A conspiracy theory involving alien weapons, pyramid-induced orgasms, and court-martialed generals leads to one’s man disappearance in Denali National Park.
Sometimes, it’s easy to get lost.
It was mid-August and 48-year-old Aaron Hernandez and his friend decided to spend their weekend hiking the Hermit Trail in Grand Canyon National Park. At first, everything was going as planned. They dropped down well-graded switchbacks, stopping for bits of shade and enjoying the incredible, if hazy, views of the inner canyon.
But on the way back up, their weekend fell apart. Maybe it was the blazing summer sun or simple distraction, but the two got separated and wandered off the main trail. Eventually, the friend made his way to the trailhead but Hernandez was not so lucky. He spent a night wandering the desert wastes, stumbling through fiercely sharp fields of gray limestone and eerily moonlit cactus gardens. Thankfully, the next morning, exhausted but still alive, Hernandez awoke to the sight of a National Park Service (NPS) helicopter and was airlifted to safety.
Every year the NPS responds to hundreds of cases just like this. A hiker gets lost, is quickly reported, and is found within 24 hours. Case closed.
But very rarely, the search comes up empty handed. A backpacker in Sequoia-Kings Canyon takes a detour and never returns; a tourist mysteriously walks away from his car and disappears into the Yosemite wilderness. Despite helicopters, scent dogs, and search teams, sometimes people seem to simply vanish.
That’s when the Investigative Services Branch (ISB), or “FBI of the National Park Service,” steps in. The special agents of the ISB investigate cold cases — the missing persons and unsolved crimes that slip through the cracks of normal NPS law enforcement.
Though it sounds romantic, or like a bad TV show — detectives in flat hats dusting for fingerprints around Ol’ Faithful — it’s not an easy job. The abundant wildlife and bad weather of many national parks wreaks havoc on physical evidence. Even after a long search, all the ISB may have to go on is a few fragments of a torn tent, some hiker’s hazy eyewitness report, or in one of their recent cases, the story of one man’s search for a giant alien pyramid buried deep in the Alaskan wilderness.
On May 27, 2020, 41-year-old Nathan Campbell hired a charter plane out of Talkeetna to fly him to a small lake in the northwest corner of Denali National Park. Along with some basic camping gear, Campbell brought a hefty cache of food stored in plastic tubs and a two-way satellite communicator to check-in with his wife and kids. He planned to spend the next four months alone smack-dab in the center of Interior Alaska.
Campbell had picked a strange place for a summer vacation. The plane had dropped him on the shores of Carey Lake, a mile-long splat of blue surrounded by hundreds of square miles of uninhabited wilderness, filled with some of the roughest terrain in Alaska. Travel in any direction would require fighting his way through head-high alder thickets and waist-deep beaver ponds. To reach the nearest town— Lake Minchumina, population 13 — would require a week of hellish bushwhacking on foot. If it was solitude Campbell was looking for, he surely found it.
But Campbell wasn’t there for fun, he was on a mission. On the long flight from Talkeetna to Carey Lake, while the vast green carpet of the boreal forest floated beneath them, the usually shy Campbell told his pilot Jason Sturgis how he planned to spend his summer.
Campbell had come to Carey Lake to search for something that, until now, only existed in the darkest, least updated corners of the internet: the Black Pyramid, a massive underground structure rumored to be four times the size of the famous Cheops in Egypt, and thousands, if not millions of years old. Conspiracy theorists claim the structure is so powerful, its importance to national security so tantamount, that all traces of the pyramid — and the military base believed to protect it — have been wiped from satellite imagery.
Although bush pilots, trappers, and natives had traveled the area around Carey Lake for generations, a quick search through the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner archives shows few references to a giant alien pyramid or top-secret base in central Alaska. But then again, until Nathan Campbell showed up, no one had been really looking for it. And his reasons for starting his search deep in the Alaskan wilderness, if you follow the nebulous logic of conspiracy theory, make perfect sense.
First, the Black Pyramid fits neatly into the pantheon of paranoid inducing military installations in Alaska. The most infamous of these is the High-frequency Active Auroral Research Program, or HAARP, located just outside of Fairbanks. Depending on who you ask, HAARP is a high-frequency transmitter used to remotely set off earthquakes to topple Venezuelan dictators, control the world’s climate and undermine the fossil fuel industry, or help scientists study the ionosphere. Take your pick.
Second, the supposed location of the Black Pyramid has long been recognized as an area of geostrategic importance. In the 1930’s, General Billy Mitchell, the so-called “father of the US Air Force.” saw that Lake Minchumina — about forty miles north of where Campbell landed at Carey Lake — was equidistant to the major urban-industrial centers of the Northern Hemisphere. That meant, with the same tank of fuel, a B-52 taking off from the shores of Lake Minchumina could strike Tokyo, Beijing, Moscow, Paris, or even New York. In modern warfare, General Mitchell had shown that the middle of nowhere could become the center of everything.
