If you’re looking for an out-of-the-way adventure, drive Nevada State Route 375, officially designated the “Extraterrestrial Highway.” This 98-mile stretch of highway wends its way from Crystal Springs on the south to Warm Springs on the north and skirts the infamous Area 51.
Route 375 started out as a dirt road circa 1932 but had disappeared from maps by 1942—so had all other roads within a large part of both Nye and Lincoln Counties, home to what is now known as Area 51. The mystery began.
It reappeared by 1946, but even then, the public was prohibited from traveling on a large portion of it. It was again realigned and opened to the public in 1957, finally paved in 1958, and designated State Route 375 in 1976.
The Area 51 Mystique
Enter Bob Lazar. In 1989, this self-proclaimed engineer told a fantastic story to a Las Vegas TV station. He claimed to have been involved in “reverse engineering extraterrestrial technology” at S4, a secret area supposedly near the already famous Area 51.
Lazar also claimed that he had seen and boarded several flying saucers and that he’d been given briefings about extraterrestrial visitations to this planet for thousands of years. Area 51 myths, stories, and conspiracy theories quickly went mainstream, which is not surprising since its real purpose is unknown to this day.
The Nevada Commission on Tourism officially renamed State Route 375 the Extraterrestrial Highway in 1996. Its dedication was held in April, coinciding with Twentieth Century Fox’s release of its film Independence Day. Studio executives and actors joined Nevada dignitaries for the gala event.
Your Extraterrestrial Highway Jaunt
Pick up the highway about 140 miles north of Las Vegas. Be sure to have plenty of gas and water because gas stations are scarce and summer temperatures hover around 100 degrees.
The first thing you see at the intersection of U.S. 93 and SR 375 is the big green Extraterrestrial Highway sign. Across the road is E-T-Fresh Jerky, a beef jerky haven that invites you to drop off your toxic waste. The shop is open daily, and personnel and locals are happy to talk with you while you choose from a huge variety of flavored jerky.
Next stop is the Alien Research Center Gift Shop. You can’t miss it. There’s an enormous metal alien standing out front. Whether or not it’s open is problematic since its days and hours of operation tend to be unpredictable.
Forty miles down the road is Area 51, whose front and back gates are accessed by dirt roads. Both gates have signs: “Warning! No trespassing. Maximum punishment $1,000 fine, six months imprisonment, or both. Strictly enforced. Photography of this area is prohibited.”
On to Rachel, the only town along the Extraterrestrial Highway. Actually, this “town” is inhabited by around 40 people. It does, however, have a café, the Little A’Le’Inn, where you can buy food and souvenirs. Once again, the personnel and any locals who happen to be enjoying the delicious pie while you’re there are happy to talk with you.
From here on it’s open highway all the way north to U.S. Route 6 at Warm Springs. You drive through ranch lands with mountain views and probably won’t meet any other beings except cattle, unless, of course, an alien chooses to grace you with a visit.
Despite city folks’ ridicule of the Area 51 mystique, this road trip is worth taking. Even if you’re a confirmed disbeliever, the people are real and a nice break from the “normal” rushed, stressed people you meet on a daily basis. Naturally they’re a bit eccentric, but they are true individualists who have made a go of it in one of the nation’s most inhospitable regions. They’re well worth knowing.