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Senior Tripsters go on a close encounter to alien country

RACHEL — Unidentified flying objects. Unearthly beings. Unexplainable light beams.

Pat Travis-Laudenklos, who has owned the Little A’Le’Inn since 1988 (when it was the Rachel Bar and Grill), has seen them all.

Surrounded by a group of Las Vegas travelers, she began to tell eerie tales about her close encounters with extraterrestrial life.

The group of 50 seniors made the nearly three-hour trek March 31, as part of an excursion with Senior Tripsters, Inc., 451 E. Bonanza Road, a downtown Las Vegas nonprofit that organizes trips around the globe for the gray-haired but young at heart.

Most were skeptics. Flying saucers and little green men sound a bit farfetched.

Some admit they aren’t ready to believe in aliens as they sit only a few miles away from Area 51 — one of the world’s spaceship meccas and the stamping grounds for U.S. Air Force secret testing.

The closest the group came to seeing a UFO was a handful of military aircraft that flew so low that people on the tour bus ducked.

Still, there were others who mulled over the idea of “keeping an open mind,” when it came to alien talk.

Travis-Laudenklos told of a ball of light that came through her tavern door and shot six feet into the room while illuminating the door frame.

That story makes the hair rise on the back of her neck and produces goosebumps on her arms, too.

Then there’s the story about the man who came into her tavern and told her that her relative Jim would walk again. Jim had broken his back in a car accident. He now walks using special leg braces.

Days later, that stranger passed a note across the bar to Travis-Laudenklos that read, “Let’s just say I’m not of your world.” He disappeared and hasn’t been back since.

Right now, a UFO hovers over the mountains around 4:30 a.m. It flies around for a little bit, then disappears. Recently, the craft followed her and her husband into Alamo, about 50 miles away.

“I can’t tell you what it is,” she told the tripsters. “But I can tell you I damn well can’t tell you what else it could be. We’re near a test facility. There will be those things … There are a lot of interesting things around us.”

Pictures, posters, T-shirts and coffee mugs plastered with the faces of green men, who have bulbous-shaped heads and large black eyes, adorn every inch of the Little A’Le’Inn.

The tavern’s trinkets seemingly beg Earthlings and other visitors to believe just enough in alien life to purchase a souvenir.

The tavern, which has been used in movies such as “Independence Day” and “Paul,” is situated on the edge of town along the Extraterrestrial Highway.

About 75 people call the small town, about 150 miles northeast of Las Vegas, home. Life here is pretty simple.

The travelers eagerly listen as the tavern’s owner finishes up her stories.

For this Las Vegas senior group, it isn’t so much about the final destination of their trips as it is about the journey.

Evelyn Jackson, 73, has been a Senior Tripsters member for 13 years and goes on almost every trip. She begins to tell the story of losing her husband and two sons in consecutive years and how Senior Tripsters saved her life.

“A whole new world opened up,” Jackson said, as she pushed her walker through A Cowboy’s Dream, an Alamo-based bed and breakfast and the second stop during the trip. “It was like they opened up the gates of heaven.”

Equipped with a digital camera, Jackson lagged behind the group; taking photos and videos of their trips and putting them on CDs for anyone who wants to reminisce later.

Barbara Volk, 74, is president of the nonprofit that began in 1984. There are about 1,000 members, 250 of whom are active travelers, she said.

“They realize we have well-run trips and that we keep costs as low as possible,” Volk said over the hum of the bus engine. “Those are the big draws. They like to travel, and they want to travel with a group and enjoy themselves. We go all over the world. There are no limits.”

San Francisco. The Mexican Riviera. Greece.

For some, the tripsters provide a new group of friends to explore life’s possibilities. Traveling gets them out of the house and keeps the mind active.

For group volunteer Rose Cutspec, the trips are about enjoying traveling with a group of her peers.

“You get to a certain point in your life where you want to relax and not take the responsibility of gassing up,” the 72-year-old said. “It’s a carefree trip. These are people who have the same ideas about wanting to have a good time and have fun.”

For more information about Senior Tripsters, Inc., call 387-0007 or email
srtripsterinc@embarqmail.com. Dues are $7 annually for members of the nonprofit travel organization. One-, three- and five-year memberships are available. Trip costs are out-of-pocket.

Contact Downtown and North Las Vegas View reporter Kristi Jourdan at kjourdan@viewnews.com or 383-0492.