In southern Nevada, behind the mountains and in the vast desert lay one of the most secretive—and famous—military bases in the world. Officially it’s called Homey Airport and Groom lake, but the rest of the world knows it as Area 51.
As the general public doesn’t really know what’s going on there, it has fueled numerous conspiracy theories about the base, most of them relating to extraterrestrial life, captured aliens and UFOs crashed on earth. The folklore about the secret base has been ongoing already for decades—even though the CIA publicly acknowledged the existence of the base for the first time only in 2013. So when Independence Day came out in 1996, the base didn’t officially even exist!
Wikipedia says, however, that “based on historical evidence, [the base] most likely supports development and testing of experimental aircraft and weapons systems.” Also, the article continues, “[a]lthough the base has never been declared a secret base, all research and occurrings in Area 51 are Top Secret/Sensitive Compartmented Information (TS/SCI).” Nevertheless, the folklore around the base has made its surroundings somewhat a tourist destination, even though the closest you can get is one of its gates. But I doubt many people in the world can say they’ve been to Area 51, so obviously during our last road trip we decided to add our names to the list of people having seen it with our own eyes.
There’s a pretty handy guide online on how to get to Area 51 and what to see there, but unfortunately it’s from 2010 and lots of things have changed since, including the layout of the roads, apparently. So I took it upon myself to write another handy guide that is more precise and up to date with the recent developments.
Area 51 is about 156 miles from Las Vegas and it takes less than three hours to get there. But beware, if you want to get really close, you will have to drive on dirt roads; and if you’re planning to keep on driving west (for example, if you’re heading to California like we did), there’s a 160-mile stint with no gas, so fill up!
Let’s start driving!
From Las Vegas, you have to get on the Interstate 15, the road that comes from Los Angeles and heads on to Salt Lake City, UT. You’re heading east—otherwise you might find yourself in the City of Angels instead.
From Vegas you must drive about 21 miles on I-15 until exit 64 for US Route 93 going north, otherwise also called Great Basin Highway. Then, you have an 85-mile drive ahead through pretty much nothing.
One thing you’ve got to remember is, this is not a road trip where you can see something interesting at every corner. It involves a lot of driving, just driving, through the desert and the hills and the only things to see are the occasional other cars, and some semi-domesticated bovines on the meadows.
After about 82 miles on US-93 you will spot a Shell gas station on your left. This is the last gas station until Tonopah, NV, which is about 160 miles east from there, so if you’re not returning to Vegas or some other larger inhabited place, decide whether you need gas or can carry on.
The Extraterrestrial Highway
About two-three miles from the Shell gas station, there’s an intersection with Nevada state roads 318 and 375 turning left. Once on NV-318/375, be on the lookout because in about half a mile there’s another intersection where NV-375 goes left and NV-318 right. You’ll want to keep left, and actually stop right there at a small rest area between the two roads.
Because there is a sign that says, “Extraterrestrial Highway.” It used to be green, but by now there are tens of random stickers on it, so it may be easy to miss—but it’s definitely there.
That’s your first photo opportunity.
About a mile ahead on NV-375 on the right there’s something called the Alien Research Center—with a huge tin statue of a supposed alien standing in front of it. The center—which is actually a gift shop—is supposed to be open on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, but when we got there on Saturday, the front gate was open, but the gift shop itself seemed to be very closed. But you still get to take photos of the warehouse-like shop and the giant alien statue.
All right, time to get back on the road.
The Black Mailbox
Keep driving for about 19 miles on NV-375, until you see mile marker 30. Between it and mile market 29 there is a road going to the left—that road would take you to the front gate of the Area 51 military base. We didn’t go there, but the previously linked guide says it’s boring anyway, there’s only a sign that tells you to keep out, and that’s pretty much it. And it’s 20 miles driving on a rather bumpy dirt road that will certainly do your car no good.
