State Route 375, or the “Extraterrestrial Highway” as it is commonly known, stretches 98 miles from Warm Springs in Nye County to Crystal Springs in Lincoln County. The highway is home to numerous alleged UFO sightings thanks to its proximity to Area 51, the name given to the Nevada Test and Training Range where secret flight tests have occurred since the 1950s. In 1996 the state gave the highway the nickname “The Extraterrestrial Highway” just in time for Hollywood to promote the film Independence Day.
The highway is marked by spectacular desert vistas, and long and lonely enough to air out the body and soul. At the beginning of my trek, I encounter a sign that warns “NEXT GAS 111 MILES.” There are few signs of civilization, but that does not mean it’s devoid of life. I drive by a number of cows, and playfully imagine flying saucers hovering over the highway, sucking them up as they cross.
Few souls between the termini who profit from the tourism plug, but those few do so brilliantly. Close to the halfway point, I reach the hamlet of Rachel. Local farmer D.C. Day founded the town in 1973 under a different name. After the population expanded with the opening of a nearby tungsten mine, it was renamed Rachel in honor of the first baby born in the burgeoning community.
The population soared to over 500, then rapidly declined after the closure of the mine. Today there are about 50 residents, many of whom work on ranches or are retired. A few can be found working at the town’s only business: the Little A’Le’Inn.
Situated right alongside the road is the welcome sign, a colorful two-tiered work of art that includes a large alien head and the statement “EARTHLINGS WELCOME,” along with a tow truck holding up a metal spaceship and a couple of large boulders.
The Little A’Le’Inn is a restaurant, bar, and motel all rolled into one. The buildings are covered in white aluminum siding with blue trim. The walls are adorned with spray paintings of saucers and a rendering of Area 51, and a sea green alien statue welcomes visitors.
Hundreds of dollar bills hang from the ceiling, most written on: “Beam us up, Scotty”; “Falcons and Patriots Superbowl was rigged”; “The Truth is out there”; and “I want to believe” for example. Hats, shirts, socks, and alien-grafted liquor bottles are for sale; posters, paintings, signage, and photographs cover up the walls. An alien model, dressed in a purple robe, peers out a window.
The restaurant serves standard cafe fare in addition to specialty sandwiches (the “Galaxy Wrap” and “Saucer Burger with Fries”). I opt for the “Alien Burger” – a basic cheeseburger with “Alien Sauce.”
I ask my waitress the proverbial “Have you seen an alien?” and expect an eye-roll but receive a thoughtful answer. “Not personally, but I know people who have.”
Rachel’s claims-to-fame revolve around the Inn, Area 51, Independence Day, and a blip in time involving a colonel.
In 2006 KFC chose the location to promote its global re-imaging campaign. The fast food chain’s updated Colonel Sanders was constructed out of tiles placed over an 87,500 square foot area, making it, according to KFC, the first brand visible from space. The giant leap for fried chicken took three months and 65,000 tiles to complete.
As I leave Rachel under an intense rain, some black cows cross the highway. Sarah had informed me this could well happen, and I’d laughed, to which she replied: “I’m serious…watch for cows crossing the road.”
Soon I come upon what appears to be a transient campsite for UFO-hunters, alien fanatics, and wayward travelers. It contains rocks (many decorated by paint or etchings), a mannequin head, an American flag, a cover-less lawn chair, and trash. A bottle of “RADIOACTIVE SODA,” a real soda that is mulberry-flavored and has a radiation symbol on the label, is propped up against a rock.
A large black mailbox, lid open, stuffed with letters and covered in stickers, begs my attention. Ordinary people have addressed the aliens. One tells of her husband’s fascination with aliens and UFOs. He died four years ago and “would have loved to meet an alien in person.” Another, written on a religious pamphlet, reads “Je viens en pair” (French for “We come in peace”).
The messages are mostly humorous.
“Erase my student debt.”
“Please abduct Donald Trump and put him in Uranus.”
“Dear Aliens, Don’t forget to come once to Belgium to taste our good beers (do you like beers? Every species must taste it once!).”
Next up is the Alien Research Center, a large metal barn-like building with a giant alien outside. It is more of a gift shop than a research center, but the proprietor, an older man with a very red, slightly puffy face, is an alien enthusiast.
He’s lived in the area since 1968. He hitchhiked frequently in his teenage years. “The cops would offer to arrest me, so I’d have a warm place to stay,” he says. Sometimes he didn’t see a car for 10 or 12 hours.
“It’s a trade-off,” he replies when asked about being so far removed from services. “Vegas has Popeye’s, Taco Bell. I don’t want any of it. People that move here want to put in stoplights. There’s no stoplights in the county, not even one.”
The last stop is a snack shop which sells E.T. Fresh Jerky. I don’t go in but enjoy the colorful billboard which features aliens along with two cows being sucked up by a spaceship over the words “GO NUTS FOR DRIED”; and the motto “DROP YOUR TOXIC WASTE IN THE CLEANEST RESTROOMS IN AREA 51”.
In short, the human inhabitants along this stretch have cashed in on public fancy while maintaining a sense of isolation and freedom that a select few crave. Whether you are a UFO fanatic, enjoy brooding and beautiful landscapes, or just are a curiosity-seeker, the Extraterrestrial Highway is worth a detour.