X-Files fans and conspiracy theorists dream of visiting Area 51, the test site for America's advanced aircraft and weapons systems - and, some say, the place where UFOs are hidden. Now the curious can visit, sort of. In Los Angeles, an exhibit by the Center for Land Use Interpretation offers an inside look at the 5,000 square-mile Nellis Air Force Bombing and Gunnery Range in Nevada, the largest and most secret restricted area in the United States, which contains Area 51. The range holds other pieces of Western history as well, from Native American campsites to old mining towns. Housed in an office trailer in Culver City, Calif., the exhibit, The Nellis Range Complex: Landscape of Conjecture, features mounted photographs offering aerial views and panoramas, as well as satellite images, maps and every book the center could find on the subject. Matt Coolidge, co-director of the 5-year-old nonprofit center, says its mission is to make people more aware of their physical environment: "More curious, more confused, but more engaged in finding answers." Coolidge doesn't like to give away secrets by getting too specific, but tours sometimes employ actors or other "plants' to get their guests to challenge the authority of the tour interpreters. "The tour bus becomes a kind of a lab for tourism," he says.


The exhibit runs until Nov. 14 at the Center for Land Use Interpretation, 9331 Venice Blvd., Culver City, CA 90232 (310/839-5722).


*Karen Mockler