However, what’s at the intersection of NV-375 and the dirt road leading to the front gate—or, actually what used to be there and now really isn’t—is The Black Mailbox. Apparently, there used to be a mailbox that for long was considered to be the mailbox of Area 51 (it wasn’t). Despite its name, the mailbox was actually white, and even though no one knew with any certainty what it was doing there, it became part of the Area 51 folklore.
Unfortunately though it’s no longer there. There are some rocks at the side of the road where the mailbox had previously been, but the box itself is gone—whether by the hand of the Air Force, or by some fucking wastes of life who like to break/steal things.
The back gate
The next site on the road would come after about 18 miles of further driving. Right before the village of Rachel, NV, there’s a small dirt road going to the left (there’s a dirt road going to the right shortly before it, don’t go there—or do and let me know what’s there). If you can’t find the road going left, the guide I previously linked says, “[t]he best way I can think to describe where this road is, as you come off the hill before the road, you’ll be able to see the few houses that make up Rachel, Nevada, it’s almost immediately on your left.” But it’s hard to miss.
The road to the back gate is about 10 miles, of which seven is a dirt road. But it’s completely drivable and doesn’t hurt your car too much—provided you go fast. When we went, after about six miles there was a corpse of a bovine on the left, so if it’s still there and you see it, you’re probably on the correct road.
Bovines are apparently a dangerous menace on that road—and on NV-375 as well. They roam around quite freely and can also attack cars and people, so be on the lookout. Probably the corpse at the side of the road is the result of it meeting a military Humvee or something.
Anyhoo, in about seven miles the dirt road ends and a properly paved road starts. Three more miles and you’re at the gate!
When you’re at the gate, park your car at the side of the road about 20-30 feet away. Don’t go closer to the gate or you might have to deal with the guards. If they happen to come out, do not photograph them—unless you seriously want to see Area 51 from the inside, but only a small portion of it called a jail cell. And who knows, if they take you inside, they might do some same tests on you they do on the aliens. Anal probing perhaps?
There’s a sign on the gate that bans photographing altogether, but we ignored it. And nothing happened. We took some pictures, looked around, enjoyed the sunshine and headed back.
After you’ve arrived back to NV-375, turn left and drive about a mile to the little village of Rachel, NV. There’s not much left of it and it indeed feels a bit like a ghost town, but people do live there and there’s also an interesting little spot there called The Little A’Le’Inn—you get the pun.
The Little A’Le’Inn is a restaurant, an inn and a gift shop where you can buy all sorts of alien-related souvenirs from cups and shot glasses to t-shirts and books. If you’re hungry, you can also have a meal at the restaurant.
Outside The Little A’Le’Inn there are also some interesting items put on display, including something that resembles a flying saucer. Feel free to take photos or mingle with the few locals.
If you’re staying in Vegas, or live there, then there’s nothing much else to do there, so feel free to head back to Sin City, doing the reverse route you just did. If you’re planning to drive on to somewhere else, then get on the road and start driving, because ahead of you lay a huge territory of nothingness (and angry cows—be careful, they do also roam on the road).
We were heading back to California, so if you’re doing the same, stay on NV-375 until you arrive at the intersection with US Route 6. Turn left, and continue until you get to Tonopah, NV. It’s an adorable little Old West town where you can find a few motels to spend the night at and some restaurants to enjoy food at. For the latter, I would especially recommend The Tonopah Station that’s on US-95, south of the town center.
Words of advice
As mentioned before, there’s no gas between US-93 and Tonopah, so bring a full tank and make sure it’s enough.
Bring your camera and take lots of pictures. Remember, by going to Area 51 you’ll become a member of an elite club as undoubtedly not many people have actually been there (apart from the ones who work there, obviously—we were told that six Boeing 737s fly between Area 51 and Vegas daily, transporting the people who work at the base), so you’ve got to have something to show from your visit to your friends and, when you’re older, your kids and grandkids.
Don’t fuck around when you’re at either of the gates. It’s a military base, and they don’t like to be fucked around with. If you piss ‘em off, they will come out, arrest you, fine you, or, in the worst case, incarcerate you somewhere you would rather not be.
And, most importantly, enjoy your day!