No man's land: Get alienated on Nevada's E.T. Highway

Sam McManis
The Sacramento Bee

Rachel, Nevada — I saw no Men in Black. I did see little green men, lots of them, all sizes and shapes. Some had hideously globular craniums and black-as-deep-space piercing eyeballs; others were skeletal and avuncular, bearing a striking likeness to the late U.S. Sen. Alan Cranston.

They were stuffed, of course. Either that, or molded in hard plastic. These "aliens" have alighted in this lonesome travelers outpost deep in the desert, on the outskirts of famously secret Area 51, not to conquer earthlings, but just to make them part with cash in exchange for cheesy souvenirs. The truth is out there, people, and it comes with a price tag. Today's special: Alien Head Soap, $6.99, marked down from $7.99. Such a deal.

All conspiracy theorists need a home base, a place to congregate and commune while hashing out shadowy theories and regaling each other with chilling eyewitness accounts, and the Little A'Le'Inn motel, restaurant, bar and gift shop on Highway 375 — officially named and copyrighted the "Extraterrestrial Highway" by the state — serves that purpose quite nicely.

It's a way station for seekers of truth carrying a heavy psychic load, those convinced that the government for decades has conducted super-secret missions revolving around alien technology and even harbored extraterrestrials on what by all rational accounts is just a regular Air Force base in the vast Mojave Desert.

Little matter that, more than a year ago, the government finally released the full, unredacted documents revealing that Area 51 has been nothing more than an aerial testing ground, albeit clandestine, where aircraft such as U-2 spy planes, oddly shaped Mach 3 surveillance craft and F-22 Raptor stealth fighters were tested.

Hard-core UFO seekers are hardly convinced. Legions of books and films detailing purported evidence, scores of websites featuring grainy and blurred photos, persist, undaunted by the official story.

Confront a true believer with the documents made available to the George Washington University's national security archive through a Freedom of Information Act request, and they'll dismiss it as a cover story and brand you hopelessly naive.

So come they still do, a steady trickle of traffic along the Extraterrestrial Highway that keeps a cottage industry alive in a beyond-rural landscape in which, ordinarily, you'd stop only if your car overheated. For believers, it's a pilgrimage; for the congenitally skeptical, it's said to be a kitschy good time.

Alas, you must cover the distance the old-fashioned way. There is a tour company in Las Vegas, four hours away, that buses you in for a pretty penny, but that doesn't help if you are I was coming from the north.

Once in Rachel, the late lunch crowd had yet to thin, so I had to bob and weave around people to take a gander at the alien items for sale — everything from a baby's alien bib to an alien head lamp to T-shirts, oh-so-many T-shirts. The back wall, on laminated poster board, featured clippings and photographic "evidence" of alien and UFO sightings.

One depicted flying saucer looked an awful lot like a Toyota Prius.

Area 51 Attractions

■ The Little A'Le'Inn: 9631 Old Mill St, Rachel. Nev.; (775) 729-2515

■ Area 51 Boundary Line/Nellis Air Force Base: From Highway 375, between mile marker 35 and 34, turn west on a dirt road and drive 13.8 miles. Stop at a gate next to no trespassing signs and notice white jeeps on a hill to your right.

■ Iconic "Extraterrestrial Highway" sign: Highway 375 in Crystal Springs, at split of Highway 318 and 375

■ Alien Research Center: 100 Highway 375 (west of Highway 318), Hiko, Nev.; (775) 725-3825

■ E.T. Fresh Jerky: Highway 93 and Highway 375, Hiko, Nev.; (702) 686-0818

■Area 51 Alien Travel Center and The Alien Cathouse: 2711 E. Highway 95, Amargosa Valley, Nev.; (775) 372-1500