Head for Area 51 and a jaunt along Nevada’s Extraterrestrial Highway – The Mercury News

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Whether alien life has ever made its way to Earth is up for debate, but we have a feeling if
it landed anywhere, it was in Middle of Nowhere, Nevada along the Extraterrestrial Highway.

This 100-mile stretch of lonely two-lane highway, its spartan landscape dotted with the occasional, tiny Joshua tree, leans hard into its space-age theme with three main points of interest and plenty of roadside photo ops.

You can reach Nevada’s route 375 — known to locals as the Extraterrestrial Highway — from Las Vegas, where a 90 minute drive north to the E.T. Fresh Jerky shop kicks off the attractions. But if you start at the other end in Tonopah, UFO enthusiasts can tack on a few extra points of interest before zipping down Highway 6 to 375.

Nevada’s Alien Research Center offers a supersized greeter to welcome you to the otherworldly exhibits inside. (Sydney Martinez/Travel Nevada) 

Las Vegas, of course, offers nearly endless accommodation options. Tonopah, on the other hand, has just a few, but they are … memorable.

Known as the Queen of the Silver Camps, Tonopah lies about halfway between Reno and Las Vegas. It’s home to the Mizpah Hotel. a 1907 beauty that was renovated in 2011 and has been dubbed the most haunted hotel in the country by USA Today readers. (Be sure to ask about
The Lady In Red.) The Hi-Desert Inn, a Best Western with more modern amenities and no ghosts, offers a pool.

But you might want to start your journey at the Clown Motel — dubbed “America’s Scariest Motel” — and the adjacent graveyard. Some 300 souls like in the Old Tonopah Cemetery, victims of plague, mining accidents and other unfortunate fates. Pick up a walking tour map at the hotel or online.

Tonopah's Clown Motel has been called "America's scariest motel." (Sydney Martinez/Travel Nevada) Photographer: Sydney Martinez
Tonopah’s Clown Motel has been called “America’s scariest motel.” (Sydney Martinez/Travel Nevada) Photographer: Sydney Martinez 

Vijay Mehar’s 31-room motel boasts an eerie collection of, well, clowns — 3,000 of them — and several themed rooms, including one inspired by Pennywise, Stephen King’s supernatural serial killer. And Mehar is happy to share details about not only the motel but The Clown Motel franchise, a series of direct-to-TV horror movies filmed on site — he’s appeared in two.

After you’ve stretched your legs, gear up for the main attraction. It’ll take about 45 minutes to hit the entrance to the Extraterrestrial Highway, where the first green road sign awaits you. Snap a photo and slap on a sticker from your hometown before moving on. It’s a tradition.

The iconic Extraterrestrial Highway sign is a ready-made photo op. (Sydney Martinez/Travel Nevada)
The iconic Extraterrestrial Highway sign is a ready-made photo op. (Sydney Martinez/Travel Nevada) 

Keep your eyes open for another road sign: The lesser-known Area 52, Tonopah Test Range, comes up fast with a giant rocket-like sign at its entrance. It’s also a secret base with no civilian access, much like Area 51.

Another 45 minutes of desolate driving, and you’ll hit your first main stop — but don’t forget to take that obligatory middle of the road photo along the way. It’s a timeless souvenir practically required by Nevadans when driving on deserted stretches of road.

You really can’t miss the Little A’Le’Inn, a hotel, gas station and restaurant combo. Outside, a flying saucer hangs from a crane, and a small alien greets you with a “Hello Earthlings” sign. That’s only the tip of the iceberg of the themed decorations, which include painted artwork on the side of the white building and plaques that detail the real history behind the town’s mining and military connections.

Inside, the walls are filled with photos of UFO sightings and shelves of knickknacks. An old pool table offers a reprieve from the long drive. The diner serves up salads, sandwiches and burgers, including a World-Famous Alien Burger ($11) or the appropriately-named Saucer Burger ($13). And the bar serves drinks with names like I’m Gunna Probe You, Charea 51 and the Transporter ($7-$10 each).

If you’re going to splurge for a souvenir, we suggest grabbing an Area 51 dirt sample ($6) as a conversation piece. And don’t forget to sign a dollar and hang it above the bar as legions of other earthlings have done.

Area 51, the top-secret military base also known as Nevada Test and Training Range at
Nellis Air Force Base, is, of course, responsible for the highway’s reputation. While you clearly
can’t visit, it is possible — although perhaps inadvisable — to reach the front gates at the end of an unmarked dirt road just past the gas station in Rachel, Nevada. (Just beware: If you hear a  warning horn, you are too close and need to vamoose. A rendezvous with armed officers is not a great way to suddenly conclude a vacation.)

Your next stop is another 45 minutes down the road, where you’ll find the Alien Research Center. It’s hard to miss it, in large part because there is barely anything else on the road. The larger-than-life metal alien standing outside is another dead giveaway.

Touted as a museum and gift shop, the center holds a few weird attractions to look at, but it’s primarily a place for apparel and small gifts to commemorate your trip. Locally owned and family-operated, it’s also a good place to ask questions like, why there are so many “look out for low-flying aircraft” signs on the highway, yet you didn’t see a single airplane.

The exhibits at Nevada's Alien Research Center are certainly memorable. Are they real? Well... that's doubtful.  (Sydney Martinez/Travel Nevada)
The exhibits at Nevada’s Alien Research Center are certainly memorable. Are they real? Well… that’s doubtful.  (Sydney Martinez/Travel Nevada) 

The last stop on the itinerary is E.T.’s Fresh Jerky near Alamo. Choose a few flavors to try ($13 per packet or three for $33) and get your fortune read by a Donald Trump alien (think the eerie fortune teller from “Big” with a few modifications). This is also a good place to leave your mark; ask for a special pen from the staff and write your name on the black-painted doors before heading out to snap photos in front of the clever murals and flying saucers. They’re replicas — or are they?

If You Go

The Mizpah Hotel: Rooms start at $169. 100 N. Main St., Tonopah; www.themizpahhotel.com

The Clown Motel: Rooms start at $85. 521 N. Main St., Tonopah; www.theclownmotelusa.com

Best Western Hi-Desert Inn: Rooms start at $143. 320 Main St., Tonopah; www.bestwestern.com

Little A’Le’Inn: Open daily from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. (kitchen closes at 7 p.m.) at 9631 Old Mill St. in Rachel; http://littlealeinn.com.

Alien Research Center: Open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday (weather permitting) at 100 Highway 375 in Hiko, Nevada; www.alienresearchcenter.com.

E.T. Fresh Jerky: Open from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily at 12600 Highway 93 in Hiko; https://etfreshjerky.com.

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