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Las Vegas Day Trip – North to Area 51

Las Vegas gets a bum rap

A getaway to Vegas needs to include slot machines, poker, taking a cruise down the Las Vegas strip and walking the freaky Fremont Experience – that’s the schtick that is Las Vegas! But there’s so much more the area has to offer just outside the west to Death Valley, Cabustle of sin city.

Day trip possibilities can take you in any direction – north, south, east or west. Spend your time within Vegas but rent a convertible and explore the bigger “wild west” of Nevada.

Area 51 – Does Area 51 really exist?

While I’m no expert on aliens or the conspiracy theories surrounding the uber-secret, hidden-in-the-middle-of-the-Nevada-desert, circled-within-mountains military base with top secret access, I am a nerd by-product of the popular culture mythology surrounding this secret Area 51. Feeding my inner nerd with a day to spare, I jumped in my rented Camaro convertible and set the GPS for Rachel, Nevada.

drive Nevada's ET highway[GoGirlfriend recommendation – depending on the heat and seasonality, start at the farthest point (Rachel, Nevada) and work your way back towards Las Vegas. Round trip Las Vegas to Rachel, Nevada and stops mentioned is about 350 miles, about 7 hrs 15 minutes]

Heading north-east out of Las Vegas, jumping on highway 93 north, and eventually heading west on highway 375 to skirt the mountain ranges. Your first sign you are in “alien” country comes with a much-stickered sign welcoming you to the Extraterrestrial Highway (or ET Highway for short). Begin your climb to Hancock Summit (5500 ft elevation) and as you exit into the plains and plateaus, Area 51 and Groom Lake sit hidden about 30 miles west over the mountains. Follow the ET Highway about 24 miles into Rachel, Nevada. See what TripAdvisor has to say about a tour to Area 51.

Visiting Rachel, Nevada

Rachel, Nevada - made famous by alien explorersComing over the crest of a hill to a desert plain that goes on forever lies a spec of a few ram-scramble motor homes and houses with few basic amenities. Hydro – yes, a post office or gas station – no. As the sign says, Population: Humans – Yes, Aliens - ? … and a population of less than 100, this little desert town has been made famous by area 51 pop-culture and alien hunters. The back gates of the Nellis Air Force and Gunnery Range are close to Rachel, Nevada making Rachel a logical stop for information on this elusive secret base.

The Little A’Le’inn

make a pit stop in Rachel, NevadaThe only place to stop in Rachel, Nevada. You can’t miss it with it’s “Earthlings Welcome” sign and space ship suspended from a tow truck. A great stop for some refreshments, some food, and a feast of alien spaceship sightings, novelty trinkets and great conversation anything alien. Belly up to the diner style bar and just look up and around. You will be amused for a long time soaking up the vibe of the place. Need some local information on the back gates or the most recent sonic boom from the testing facility, Betty and her team at the A’Le’Inn Restaurant will talk you through the Do’s and Don’t of visiting the inside the Little A'Le'Inn Restaurant infamous back gates to Area 51. Her best advice … don’t get too close to the gates, don’t take pictures of the guards, and if anyone comes out of those gates … get the H, E, double-hockey sticks (LL) out of there! I recommend stopping at the Little A’Le’inn as a great place to relax and soak up the alien vibe.

Area 51 back gates

If you have the nerve to approach the back gates of a super-secret, until-very-recently-the-existence-of-denied, military facility housing possible interstellar space craft and alien remains, do so knowing the rules. This IS a top secret, classified military facility and despite the conspiracy theories and the pop culture mythology, base security is treated with extreme seriousness.

  • back gates to Area 51Drive 7 miles on the dirt road into the deep desert.
  • As you come to a paved blacktop-surfaced 2 miles of road, you know you are getting close to the gates.
  • Remember you are on an open range and cows can be anywhere on the road or fields.
  • As you approach the turnaround before the orange perimeter zone, turn your vehicle away from the gates so not to pose a threat.
  • Take your photos from outside the orange perimeter.
  • Do not take photos of the guards.
  • Note the security cameras on the upper posts watching you, and maybe the military personnel in the white pickup with machine guns monitoring.
  • Violating the security of a military base (even in fun) comes with some severe penalties and a record.

If you’ve driven to the gate and taken your photos, you have risen to the challenge few have and entered the elite ranks of alien explorers who have stepped on hallowed Area 51 ground!

The Black Mailbox and road to Groom Lake gates

road to the Groom Lake gatesGroom Lake is the core to the Nevada Test and Training Range for experimental aircraft and the root of Area 51 mythology. Type “37.24804, -115.800155” as coordinates into Google Maps to view the satellite imagery from above. The Lake is a salt flat ideal to create a ground base facility for military aircraft testing purposes. Identified in the 1950’s as an excellent ground for experimentation, the area was gridded and sectioned off as secret military usage. Another set of base gates (these East Gates that haven’t garnered the mythology of Area 51 back gates hype) are located 20 miles farther south down the ET highway from Rachel. From the Extraterrestrial Highway road access, the Groom Lake gates sit about 15 miles into the desert plain nestled between the mountain range. Note that the same rules as above apply when approaching the area.

The Black Mailbox (no longer present, but the post is) is located 19.8 miles south of Rachel, NV on the south side of the ET Highway. Being near Area 51 and rumored to be Area 51’s mailbox, alien enthusiasts adopted this mailbox and would revere it with mail, money, stickers and attention in hopes of communicating with extraterrestrials. The mailbox no longer is present - either being stolen by vandals or removed by the owners – but still a location stop for alien enthusiasts on the ET Highway. 

Alien Research Center

stop at the Alien Research CenterBack at Crystal Springs (about 18 miles from the Groom Lake access road) sits a steel-domed shed with a 20+ ft alien marking the way. The Alien Research Center is a cool shop of alien and space memorabilia and the guys are talkative on anything alien and what they know of Area 51 folklore. T-shirts, trinkets and Alien Vodka can be purchased here among many other things.

E-T Fresh Jerky

At the Crystal Springs Intersection of the 93 & ET Highway sits E-T Fresh Jerky. With interstellar clean washrooms and out-of-this-world (but beef of this world) beef jerky, a great transition point before embarking on the desert emptiness of the ET Highway. Some cool alien murals here for some photos to remember your adventure.

Need to knows before you leave

Before you embark on a desert adventure, there’s a few things to consider:

  • Consider the time of year and the potential heat of the desert.
  • careful driving the open rangeGas – only a few opportunities - Love’s Truck Stop at the start of Highway 93, the Shell Gas Station at Ash Springs (80 miles further), or all the way to Tanopa (150 miles further west) if you aren’t circling back to Las Vegas.
  • Supplies for summer heat – at least 1 gallon of water per person, food, snacks and a hat.
  • Survival – stay on the road … this is the land of rattlesnakes, tarantulas, and scorpions (and aliens)!
  • Keep in mind you are driving the open range where cows and horses can be anywhere on or near the highway - no fences so drive carefully!
  • Don't be alarmed by the low flying aircraft or sonic booms from aircraft testing in the area.
  • Go to Area 51 Google Maps route and the street view guy turns into a spaceship
  • There’s over 1500 geocaches along the ET Highway, and 1 inside the Little A’le’inn!

So, I can’t say I’m any closer to knowing for sure if Area 51 houses any aliens or extraterrestrial spaceships, but in the spirit of hope for more travel opportunities beyond this great, beautiful planet Earth, I do believe!!! Keep watching the skies for that sign …

Have you traveled the ET Highway to Rachel, Nevada and Area 51? What did you think of the day trip? We’d love to hear. Drop a comment below and connect with us on Facebook and Twitter.


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