An otherwise nondescript section of blacktop, the 100-mile stretch of NV 375 between the tiny communities of Hiko and Warm Springs skirts the top-secret Air Force installation known familiarly as Area 51. While the federal government insists—when compelled by Freedom of Information Act requests—that the area around Groom Lake is merely used for research and testing experimental aircraft, self-styled ufologists, conspiracy theorists, aviation buffs, and seemingly the Nevada Department of Transportation (NDOT) beg to differ. Getting into the spirit of alleged UFO sightings and the no-nonsense security surrounding Area 51, NDOT in April 1997 designated this desolate 92-mile stretch of NV 375 the “Extraterrestrial Highway.” During the ceremony, Nevada governor Bob Miller quipped that some of the signs should be placed flat on the ground “so aliens can land there.” Governor Miller also commented that the designation shows Nevada has a sense of humor.
Begin your extraterrestrial journey six miles south of Hiko, a straight 115 miles due north of Las Vegas on I-15 and US 93. Stop for a photo op at the junction of US 93 and NV 318 under the official “Extraterrestrial Highway” road sign, one of four erected in 1997. Previous visitors have covered it with stickers, nearly obliterating the sign’s text and artwork. Across the road, alien cowboys and spaceships painted on the walls of ET Fresh Jerky (775/725-3677) tempt drivers with dried fruit, candy, flavored nuts, and over-the-top souvenirs, as well as beef, venison, elk, turkey, and other jerky products. Stock up! Abduction is possible, and we hear that Martian food is awful.
A mile of US 318 connects you to the ET Highway itself, and your next stop at the Alien Research Center (100 Extraterrestrial Hwy., 775/725-3750, 11am-7pm Fri.-Tues.). Don’t be fooled by the quasi-official name. This Quonset hut is nothing more than a gift shop, but the tawdry T-shirts and decent selection of Star Wars collectibles and other space-y pop culture icons give it a certain charm. The opening hours are sketchy, but it’s worth a stop just to take a photo of the 30-foot-tall silver alien on sentry duty.
In another 39 miles, just before entering Rachel, turn right, onto a dirt road that leads 12 miles to the perimeter of the buffer zone that protects the approach to the entrance to Area 51, the rumored secret location where the U.S. government hides its secret intelligence on extraterrestrial life. You’ll be nowhere close to anything sensitive or unearthly, but you wouldn’t know it by the half dozen warning signs on the fence. If you dare, take a picture of the “no photographs” signs. If approached by guards, do exactly what they say. They are heavily armed and have no sense of humor.
After the nice men release you from the interrogation room, hightail it to Rachel, gathering spot for tin-hat wearers from across the globe who are convinced that the truth is out there. The Little A’Le’Inn (9631 Old Mill Rd., 775/729-2515, $45-60) is their clubhouse, with a flying saucer suspended on a crane, reserved parking for long-distance visitors, and Alien Burgers on the menu at the restaurant (8am-10pm daily, $8-15). The selection of alien merchandise is extensive and varied—piggy banks, cookie jars, gumball machines, and more. The motel rooms share bathrooms with others in the unit. RV spaces ($15) and a cabin ($300) are also available. The ET Highway continues for another 59 miles to Warm Springs, but this is the end of the line for alien-themed attractions.
If you don’t want to drive the Extraterrestrial Highway yourself, Adventure Photo Tours (702/889-8687, 7am-5pm, $205) hauls vanfuls from Las Vegas. The trip includes a stop at a petroglyph site, a drive through a surreal Joshua tree forest, lunch at the Little A’Le’Inn, water, and snacks. Drivers take guests right up to the Area 51 gates, within shouting distance of the “men in black” who patrol the perimeter.
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