LAUGHLIN " A high-pitched cry of delight rings through the desert night. A few dozen heads cocked skyward turn in tandem toward the sound. They move deliberately, trying not to lose sight of the stars, trying to see what the others see.
"Oh my God, you guys, it's a giant delta! It is a great big delta!"
"That huge, that's a mothership, probably."
"We're going to see a battle."
This is UFO hunting among the believers.
And this is how you end a day at the recent International UFO Congress Convention & Film Festival, which has brought together the extraterrestrially curious in the United States for 18 years.
Late last month, the group gathered in this desert casino town to discuss the truth they believe is out there. This year, that meant lectures on alien implant research, alien technology, the secret societies that "threaten to take over America" and something called "exoconsciousness." Nearly 1,000 people attended the annual meeting.
The convention is the brainchild of co-founder Bob Brown, a former commercial pilot and a filmmaker who says his captivation with the paranormal dates back to his Northern California childhood. When he was 9, a family friend gave him a copy of "There is River," a biography of self-described psychic Edgar Cayce, and "Autobiography of a Yogi." A searcher was born.
Years later, after a UFO sighting of his own and countless hours of research, Brown concluded that even the mainstream UFO community was suppressing information and wrongly dismissing some important paranormal events. He and co-founder Wendell Stevens, a UFO investigator, set out to create a less political forum.
"We decided that it needed to be done better. People needed to have a respectful and wonderful place to disseminate information. You don't do it for money," said Brown, a soft spoken man who might pass for a salesman if not for his Marvin the Martian tie.
Indeed, there is an come-one-come-all feel at the conference. Conspiracy theorists mingle with new-age artists. Dense, scholarly treatises sit next to self-published tales of alien encounters.
The community of believers has its own celebrities, trends and language.
When asked her name, Cari Barlow, of Siena Vista, Ariz., stumbled. She usually goes by her star name "Joujoului," she explained. She also can write in Reptilian, the language of the alien race she believes to be in her blood line.
"I've know I'm a hybrid," she said plainly. "I knew all my life, but I realized when my ex saw me shape shift."
At the UFO Congress she feels at home: "Even the skeptics are open minded. It's like family."
However deep this subculture, it is not impervious to current events and popular culture.
Among the hottest selling DVDs was "Hidden Agenda: The Capitalist Conspiracy " An Inside View of International Banking," according to Tom Bearden of UFO TV, a DVD distributor in attendance.
President Barack Obama graced the cover of the latest issue of a journal published by Italian UFO enthusiast and journalist Maurizio Baiata.
"You Americans, with Obama you have hope. Obama represents a new hope for the country but also for disclosure, if he starts pushing for disclosure of the big secrets," Baiata said.
The big secrets seemed as open as the night sky to those who joined Ed Grimsley on his evening sky watch trip. Grimsley believes he's been watching battles between unknown aircraft since he was a teenager. Armed with night vision binoculars and laser pointers, he led expeditions of the curious to a roadside overlook just outside of town.
The group passed around the binoculars and were told the rules " conventional wisdom for the unconventional.
If a light is moving slowly in a straight line, it's a satellite. If it blinks and has two wings, it's a plane. If it moves quickly, starts and stops, or dodges the beam of the laser pointer, it's " unidentified.
"I saw a Lexus on the freeway, I don't know who the owner is," explains Melinda Leslie, of Costa Mesa, Calif., an alien abduction researcher, office manager and spotter of the giant delta.
"Could it be ours? Theirs? I don't know."