I Took the Most Out-of-This-World Road Trip in America

My solo trip through Nevada’s Extraterrestrial Highway reminded me why traveling to remote corners of the world is worth it.

Nevada is said to be one of the most paranormally active places in the country—making it an ideal destination for me, a person who’s naturally drawn to the odd and unusual. Ghosts and aliens have (allegedly) been spotted across the Silver State, but many unexplainable occurrences center on a lonely 98-mile stretch of asphalt called State Route 375, or the Extraterrestrial Highway. I knew I had to see it for myself.

My journey began in Hiko, population 124. This remote corner of the galaxy is best known for E.T. Fresh Jerky, a roadside shop that sells “alien jerky” (which is, perhaps disappointingly, made of beef instead of aliens) and out-of-this-world memorabilia. I delighted in a Zoltar-like fortune-telling machine depicting the United States’ 45th president as an extraterrestrial, purchased far too many souvenirs, and signed the back wall in silver Sharpie to exclaim to the universe that “Tiana was here” before driving on.

From there, it was on to a series of increasingly stellar stops. There was the Alien Research Center, a gift shop with a giant silver Martian out front. In Rachel, the closest settlement to Area 51, I met a man who’d arrived during the internet-viral Storm Area 51 movement in 2019 and stuck around. (He came for the aliens, he said, but stayed after seeing his dog find paradise in the wide-open spaces.)

At times on the E.T. Highway, I’d never felt more alone. There was no cell phone service. The featureless landscape, interrupted only by endless dashes of lane markings and the occasional creosote bush, was brutally hypnotic. But each time that monotony was broken—by, say, a re-creation of a crashed flying saucer or the Black Mailbox, a gathering spot for UFO hunters—I was overcome with childlike glee.

And then, just when it seemed the road would never end, I arrived in the town of Tonopah, considered one of the best places to stargaze in the country. It’s also home to the World Famous Clown Motel, which displays more than 3,000 clown dolls, ceramics, and other artworks. It was here that I saw the Milky Way with my naked eye for the first time, mere hours before the desert road took me back to Las Vegas the next morning.

The constant pursuit of the unexpected isn’t without its setbacks: I’ve been stranded in northern Iceland, lost in southern New Mexico, and chastised by my family for picking such remote “vacations” more times than I can count.

There are merits in visiting better-known destinations. It’s certainly easier to anticipate exactly what you’ll get out of the trip, after scouring reviews and seeing every angle of a monument. But wandering off to a lesser-explored corner of Earth to see what surprising treasures emerge may trigger a forgotten feeling of pure delight and, more generally, remind you why traveling is worth it.

Of course, I never saw any aliens on the Extraterrestrial Highway; I’d be halfway to Saturn now if I had. Instead, I relished the chance to explore the fringes of the world and savored the feeling that anything—no matter how far-fetched—could be out there.

How to road-trip the Extraterrestrial Highway

The E.T. Highway takes roughly two days to complete, with the entire route being about 500 miles round trip (about eight hours of drive time). I recommend completing the main stretch between Las Vegas and Tonopah on day one, overnighting in Tonopah, and then heading back to Las Vegas the following day using a different route.

Day One

From Las Vegas, head northwest along Route 93 for 1.5 hours until you hit E.T. Fresh Jerky (12600 US-93, Hiko, Nevada) on your right. You’ll find that the legion of crashed spaceships outside makes it hard to miss. The main stretch between here and Tonopah is about 2.5 hours, but get ready for the journey through the desert by loading up on snacks and water.

As you exit E.T. Fresh Jerky, head straight across the road and drive west along Route 375 to continue your trip. This is the official start of the Extraterrestrial Highway, as indicated by the famous E.T. Highway road sign (📍37.53240° N, 115.23210° W). A few minutes down Route 375, you’ll hit the Alien Research Center—and, perhaps even more exciting, the foreboding signage that marks the outer boundary of Area 51.

The stretch between here and your next stop, UFO enthusiast hot spot the Little Black Mailbox (📍37.45700° N, 115.48260° W), may be the most arduous part of the journey. Don’t be surprised if you initially pass it up: The mailbox sits unmarked on the left side of the road, filled with strange notes from believers.

Finally, venture on to Rachel, the closest town to Area 51, and relax with a well-earned meal at the Little A’Le’Inn. Not only is the food surprisingly tasty, but the joint is often filled with fellow adventurers up for a chat; you’ll probably hear some interesting tales from other passers-through and locals before you finish your day in Tonopah, another 1.5-hour drive away.

Day Two

Although the three-hour drive from Tonopah to Las Vegas is far less remote and not technically part of the E.T. Highway, there are plenty of fun desert anomalies to discover.

Heading southeast from Tonopah along Route 95, visit the International Car Forest of the Last Church, which features artistically arranged piles of rusted, tagged vehicles. From there, continue onto the burro-overridden Beatty, Nevada, the gateway to three worthy attractions: the ghost town of Rhyolite, the unusual Goldwell Open Air Museum, and the vast expanses of Death Valley National Park.

And for one last dose of extraterrestrial goodness before you arrive back in Sin City, swing by the Area 51 Travel Center: a combination gas station and, yes, alien-themed brothel.

Where to stay along the Extraterrestrial Highway

There are only a few accommodations along the E.T. Highway. In Rachel, Nevada, the Little A’Le’Inn may be the best bet for UFO-chasers; it offers overnight stays just outside Area 51. In Tonopah, Nevada, the brave might try an evening at either the Mitzpah Hotel, considered one of the most haunted hotels in America, or the equally eerie the World Famous Clown Motel. If you’re not into ghost adventures, try the historic Belvada Hotel, instead.

Other tips for traveling along the Extraterrestrial Highway

Always download maps and music before you leave. Cell service can get spotty for long stretches of the journey. Before you head out, remember to save a Google Map of the area to your phone and music and podcasts to keep you entertained along the way.

Load up on water, snacks, and gas whenever possible. Gas stations are few and far between, so take advantage whenever you can.

Tiana Attride is Afar’s social media editor. Previously, she’s worked on content and audience development at Vogue, Thrillist, Away, and Insider.
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