Where does our fascination with aliens cross the line from humor and whimsy to serious belief? And why?
Perhaps this obsession with visitors from beyond Earth stems from simple romanticism. We want to believe we are not alone.
Whatever the driver, every year tourists from all over the globe venture to several famous destinations within the continental U.S. with ties to strange, mythical, unexplained events.
One of these is Rachel, NV, about 150 miles northwest of Las Vegas. Intrepid visitors, jacked up on stories of unexplained phenomena and ever-present conspiracy theories, travel remote dirt roads outside the fence surrounding a highly classified area the U.S. government refers to as the Nevada Test and Training Range.
But the place is better known to ufologists as the foreboding Area 51.
Despite all the flying saucer hoopla having been long since debunked, tourists come in hopes of catching a glimpse of a UFO or little green men,. Others, however, merely want to visit the famous site with a curiosity comparable to seeing Elvis’ grave.
Whatever the reason, Area 51 has officially become a pilgrimage site. So much so that SR 375, specifically the scant mile between mile markers 29 and 30, has become known as the Extraterrestrial Highway.
A History of Secrecy
There is a single, unmarked, uncharted dirt road that leads to Groom Lake, or Homey Airport, as it is referred to on civil aviation sectionals.
Prior to World War II, Groom Lake was a silver and lead mining area. Escalation of the war resulted in the military requiring secluded areas to conduct research and testing on new weapons systems and aircraft. This area’s remoteness made it perfect for nuclear weapons testing.
During the Cold War, the CIA began developing high-altitude spy planes and needed a secret location. In 1955, Groom Lake was chosen as the headquarters of the U-2 program.
The area was added to the Atomic Energy Commission’s test site list, where it was named—rather perfunctorily—Area 51. A next generation spy plane, the A-12, was developed here.
The aircraft, capable of reaching 2,200 mph, had titanium body that reflected the sun and potentially gave rise to UFO sightings and rumors of flying saucers. The gossip was escalated by a man claiming to have worked at the facility disassembling alien spacecraft.
He was later found out to be a fraud—surprise, surprise. However, the public’s desire to believe fostered the lore, and Area 51 came to prominence.
The area is still an active military base, but what goes on in there, no one knows.
The local town, Rachel, capitalizes on the public’s earnest endeavors to seek out the truth with museums and alien-themed restaurants and motels, annual parades, and festivals all playing into the hype. It’s a lot of fun however you want to look at it.
One of the most popular eateries that exploits the hype is the Little A’Le’Inn in downtown Rachel, a UFO-themed restaurant/bar and hotel.
Facts & Info
If you’re street-mounted, the Extraterrestrial Highway is less than 100 miles of lonely, remote highway (which has its own kind of beauty to those interested). Primarily, this is simply a destination where a motorcycle will be the vehicle to get you into the alien zone.
The road has little deviation from the straight and narrow. It’s the boondocks—this is about seeing an anomaly.
However, if you’re on an adventure or off-road bike, there are trails and fire roads that criss-cross the area. However, be aware of the numerous accounts of off-roaders being stopped, confronted, and promptly escorted off by armed military police for staying too close to sensitive areas.
Recommended Lodging: The Little A’Le’Inn
The Little A’Le’Inn is the place to stay and eat when making the trek out to Area 51. The owners Pat and Connie have been welcoming visitors to stay in this place overflowing with alien lore for more than 25 years.
Fans, skeptics, and the good ol’ curious gawkers will find the establishment simple and clean. The staff like to warn you of cows crossing the highway at dusk, so watch your speed.
Also, they will tell of the trouble you can get into if you don’t obey the posted signage around the base.
Best Time to Travel
This is Nevada. There’s a reason the military has bases here. It’s barren desert—cold in winter and boiling in summer.
However, this part of the state holds its own special rugged beauty year round, with the seasons bringing their own touch. That said, July and August can be brutal.
You’d be well advised to stay fueled up and to carry a hefty amount of water, as you’ll go through it faster than you may realize.
September through December are mild, while frost and cold descend onto the area in February and March. April and May see the unique desert flowers bloom.
This is a special kind of tourist attraction, with only the brave venturing out here. As a result, it remains relatively uncrowded.