There is nothing quite like an open road.
Living in Santa Cruz County, one of the most congested areas of the country, it is a luxury to drive on one without bumper-to-bumper traffic.
Road trips—especially in remote areas—have always been an attractive vacation for me. And earlier this month I was finally able to experience one that I’d been wanting to for years.
My friend and I met at Las Vegas’ McCarran International Airport early on a Friday evening. She had flown from Portland, Oregon and I from San Jose. We were in town for a concert, but that wasn’t for another two days. Neither of us are gamblers, and our shallow pockets prevented us from attending more shows. So we chose to rent a car and take off into the desert first thing Saturday morning.
The deserts of Nevada offer some of the least traveled routes in the U.S. After leaving flashy Las Vegas, it doesn’t take long for you to find yourself in the middle of nowhere; the lone car on a narrow two-lane highway.
The Extraterrestrial Highway, also known as Nevada Route 375, stretches as far as the eye can see. — Johanna Miller/Register-Pajaronian
But we weren’t driving without a destination in mind.
The Extraterrestrial Highway, or Nevada State Route 375, stretches north from Highway 93 to the junction of Highway 6, and is famous for being the closest public road to the famous Area 51 Air Force facility.
Area 51 is a highly classified remote base that exists as a detachment of the Edwards Air Force Base. The base’s history is intriguing, but the conspiracy theories regarding aliens and UFO technology are what draws most visitors to the remote area.
My first introduction to the Extraterrestrial Highway was the 2011 comedy film “Paul”, staring Nick Frost and Simon Pegg. The duo attends San Diego Comic Con and then heads off in a rickety RV to Nevada for their chance of a close encounter.
In the movie, the characters stop at a themed inn called the The Little A’Le’Inn. (A play on “Alien”.) When I discovered that the place actually existed, I knew I had to pay a visit.
The Little A’Le’Inn is located in Rachel, Nevada, a tiny town about 25 miles from Area 51. Locals embrace that they are known for their secretive neighbors. In front of the Little A’Le’Inn a space ship hangs off the back of an old pickup truck. The restaurant’s most popular item is the Alien Burger. A sign reads: “Welcome to Rachel. Humans: 98. Aliens: ?”
Part of the inside of the Little A'Le'Inn, located in Rachel, NV. — Johanna Miller/Register-Pajaronian
The staff at The Little A’Le’Inn are just as eclectic as the themed decor that adorns the inside and outside of the building. Our waitress, Betty, fit perfectly into the setting—with a sassy attitude with a dry sense of humor to match. Betty constantly moved from our seats at the bar to the tables, asking people where they were from and regaling us with stories of “bonafide” UFO sighting.
“I’ve seen some weird stuff,” she declared. “There are definitely things out there we don’t understand.”
Despite being a tourist attraction, the Extraterrestrial Highway remains an incredibly lonely road, with only the occasional car passing by. One can sit, even lay down on the pavement without fear, as cars can be seen coming from miles away on the flat, bare landscape.
The road offers a number of fun stops. The Alien Research Center is located right as you turn off from Highway 93; a mammoth alien statue stands in front of hanger-like building. The center is actually a gift shop, but apparently, according to its owners, “the research goes on in the back.”
Before even leaving Highway 93 you can stop at ET Fresh Jerky to pick up some delicious Area 51-themed beef jerky. The jerky comes in a variety of flavors, many with amusing names such as “Turkey Terrestrial Teriyaki.” A colorful mural stretches across a fence next to the store.
The Extraterrestrial Highway is located in Nevada, about an hour's drive north of Las Vegas. — Johanna Miller/Register-Pajaronian
Adventurous travelers can turn off from the Extraterrestrial Highway onto a small dirt road to the actual back gate of Area 51. Photography is prohibited in the area, but that doesn’t stop most visitors from sneakily snapping shots of the gate with their telephoto lenses. The gate is pretty far out along the rural road, so my friend and I were unable to make the trek in the time we had — especially since we had rented a small car without four-wheel drive. Maybe next time.
Whether you are seeking to discover life beyond earth, or even just a road without traffic, Nevada’s Extraterrestrial Highway offers travelers an unforgettable experience. I know for sure I will find myself out there again someday, looking to the sky for answers.
Editor's Note: In the next installment we will take a brief drive through Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada’s oldest state park, and find some unique things to do in Las Vegas.