West of US-93, stretching north of Las Vegas nearly to Death Valley and the California border, the U.S. government has turned the multimillion-acre expanse of Nellis Air Force Base into its most top-secret laboratory and testing ground. H-bombs, U-2 spy planes, Stealth bombers, you name it—this is where projects no one is supposed to know about exist.
It’s not so surprising that, like Roswell, New Mexico, this lonely corner of the world has become the focus of an ongoing controversy pitting government secrecy against allegations that the Air Force has been using a corner of the base known as Area 51 to study UFOs and extraterrestrials. Fueled in part by tabloid stories claiming an ET-like creature is being kept alive at Area 51 in a high-security compound underneath Groom Lake—and also by local businesspeople’s realization that UFO tourism could mean big money—the hoopla has focused on the tiny village of Rachel (pop. 54), which has become to UFO-spotters what the grassy knoll is to JFK conspiracy theorists.
Rachel, the only community along the 100-mile stretch of Hwy-375 (now officially known as the Extraterrestrial Highway, promoted by the state along the lines of its “Loneliest Road” campaign), is a block-long strip that holds the lighthearted Little A’Le’Inn (775/729-2515), a typical back-of-beyond bar and grill where you can munch on Alien Burgers, down drinks like the Beam Me Up, Scotty (Jim Beam bourbon, 7Up, and Scotch), or peruse UFO-related key chains, fridge magnets, and T-shirts. The Little A’Le’Inn also has small mobile home trailers available overnight for around $50.
The extraterrestrial issues surrounding Area 51 are nothing compared to the actual explosive truth of what has happened there over the years. If you doubt that, spend some time at the National Atomic Testing Museum (755 E. Flamingo Rd., 702/794-5151, daily, closed Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s, $22) in Las Vegas, which has a cheesy “Area 51: Myth or Reality?” exhibit alongside extensive documentation and coverage of the U.S. nuclear weapons program.