If you were to drive about two hours east of Santa Fe, watching from your car as the sagebrush desert rocked past and rose up into wooded hills and mesas, you might find yourself near the tiny ranching town of Trementina, which is a place that doesn't seem to have much going on.
However, if you were to fly over that same area, you might see something interesting - for instance, according to some locals, men with guns staring up at your plane - or, also, an enormous and mysterious symbol bulldozed into the side of a desert mountain. Two epic and overlapping circles, more than one-third of a mile long from end to end, seem to drape like Dalíesque clocks over the bulging landscape, each with a sizeable diamond shape cut into its middle.
Just about a mile southwest of these symbols is a private, mesa-top runway, and if you were to fly over with the right people, you just might be able to land there. From there, after exiting your plane, you could move on to one of at least three multimillion-dollar luxury homes tucked away in the surrounding hills - or you could make your way toward the circles, near which a steel door like that of a bank vault guards a network of subterranean, steel-lined tunnels designed to withstand a nuclear blast. In these tunnels, if you were allowed to enter, as the news show "20/20" was in 1998, you would find hundreds of titanium boxes. In those boxes, you would find hundreds of thousands of stainless steel plates engraved with bizarre and jargon-filled writing and tens of thousands of playable records made of nickel - records containing the spoken teachings of a mediocre science-fiction writer named L. Ron Hubbard, a man who somehow became worshipped as a prophet by more than 300,000 glassy-eyed followers known collectively as the Church of Scientology.
Referred to by Scientologists as San Miguel Ranch, or simply The Ranch, a more than 4,000-acre property in New Mexico's San Miguel County was selected in 1986 because of the low likelihood of it ever being nuked, according to a January 23, 1994, story in the Albuquerque Journal. According to Jessica Weed, a one-time roommate of two New Mexican Scientologists, the mansions on the property also serve as a sort of retreat for the group's members. "During their stay with us, they would sometimes go get dinner and a movie without telling anyone from the Albuquerque chapter of Scientology where they were going," Weed said. "When they did this, the phone would ring off the hook for them with different people from The Ranch or people from the Albuquerque chapter. They wanted to know where they were, what they were doing, who they were with, when they were going to be back, etc."
Such paranoia and invasiveness have become hallmarks of Scientology. The group has become infamous for its eagerness to file lawsuits against anyone who speaks out against them, has encouraged its members to completely avoid all friends and family members who are even slightly critical of the group and has seen its top-ranking officials convicted of attempts to frame its critics for serious crimes.
With such behavior, with the way it aggressively demands money from its members, with the blind adoration its followers give to the memory of Hubbard, and with the group's beliefs in the entire world's population being filled with the souls of dead aliens, the Church of Scientology has made it difficult for people to discuss it without the word "cult" coming to mind.
It has, however, perhaps given us a legacy.
When archeologists of the distant future sift through the remains of what we are today, perhaps one of the only things they'll find intact will be the nickel records of the San Miguel Ranch. They'll pull a stack from a titanium case, set one on a solar-powered record player, and as the voice of Hubbard begins to drone, they'll think, "So this is what they all believed. So this is what they all were like."
Oh dear God, please no.