“The truth is out there,” the X-Files promised us long ago.
Turns out, “out there” might just be a couple of hours from Vegas.
So if youre ready for a journey down the “Extraterrestrial Highway,” weve got a day trip for you.
Out in the Nevada desert sits a remote detachment, known as Area 51, of Edwards Air Force Base, encompassed within the U.S. Air Forces huge Nevada Test and Training Range. The area is used (most likely) for testing experimental aircraft and weapons. (Its not unusual to hear mysterious sonic booms throughout the area).
Popular imagination, however, has painted Area 51 as a secluded spot with a far more secretive – and perhaps sinister – purpose: as a research lab studying aliens. Because everything that happens at Area 51 is deemed top secret – the U.S. Government didnt even acknowledge the bases existence until 1995 – it features prominently among government conspiracy theories and Hollywood films.
Getting To Area 51
Area 51 is about a 21/2 hour drive from Las Vegas each way, making for a 67 hour day trip. You might also opt for a guided tour.
The Extraterrestrial Highway
Once you turn from US93 to State Highway 375, youll see the first “Extraterrestrial Highway” Sign. Yep, thats been the official name of this stretch of the highway since 1996, when the state tourism commission hoped that the renaming would “draw travelers to the austere and remote reaches of south-central Nevada.”
The sign – on the north side of Highway 375, just west of its intersection with US93 – is a great place to pull over (theres plenty of room) and pose for a photo op.
The Alien Research Center
Next up: continue along State Highway 375 about a mile, toward Hiko. The Alien Research Center is a small roadside attraction that houses a museum and gift shop with various paraphernalia relating to alien visitations. If its not open when you visit, you can still get some pictures by the giant alien statue, and dont worry: youll have more opportunities to grab Area 51 memorabilia down the road.
The Black Mailbox (Now White) and the Front Gate
Keep driving toward Rachel, and between mile markers 30 and 29 youll see a square mailbox. It used to be black and is most commonly known as The Black Mailbox. However, it has since been painted white. Area 51 lore has it that The Black Mailbox demarcates the road that leads to the Front Gate of Area 51.
If you take the turn, be aware: the road is bumpy, and the Front Gate isnt really anything special. (And be sure to obey the “Keep Out” signs – this is U.S. military property, and they tend to take trespassing pretty seriously, especially on their secret bases). You might also see the famed (or infamous) “Camo Dudes.” Theyre government contractors who guard and keep watch throughout the area. If youre especially sharp-eyed (or bring binoculars) you might also spot the surveillance cameras and motion sensors hidden among the cacti.
You might find some people camping around The Black Mailbox at night as a vantage point to watch for UFOs, but there are better spots elsewhere.
Continue the rest of the way to Rachel, Nevada. Rachel is the town closest to the Nellis Air Force Range; its sometimes called the Alien Capital of the World.
ALeInn – a restaurant, bar, gift shop and inn located in Rachel – caters specifically to UFO watchers, and its the perfect place for visitors to trade stories and question locals about their experiences, while browsing a selection of memorabilia and books. Be sure to try their “World-Famous Alien Burger.” They only have seven rooms, so if you think you might want to stay overnight – perhaps to get some nighttime sky watching in – be sure to make reservations in advance.
If you do decide to stay, VisitArea51.com recommends several prime spots:
• Campfire Hill
• The Hidden Campsite
• Powerlines Overlook
• Coyote Summit
The Back Gate
The road to the Back Gate of Area 51 can be a little hard to find: its a dirt road off of Highway 375, between mile markers 11 and 12. If youre stopped at ALeInn, you can ask for directions.
Keep your distance from any cows along the dirt road. No joke: they can be aggressive and have been known to charge cars. (No comment on any conspiracy theories about government-trained killer cows.)
The Back Gate is a bit more interesting than the Front – beyond just a “keep out” sign, theres an actual gate to behold, with cameras and a small guard station. Dont photograph or bother the guards. This isnt Buckingham Palace: these guys will arrest you for bothering them.
Is it worth it?
Youll get the most out of the trip if youre a bit of a conspiracy theorist and/or are interested in alien lore. Honestly, our favorite parts of a trip to Area 51 are impromptu and serious conversations about aliens – not really a common conversation topic in our day-to-day lives! — with other visitors. Along the way, youll also encounter the Martian beauty of the Nevada desert, and you might catch glimpses of area wildlife like coyote, bobcats and even wild mustangs. If you do some nighttime skywatching, youll be able to appreciate a sky glimmering full of stars away from city lights – it really is amazing how many more stars you can see when earthly lights dont get in the way.