaining, and in a few cases true UFO bards, spinning fantastic tales that would have wowed the folks at King Arthur’s court. I don’t for a minute believe that they had actual contact with aliens, but I also don’t discount the possibility that a few might have had some experience, maybe even with aliens, any more than I discount the possibility that someone who tells me they felt the Holy Spirit might have had a real experience. Who can say? As with all things essentially spiritual, I remain a hopeful agnostic. Regardless, there is little doubt that the Contactee Movement had a profound effect on the development of ufology, and how the general public came to view the UFO phenomenon. From a cultural and sociological standpoint, it is an important piece of American history, in that it tells us a great deal about the people and attitudes of the 1950s and early 1960s. One of the most important Contactees was George Van Tassel, who in 1954 commenced building -- but never quite completed -- the Integratron, in the desert town of Landers, California. It was supposedly a domed time/energy machine based partially upon the theories of Nikola Tesla that was created to recharge and rejuvenate people’s cells, at the behest of an advanced entity with whom Van Tassel claimed to communicate telepathically. Not far away, Van Tassel lived at Giant Rock, which is exactly what the name indicates – a giant rock in the middle of the desert. Van Tassel hosted The Giant Rock Spacecraft Convention annually beside the Rock, from 1953 to 1978, a gathering that at its peak in 1959 attracted as many as 10,000 attendees. The history of Giant Rock and the Integratron is too rich to describe in detail here – the best way to discover it is to visit them yourself. Giant Rock is a bit worse for wear these days - a large chunk broke off a few years ago – but it’s still standing, as is the Integratron, which you can visit, and where you can experience a “sound bath” in the upper chamber that is great if you’re into meditation. You can even arrange to stay overnight, where you can sit in the courtyard and stare up at one of the clearest night skies you’ll ever see, and ponder whether Ashtar is waiting.

And there you have it – the seven wonders of the ufological world. There are other interesting places related to UFOs and ufology, of course (Shag Harbour, Nova Scotia pops to mind given its proximity to my home), but these seven are at the top of my list, and you won’t go wrong if you put them on yours too. So, when you sit down to plan your next vacation, skip Cancun or the Riviera, and take a trip that is truly “above and beyond” the norm… and maybe even out of this world, depending on who, or what, you might meet!

Paul Kimball