Then, in the early 90’s, came the real evidence for the Black Pyramid. Scientists studying shockwaves from a 1992 Chinese underground nuclear test recorded a grainy, pyramid-shaped spot of interference 700’ below the surface of Interior Alaska. Age, origin, and function: unknown.
Pyramids have a special allure in conspiracy theory and the New Age. According to internet gurus, the unique shape of a pyramid resonates energy that even in a palm-sized object made of base quartz, can tenderize meat, improve your sex life, and eliminate foul odors from your bathroom. If the results of the nuclear test were true, and there was a giant pyramid beneath the center of Alaska, then its powers would undoubtedly be immense, capable of emitting energy waves that could make an outhouse in Fairbanks smell like springtime or produce mind-blowing orgasms a thousand miles away on the outskirts of Dawson City (as long as you and your partner are tuned to the pyramid’s frequency of course).
The Black Pyramid got more traction after a hot tip from an anonymous, retired naval captain on the legendary conspiracy theory radio program, Coast-to-Coast. Throughout the 80’s, the captain worked on top-secret radar installations in Alaska. For years, he noticed that a mysterious, massively powerful source of electromagnetism near Lake Minchumina was disrupting his base’s aircraft and communications.
Now, after seeing the results of the Chinese tests, the captain realized the source of the disturbances — a massive underground pyramid-shaped structure in the heart of Alaska that was not shown on any map or satellite imagery. Not surprisingly, when the captain brought these facts to his superiors, they threatened him with a court martial. Now we know why.
Imagine a weapon powerful enough to disrupt global communications, perfectly positioned to strike any major power in the Northern Hemisphere. Building standard military base infrastructure — roads, LZs, a Buffalo Wild Wings — would only draw unnecessary attention to it. In order to maintain its perfect secrecy wouldn’t it be better to hide it in one of the most remote, inhospitable corners of the country, so that only the true believers, skilled in wilderness survival and prepared to brave hordes of mosquitos and week-long storms, could uncover its secrets?
With the captain’s report everything came together — secret bases, government cover-ups, global warfare, ancient aliens, pyramid power — to create the story of the Black Pyramid. The story that Campbell, if he followed any of the internet lore, surely planned his summer vacation around.
No one knows for certain if Campbell believed any of this. He may have spent a month poking around every clump of dwarf birch looking for a secret door to the command center. Or, like a bad deer hunter trying to escape his nagging wife, Campbell’s quest could have been an excuse for some alone time in the wilderness, to tramp around in the woods on a mission that really didn’t need a resolution. Regardless, somewhere out there, he got himself into trouble.
Travel in any direction from Carey Lake would have been slow, difficult, and dangerous. Did Campbell surprise a bear, fall into a beaver pond, or get caught in a freak snowstorm? No one knows.
All the NPS has to go on are scattered testimonies and fragments of evidence. Before the plane left, Campbell gave his charter pilot, Jason Sturgis, instructions to pick him up at Carey Lake in mid-September, right before the onset of the Alaskan winter. After that, Sturgis hopped in his plane and flew back to Talkeetna. That was the last time anyone saw Campbell alive.
Sometime in mid-June, Campbell’s satellite texts stopped. His wife contacted Sturgis, who told her to call a company flying helicopters to check the site of Campbell’s last transmission. The results of her calls or if she tried a search are unknown. It wasn’t until Campbell missed September 15th his pick-up-date, that the NPS sent a search team to Carey Lake.
After a few days beating through the brush, rangers found some of Campbell’s gear — cracked food bins, moldy clothes, a battered tent — but no signs of the Wasilla native. The only clues were the rodent-chewed remnants of his diary, buried in his tent. The last entry, dated sometime in late June, simply stated “went to get water.” Then, he simply disappeared.
The NPS flew over the area for several days, but eventually had to abandon the search. Campbell, if he was still alive, was hopefully prepared. The icy winds and subzero temperatures of winter could come at any moment. Soon, snow would cover the landscape and make foot travel virtually impossible. To survive, Campbell would have to hunker down. But a few tubs of ramen and a Wal-Mart tent wouldn’t cut it; without a larder filled with moose meat and a well-chinked shelter, Campbell was as good as dead.
On October 1st, 2020 Campbell was declared missing. Wherever he is, hopefully he found what he was looking for. Somewhere, deep in the Alaskan wilderness, the search for the Black Pyramid continues on.