Zone of Silence

An area where radio signals and any type of communications cannot be received.

Once upon a time in 1970, a military training rocket went off course and accidentally invaded Mexican airspace. Somehow landing hundreds of miles off-course, the rocket buried itself in the desert region of Durango, Mexico.

Now don’t confuse this area with the “Cone of Silence”. The Cone of Silence is one of many recurring joke devices from “Get Smart”, a 1960s American comedy television series about an inept spy.

The essence of the joke is that the apparatus, designed for secret conversations, makes it impossible for those inside the device – and easy for those outside the device – to hear the conversation.

On July 11, 1970, an Athena RTV[1] test rocket was launched from the Green River Launch Complex[2] in Utah towards the White Sands Missile Range[3] in New Mexico lost control, and fell in the Mapimí Desert region.

The United States Air Force launched this Athena-sounding rocket, equipped with re-entry vehicle V-123-D. The rocket instead flew south and impacted 180–200 miles south of the Mexican border. Wernher von Braun, the Nazi scientist who helped pioneer the US space program, came to investigate the crash site, along with hundreds of locals hired by the US Air Force. When the rocket was discovered, a 28-day excavation process was set in motion. Once the missile was found in a sand dune, American workers rigged up a complicated system to dig it out, creating an extension from the railroad to the dune.

The whole point was to keep operations a secret but that might only have made people wonder, what was there to hide? After 28 days, the missile was dug out and the Americans left with their weapon, pulling up the railroad tracks. The area was once an ancient sea bed in the Tethys Ocean[4], which left marine fossils and large salt deposits which are mined today. The first recorded incident in the area came in 1930 when Francisco Sarabia, a pilot reported that his instruments did not work correctly and that his radio stopped working when flying over the area.

At least three different meteorites hit the area; one in 1938, another in 1954 – which, amazingly, hit the same ranch as its predecessor – and a third in 1969. The name Zone of Silence was not given until 1966 when Pemex, the national oil company, sent an expedition to explore the area. The leader, Augusto Harry de la Peña, was frustrated by the problems he was having with his radio. He christened it the Zone of Silence.

One of the many unusual observable properties in this area is its high levels of magnetite and uranium deposits, to which scientists attribute electromagnetic pulses that are said to be the source of the disrupted signals. Scientists have theorized that the remnants of these meteorites exude magnetic properties that may explain why so many iron-rich objects from space end up here.

Other, more bizarre, activity of this nature is reported here, such as the area’s reputation for strange lights, UFO sightings, and alien encounters. Some even believe it has been used in the past—and present—as a portal for aliens. Ranchers have cited tales of strange lights and odd strangers that appear from nowhere and claim to come “from above”.

In fact, the same three blonde strangers have often been spotted by multiple witnesses. Witnesses of inexplicable flying objects, often described as “disc-like”, have even reported finding physical evidence to back their claims. Some have discovered burned brush and vegetation at the apparent touchdown sites. No concrete evidence has been found to support the claims of extraterrestrial activity in this area, though there are undoubtedly several events that cannot be explained.

If the Zone of Silence is experiencing a rare magnetic pull, one has to speculate the extent of the effect it has on the happenings in the area. Gerry Hunt has written a book on the subject. He describes this area that blocks radio signals, causes compasses to spin, is bombarded by meteorites on a regular basis, and produces bizarre plant and animal life. The is also a 2017 movie called “Aliens: Zone of Silence” where after her brother mysteriously vanishes from the Mexican desert, a young woman sets out to uncover the otherworldly truth about his disappearance.

  1. The first Athena test missile was launched from Green River, Utah, toward the White Sands Missile Range (WSMR) in New Mexico. The Athena research rocket was designed with the support of the Advanced Ballistic Reentry Systems (ABRES) program. Subscale models of ballistic reentry vehicles would be flown on the Athenas to test reentry vehicle concepts and phenomena. This first missile only had two operational stages, and several system failures resulted in the premature impact of the missile some 11 miles from Durango, Colorado. This was the first of several hundred launches from Green River, Utah, to impact points in the US Army’s White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico. The Athena was designed to simulate the re-entry environment of an intercontinental ballistic missile and was one of the few examples of sustained interstate missile tests within the United States. [Back]
  2. The Utah Launch Complex was a Cold War military sub-installation of the White Sands Missile Range for USAF and US Army rocket launches. In addition to firing Pershing missiles, the complex launched Athena RTV missiles with subscale (test) warheads of the Advanced Ballistic Re-entry System to reentry speeds and impact at the New Mexico range. From 1964 to 1975 there were 244 Green River launches, including 141 Athena launches and 60 Pershing 1 and Pershing 1a launches to 281 kilometers altitude. “Utah State Route 19 runs through the Green River Launch Complex, which is south of the town and eponym of Green River.” [Back]
  3. White Sands Missile Range (WSMR) is a United States Army military testing area and firing range located in the US state of New Mexico. The range was originally established as the White Sands Proving Ground on 9 July 1945. White Sands National Park is located within the range. The first atomic bomb was test detonated at Trinity Site near the northern boundary of the range on 16 July 1945, seven days after the White Sands Proving Ground was established. After the conclusion of World War II, 100 long-range German V-2 rockets that were captured by U.S. military troops were brought to WSMR. Of these, 67 were test-fired between 1946 and 1951 from the White Sands V-2 Launching Site. (This was followed by the testing of American rockets, which continues to this day, along with testing other technologies.) NASA’s Space Shuttle Columbia landed on the Northrop Strip at WSMR on March 30, 1982, as the conclusion to mission STS-3. This was the only time that NASA used WSMR as a landing site for the space shuttle. [Back]
  4. The Tethys Ocean was a prehistoric ocean that covered most of the Earth during much of the Mesozoic Era and early Cenozoic Era, located between the ancient continents of Gondwana and Laurasia, before the opening of the Indian and Atlantic oceans during the Cretaceous Period. It was preceded by the Paleo-Tethys Ocean, which lasted between the Cambrian and the Early Triassic, while the Neotethys formed during the Late Triassic and lasted until the early Eocene (about 50 million years ago) when it completely closed. A portion known as the Paratethys formed during the Late Jurassic, was isolated during the Oligocene (34 million years ago), and lasted up to the Pliocene (about 5 million years ago) when it largely dried out. The ocean basins of Europe and Western Asia, namely the Mediterranean Sea, Black Sea, and the Caspian Sea, are each remnant of the Paratethys Ocean. [Back]

Further Reading


How Stuff Works
Atlas Obscura
Ancient Origins
Indie88 FM

Author: Doyle

I was born in Atlanta, moved to Alpharetta at 4, lived there for 53 years and moved to Decatur in 2016. I've worked at such places as Richway, North Fulton Medical Center, Management Science America (Computer Tech/Project Manager) and Stacy's Compounding Pharmacy (Pharmacy Tech).

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