When it comes to conspiracy theories, there's a big difference between some harmless urban legends and a dangerous or potentially threatening belief. If I were to tell you that meteorite detritus rains down on the earth in a wispy web, you might think it's a spooky phenomenon and tell all your friends on the playground. However, if you were to believe that space aliens made the ancient Peruvian geoglyphs called the Nazca lines — and then you trampled over them in an attempt to collect "samples" — your fun little hobby would now be seriously damaging to the archaeological record.
The "Zone of Silence" (or La Zona del Silencio) is a "mystical" spot in the Mapimí Biosphere Reserve in Durango, Mexico, where radio and TV signals allegedly do not work. In 1970, an American missile fired from the White Sands Missile Base somehow went off course and landed right in the middle of the reserve, 400 miles (644 kilometers) south of its intended target. U.S. Air Force officials hired a group of locals to search for the missile, keeping its location and details a secret. 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 [sources: Corrales; Kaus]. 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. After that, it seems that one of the local workers decided that advertising the area as a location for strange and unusual happenings was a good way to drum up a little tourism money. The Zone of Silence was born, spurred on by tales of abnormal animals, plants and even some "communications" from other worlds. The founders of the myth and the tourist guides, collectively called zoneros, claimed that the reason the missile went astray was the magnetic waves in the area are so unique that radio transmission and compasses do not work [source: Kaus].
So, is there any truth to any of this? "Neither I nor anyone with whom I spoke (apart from the zoneros) had any trouble with either their radios or compasses while working in the Reserve," wrote Andrea Kaus, who did her doctoral dissertation about the Mapimí Biosphere Reserve. "The claims of mutations refer to natural phenomena; the triangles are a normal pattern variant in the Bolson tortoise populations and the pads of nopal coyotillo turn a shade of violet during a dry spell." As to why the missile went so off course, no one knows for sure. It might have been human error or faulty equipment, she speculated.
For many years, tourists visited the area to see whether they would encounter any spooky goings-on, UFOs or aliens. Now, there are few visitors, in part due to the security situation in that area of Mexico [source: Wilson]. There is, however, a research station that studies the ecology of the area, and that research is hindered by people looking for aliens, leaving trash and generally showing environmental ignorance.