Do flying saucers whiz across the Nevada desert sky on the regular? Alas, probably not. But while travelers, or a rogue group of raiders, may not spy any little green men on a visit to the famed Area 51, they can enjoy an out-of-this-world road trip.
The first report of UFOs at Area 51, tucked within the Nevada Test and Training Range, surfaced in 1955. People mistook test flights of the Air Force’s covert U-2 airplane for an alien invasion, and the government wasn’t about to correct them. The Soviets were watching, after all, and the feds wanted the plane kept quiet. The legend of Area 51 grew from there.
Visitors cannot actually venture into Area 51 — the Air Force is pretty touchy about any attempts to breach its training-range barriers, identified with fencing and, no kidding, motion detectors. Travelers have to settle for merely getting close to the site, which brave ones can approach near the Groom Lake salt flat.
To start our list of fun things to do near Area 51, we’ll begin in Las Vegas. Hit the Strip to ride up to the top of the Eiffel Tower, then buckle in for a quick jaunt around the state to see all the major Area 51 attractions.
Las Vegas Motor Speedway
After leaving Sin City, head east on I-15 to check out the Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Enjoy one of the racing experiences at the $200 million facility, tour the track or just grab a few goodies at the gift shop.
ATV Tours at Nellis Dunes from Las Vegas
Keep east on I-15 for the next destination. While nearby Nellis Air Force Base doesn’t appear to house evidence of extraterrestrial activity, it does feature some of the country’s most gifted pilots, who use the desert to practice aerial maneuvers. Watch these daredevils at play and spend an exhilarating afternoon traversing the desert with ATV tours at the Nellis Dunes.
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Pahranagat National Wildlife Refuge
Head north onto US Hwy 93 and forget flying saucers for just a moment. Instead, travelers will encounter something equally breathtaking winging across the sky. Pahranagat National Wildlife Refuge is a birder’s paradise. More than 400 species of feathered friends alight here each year, and the park offers camping along scenic Upper Pahranagat Lake.
E.T. Fresh Jerky
Just before entering Crystal Springs, feast at the town’s legendary E.T. Fresh Jerky rest stop, which bills itself as 'jerky from Area 51.' It’s supernaturally tasty. Munch away while snapping photos with the alien murals that surround the store.
Alien Research Center
At Crystal Springs, near the top of US Hwy 93, take a break to pop into Alien Research Center to get 'the real story behind the myth of Area 51,' as the center promises. And what is the truth? Well, don’t expect evidence of aliens or a staged moon landing, which some conspiracists claim occurred at Area 51. But the Alien Research Center’s theories are still fascinating.
UFO Capital of the World
Travelers should keep an eye out for spooky saucers as they merge onto State Route 375, aka the Extraterrestrial Highway. The town of Rachel is the self-billed 'UFO Capital of the World.' Most of its businesses boast alien themes. Watching the dazzling desert sunset here is worth the wait before returning to the road again. The sight will remind visitors of all this world has to offer.
People can’t actually enter Area 51 unless they want to meet not-so-little men in green fatigues carrying guns. To approach the gate without getting too close, follow the dirt roads to the entrance nearest to Rachel. Then gaze from afar.
Tonopah Brewing Company
Back on the ET Highway, craft brewery fans will want to drive north to State Route 6 into Tonopah. Venture into town for a delicious meal of barbecue and beer at Tonopah Brewing Company.
International Car Forest of the Last Church
From 6, go south on State Route 95 until Goldfield appears, and with it the nearby International Car Forest of the Last Church. It’s hard to believe this audacious art installation is native to this planet. The Forest features about three dozen vehicles — cars, delivery trucks, even limousines — buried bumper-first in the ground.
Just past Beatty, still on 95, divert to Rhyolite, one of the West’s most well-known ghost towns. Visitors can experience a different sort of creepy while looking over the crumbling facades of schools, banks and railroads, which were abandoned more than a century ago following the financial Panic of 1907.
National Atomic Testing Museum
Adventurers can hop on 95 and wrap up the trip back in Vegas, finishing with an educational grand finale. Explore the National Atomic Testing Museum, which regularly features UFO exhibits.