Monday, April 6, 2009
The Extraterrestrial Hwy... SR 375 Rachel, Nevada
Length: 98.0 mi / 157.7 km
Time to Allow: An out and back trip can be done in one day, but if you take the entire loop, plan on spending from 2-6 days.
The Extraterrestrial Highway may be a long stretch of 98 miles with only the small town of Rachel along its expanse, but because of its proximity to the famed "Area 51", fans claim it is one of the most "visited" areas in the country. Officially designated in 1996 for the many UFO sightings along the lonely road, the byway now sports a sign posting its speed limit as "Warp 7" and another sign warning of alien encounters for the next 51 miles.
Due to the gradual descent into the valley, the city of Rachel can be seen long before visitors reach it. Once inside the town, take a break from driving and visit the Little A'Le'Inn, a small restaurant that has gotten into the spirit of things. Large painted words on the side of the building scream "Earthlings Welcome" and the restaurant offers a lot of alien merchandise. Tourists and locals claim the food served, including the Alien burger, is "out of this world."
The byway ends at Warm Springs, the intersection of Highway 375 and US 6. Many old mines and ghost towns are scattered along the length of the byway for visiting travelers. Unfortunately, Area 51 is restricted to public access (in fact doesn't even officially exist), but be prepared; while driving down the highway, visitors and locals alike have often seen strange lights glowing in the night sky . . . perhaps an unidentified flying object?
State Route 375 begins at a "Y" junction with State Route 318 at Crystal Springs, a former town site in the northern end of the Pahranagat Valley in the center of Lincoln County. The site, which is little more than the junction and a few trees, functions as a rest area. From there, the highway curves southwest to pass between the Pahrangat and Golden Gate Ranges to ascend 5,592-foot (1,704 m) Hancock Summit.
Descending the summit, SR 375 comes in close proximity to the border of the Nellis Air Force Range. As the highway heads northwest between mileposts 29 and 30, it meets Mail Box Road. The dirt access road, marked by a single mailbox just off the highway, leads to the lands surrounding Area 51. The mail box is commonly used as a meeting place for UFO seekers, and two to three UFO sightings per week are reported to occur in the area. The road continues heading northwest from here, climbing in elevation again to reach the top of Coyote Summit at 5,591 feet (1,704 m).
The Little A'Le'Inn along the Extraterrestrial Highway in Rachel
West of the summit, the Extraterrestrial Highway descends into the Sand Spring Valley and the community of Rachel becomes visible. The small town of about 100 residents is little more than homes and a few businesses. The Little A'Le'Inn (pronounced "alien") is the focal point of the town, providing a modest motel, an alien-themed restaurant/bar, and extraterrestrial souvenirs The Area 51 Research Center, a civilian-run center documenting all types of paranormal activity in the area, was also located in the town.
Leaving Rachel, SR 375 continues northwest to enter Nye County. The route climbs out of Sand Spring Valley and heads over the 5,935-foot (1,809 m) Queen City Summit, the highest point on the highway. After passing the summit, the route descends into the southern end of Railroad Valley, curving nearly due north for several miles as it follows the base of Reveille Range. As the mountains subside, the road turns westward again to head to its northern terminus at the junction of US 6 at Warm Springs.
Due to its proximity to Groom Lake and Area 51, State Route 375 and the town of Rachel had become nationally recognized as a place for frequent UFO sightings. In an effort to capitalize on the purported paranormal activity, the Nevada Commission on Tourism sought to rename the road. It was hoped that the renaming "would draw travelers to the austere and remote reaches of south-central Nevada, where old atomic bomb test sites, secret Defense Department airstrips and huge, sequestered tracts of military land create a marketable mystique. The Extraterrestrial Highway was officially dedicated by Governor Bob Miller at a ceremony held in Rachel on April 18, 1996. The ceremony included some amusing space references, and the unveiling of special "Extraterrestrial Highway 375" and "Speed Limit Warp 7" signs for the highway. To promote the highway after its renaming, the tourism commission created "ET Experience", traveler's kits with info about the highway and natural attractions in central Nevada. By submitting an account of their experiences and visiting businesses in Rachel and central Nevada, visitors received exclusive Extraterrestrial Highway memorabilia. (It is unknown whether the kits are still available.)
News of the highway's renaming reached producers at Twentieth Century Fox. They seized the opportunity to promote the release of their upcoming movie Independence Day, whose plot involves aliens and the secret facility at Area 51. Movie executives and actors Jeff Goldblum, Bill Pullman, and Brent Spiner were all on hand during the dedication ceremony, joining state dignitaries in placing items in a time capsule commemorating the event.