There’s adventure near Nevada’s Area 51. Maybe just a bit too much.
By Kate Silver
If you’re up for an offbeat lark in your Sonic and you want to commune with your inner Mulder or Scully, there’s no better destination than Nevada’s Extraterrestrial Highway. That’s the name for a long, lonely stretch of Nevada State Highway 375. Even the road sign that says “Extraterrestrial Highway” is scrawled in an alien font, as if written by little green men themselves.
This stretch of road is the closest access point to Area 51, the “top secret” military base within the Nevada Test Site whose secrecy was long ago obliterated by extensive cultural lore. Now Area 51 is known for frequent unexplained sightings—lights, objects, etc.—and is a magnet for alien-seeking road trippers. I decided to see for myself just how interesting this long and not-so-winding road could be.
The drive, which essentially borders the Rhode Island-sized Nevada Test Site, is surprisingly pastoral, with lush lakes, verdant valleys and free-range cattle lining the sides of the road. My eyes flicker frequently to the sky, but I see nothing out of the ordinary. After 110 miles, I pull into the town of Rachel, Nevada, home to many alien aficionados. Here, residents and visitors mix and mingle at the Little A’Le’Inn, a restaurant, hotel and gift shop brimming with alien-themed earrings, “Earthlings welcome” mugs, bells, cookie jars and more. After purchasing an alien onesie for my new nephew, I grab a table in the restaurant.
“Are you gonna want to eat?” a woman calls out from behind the counter.
“Yes,” I tell her.
“All I have are alien burgers and fries,” she says. “The kitchen’s closed.”
I’ll take it! After finishing up my alien burger, I strike up a conversation with the waitress. “I’m just here for the day,” I tell her. “What are the must-do activities in Rachel?”
She tells me the highlight is the Nevada Test Site guard shacks—and then, in a hushed tone, launches into her own personal experience.
It happened a while back, she tells me. These mysterious red lights appeared in the sky, and right before her eyes they became a five-point star. She watched for hours, fascinated—until that star exploded into thousands of lights, all throughout the air.
Now I’m more determined than ever to find my own experience. As the sun sets, I follow the waitress’s directions. It’s not long before I see flashing red lights ahead of me. But they don’t turn into any five-point stars; this is simply the access point to the Nevada Test Site. Driving slowly forward, I can make out a railroad-crossing-style gate, two dark guard shacks and multiple warning signs (it’s a crime to enter the Test Site and I have no intention of doing so). I turn off my engine. For a few minutes, the silence is eerie. I feel incredibly alone.
A noise crashes through the night. It’s somewhere ahead of me, but I can’t see anything — no lights, no movement. Could it be…?
The surrounding dark grows heavy with mystery. Nearby, there’s a Port-A-Potty, and it crosses my mind that a guard, if there is one stationed here, could have just entered it, slamming the door behind him.
Sure, I tell myself. That must be it.
Having seen enough, I put my car in reverse and leave a small dust storm in my wake, hightailing it out of there. I hardly glance at the sky on my way home. For 110 miles, my eyes are glued to the road, watching vigilantly for free-range cattle crossing. Safety first. Besides, one unexplained encounter seems enough for one night.
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Kate Silver is an award-winning journalist and editor based in Chicago. Her work appears regularly in The Washington Post, Spirit Magazine, Men’s Health, the Chicago Tribune and elsewhere, including her blog, thekatesilver.com.