TIKABOO VALLEY, Nev. &
The only landmark for about 40 miles on a barren stretch of highway is a mailbox battered by time and desert gusts. It's known as the Black Mailbox. It's actually a dingy white.
Over the years, hundreds of people have converged here in south-central Nevada to photograph the box &
the size of a small television, held up by a chipped metal pole. They camp next to it. They try to break into it. They debate its significance or simply huddle by it for hours, staring into the night.
Some think the mailbox is linked to nearby Area 51, a military installation and purported hotbed of extraterrestrial activity. At the very least, they consider the box a prime magnet for flying saucers.
A few visitors have claimed to have encountered celestial oddities. But most enjoy uneventful nights at the mailbox, situated between the towns of Alamo and Rachel.
Alien hunters here are surrounded by like-minded company. Few people around here roll their eyes at tales of spaceships, military conspiracies and extraterrestrials that abduct and impregnate tourists.
This night, Lester Arnold, a 59-year-old industrial mechanic, is in Rachel offering to show visitors Mailbox Road. He has traveled from Declo, Idaho, for the annual UFO Friendship Conference Camp Out. A few years ago at the mailbox, Arnold says, he saw a fireball-like object shoot over the mountains, stop and shrink until it vanished.
He meets Steve Crosby at a double-wide trailer called the Little A'Le'Inn, a Rachel restaurant, bar and tourist stop. Crosby, 57, is debating whether the "Earthlings Always Welcome" T-shirt looks better in purple or black. He lives in Bedford, Texas, and hopes to have a second spacecraft sighting (his first was a bluish oval that zipped over Atlanta, he says).
The guys and three others caravan to the mailbox on the state-christened Extraterrestrial Highway, a two-lane road that tumbleweeds cross more frequently than cars. The cows grazing alongside it, conspiracy theorists whisper, are mounted with spy cameras. The men park near the mailbox and a bullet-dinged stop sign, and they open their doors to silence.
The box is made of quarter-inch-thick bulletproof metal, and its door is clamped shut with a Master Lock. Its owner, say the black letters printed on its side, is STEVE MEDLIN, HC 61, BOX 80. Visitors have added bumper stickers and their own musings: "Trust no one" and "I am the last alien" among them.
"It's become this mecca," says a Las Vegas man who's admiring the weathered box. He wears a Johnnie Walker RVs ball cap and refuses to give his name.
"That's probably the most photographed mailbox in the world," Arnold says, his gruff voice tinged with awe.
The owners of the mailbox, Steve and Glenda Medlin, moved in 1973 to a cattle ranch in Tikaboo Valley, about 80 miles north of Las Vegas. There was no talk of aliens and no home mail delivery.
A few years later, a local tungsten quarry reopened. Some miners moved to a trailer park near the Medlins; it grew into the town of Rachel. Postal carriers began delivery, and the couple put up a common black rural mailbox about six miles from their home, near Highway 375.
In 1989, according to a history of Rachel, a man named Bob Lazar told a Las Vegas television station that he had worked with alien spacecraft at nearby Nellis Air Force Base. He and his buddies, Lazar claimed, also watched saucer test flights in Tikaboo Valley.
So many tourists soon descended on Rachel &
on the edge of the valley &
that the Rachel Bar Grill was renamed the Little A'Le'Inn. People would down Alien Burgers and beer before making their way to the mailbox, the only landmark in Tikaboo Valley. The mailbox acquired a cult-like following.
"For some reason, Tuesday nights was when they thought the aliens came out. Then it was Wednesdays," Glenda Medlin says with notable disdain. UFO tourists left messages in the mailbox for the aliens &
on business cards, napkins, notebook scraps. "They were waiting for the aliens to abduct them, and they were anxious to meet them. ... We'd just shake our heads," says Glenda Medlin, who long ago stopped reading the notes. "It was so asinine."
Some people opened the couple's mail, hoping to intercept classified correspondence. Some camped at the mailbox &
for weeks, in some cases. A few shot the mailbox, leaving holes in the Medlins' bills and junk mail. That was too much for the ranchers.
Glenda Medlin doesn't remember when her husband swapped out the black mailbox for the larger white bulletproof one, but an online posting pegs the date as March 27, 1996. The next month, the state named Highway 375 the Extraterrestrial Highway, making headlines internationally.
Steve Medlin attached a second box solely for the alien-seekers: It has a mail slot and is labeled ALIEN on one side and DROP BOX on another; some people slide in dollar bills.
Through it all, the Black Mailbox has remained an enigma, puzzled over on Internet message boards:
6/27/03: "the farmer painted it white in hopes that people would stop being fascinated with this mysterious black mailbox in the middle of nowhere"
5/3/05: "Steve Medlin has a government contract to provide cattle for the space aliens to mutilate"
2/25/08: "Can anybody give me any info on the rancher...? I know his mailbox is famous and his cattle look strange. ... I bet he has stories."
The sun disappears, and the surrounding Groom, Timpahute and Pahranagat mountains blacken. Stars peek through clouds. It's 52 degrees &
unseasonably cold for spring &
and Arnold and the other sky watchers are shivering through lined gloves and wool ponchos. They pace near the mailbox, one of the few things visible in the dark.
They clutch digital cameras and night-vision binoculars that tint everything green. They tilt back their heads, training their lenses on the sky. Someone clicks on a scanner, but it broadcasts only silence. Becky Spidell, 60, and her husband join the group, which passes time trading stories.
"My mother was a UFO person. We had a big telescope in the living room," says Spidell, who runs a mobile home park in Phoenix. "I was so embarrassed &
I wouldn't bring friends over."
Three years ago, after seeing the Little A'Le'Inn on television, Spidell and her husband headed to Tikaboo Valley in early summer. She recalled peering out her car window on that trip and glimpsing three orange UFOs, followed by a giant saucer.
"We watched it for a little bit," she says, "and then it went over the mountain and it glowed for two or three minutes. It landed at Area 51."
The Spidells have returned every year since.
"My youngest daughter thinks I'm nuts," Becky Spidell says. "I think this is the mother's curse."
Minutes pass; the sky watchers never lower their gazes.
Spidell: "It's a big sky, big universe."
Arnold: "It would be naive to think we're the only ones."
Spidell: "I'd like to know the games they're playing with us. The abductions and all."
They continue the UFO chatter.
"After I see one, I always check my clock," Spidell says. "In case I've been abducted."
The others nod in understanding.
The silences lengthen. Two hours crawl by. It's so dark now that the mailbox seems a mirage. There's a glow emanating from behind the mountains, but the group decides it's the Las Vegas Strip.
Crosby clutches a half-full Coors, quietly surveying the night.
"We're not counting on seeing anything," he says finally.
There's a light in the sky. A fast-moving light.
The group debates in hushed tones: Is it a shooting star? A spaceship?
They train their binoculars on it, hoping.
"Probably a commercial jet," someone concludes.
"Well," he says, "I can say I was here."
Alien mailbox legend lives on in Nevada
TIKABOO VALLEY, Nev. &