What to Do and See at Area 51

At Nevada's mysterious Area 51, it's what you don't see that's of interest.

August 12, 2019





The Tourist Attraction That's Not a Tourist Attraction

Area 51 designates a portion of the Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada. Its existence was not confirmed by the U.S. Government until 2013, but it entered the public's imagination in May 1989, when businessman Bob Lazar began conducting interviews stating that he had worked on reverse engineering alien spacecraft here. The idea of crafts from other worlds–and their occupants–being studied at a secret base in the remote desert stirred the public's fascination. Area 51 quickly entered the pop culture consciousness and has become synonymous with extraterrestrial beings and government cover-ups. Annie Jacobsen's 2011 book, Area 51: An Uncensored History of America's Top Secret Military Base details the testing of captured Soviet military aircraft at Area 51, as well as the development of classified U.S. military aircraft such as the U-2 and SR-71. Whatever is happening at Area 51, it's done so under heavy security. Nevada Tourism has dedicated a complete section on Area 51 that warns, "Area 51 does indeed exist (officially now). It’s also part of an active military base, patrolled and guarded by some of the heaviest security on Earth or anywhere else. That means what it’s not is a tourist attraction. If you find yourself close by, obey all posted signs and don’t even think about trespassing. You will be caught and you will be prosecuted (at the very least). Even worse, you might even end up being meme-ified for all eternity. And let’s be real, no selfie or amount of likes are worth that kind of headache."

The Travel Channel has driven as far as legally possible to Area 51 and shares these photos and observations with you. It's desolate country, but it's what you can't see that sparks the planet's imagination here. (This image was taken at the International UFO Museum and Research Center in Roswell, New Mexico.)

What Happens in Vegas...

Area 51 is located about 2.5 hours north of the Las Vegas Strip. Take I-93 north to Crystal Springs, then head west on Nevada State Road 375, a.k.a. the Extraterrestrial Highway. Subtle. Las Vegas Adventure Tours has Area 51 tours from Las Vegas to the edge of Area 51, and includes seeing Janet Airlines planes believed to ferry Area 51 employees between Las Vegas and work daily, "alien" petroglyphs in the desert, and even Area 51 guards patrolling the secret base.

A Route So Secret They Put a Sign Up...

Nevada State Road 375 was officially designated as the Extraterrestrial Highway in 1996, years before the U.S. Government acknowledged Area 51's existence in 2013. Area 51 featured heavily in the 1996 film Independence Day, and Nevada tourism wanted to cash in on this not-so-secret top-secret secret. This area lies within Lincoln County, which has embraced its UFO connection. Ancient petroglyphs left by Native Americans in the area are said to have an otherworldly appearance. Beyond UFO lore, Lincoln County has several state parks popular for wildlife viewing, rock climbing, hiking, off-roading and–of course–star gazing.

Take Me To Your Souvenirs

There's not much in the way of roadside attractions along the Extraterrestrial Highway, but the Alien Research Center Gift Shop sells, wait for it: alien-themed souvenirs and t-shirts. Hours seem to be inconsistent, but it's always worth a stop for the photo-op with its towering alien against the stark Nevada desert.

After the Gold Rush

Closed alien-themed businesses dot the area like old mining ruins. Alien Fresh Jerky moved from their Extraterrestrial Highway location in 2002 and relocated to Baker, California, where they still sell jerky, nuts and honey. ET Fresh Jerky has opened near Crystal Springs at the intersection of SR 318 and SR 93, and its alien-themed shop is a popular stop before heading west on the Extraterrestrial Highway.

E.T. Write Home

The famous Black Mailbox, now painted white, marks the turn off to Area 51 and has become a focal point for UFO searchers, largely because there's nothing else out here. The mailbox belongs to a rancher, who added the smaller mailbox addressed to "Alien" for all of the mail he receives simply addressed to "alien." The original black mailbox was vandalized so much that he replaced it with a thick metal, padlocked box that itself was stolen in 2015 before being replaced. It has become customary to insert a dollar into the Alien box, which hopefully compensates the rancher for any inconvenience he has good-naturedly put up with.

What a Long, Strange Trip It's Been

From the Black Mailbox it's 12 miles of driving on a graded, gravel county road with nothing but Joshua tree-studded desert and mountains in the distance. There are no structures or gas stations, and any needed roadside assistance would take awhile to arrive. Anyone driving in the desert should have plenty of gas and drinking water on hand.

Close Encounter of the Law Enforcement Kind

The public county road dead-ends at a paved road on federal property that presumably leads to Area 51. There are simple signs that warn against entering this U.S. Air Force property, but otherwise no structures. Despite the apparent lack of infrastructure, it is believed that sensors recording sound and other disturbances punctuate the desert here. A single pick-up truck is always stationed above the road on an overlook. If a non-authorized person drives or steps foot onto the paved road past the signs, the truck swoops down and the trespassers are detained by heavily armed guards, sometimes called "Camo Dudes." Those who have done so say they were detained by the guards until Lincoln County Sheriff deputies arrived to cite and/or arrest them. It should be stressed that trespassing onto any federal installation is a crime with ramifications, and never viewed as a joke, especially at Area 51.

They're Watching You

This detail photo shows security personnel watching those who venture near the Area 51 boundary. Figures seen in the vehicles are unresponsive to waves, but very responsive to trespassing. That said, there are anecdotal stories of visitors below quietly asking the guards in the truck to wave and they do so, suggesting there are sensitive listening devices in place. The signs warn of a $1,000 fine and up to six month in jail for trespassing.

Try the Backdoor

There's another entrance to Area 51 that is also reached via county roads. There is more infrastructure here, but eerily no people can be seen. Note the broken vehicle glass in the bottom right of this photo.

Truth in Advertising?

The sign for Rachel, Nevada, boasts an unknown number of aliens. Rachel is the closest community to Area 51, and its 50 or so inhabitants are mostly ranching families. There are few facilities here and the nearest gas stations are 50 miles to the south in Ash Springs and 110 miles north in Tonopah.

Little A'Le'Inn

The Little A'Le'Inn in Rachel has been open since 1990 and welcomes beings of all shapes and sizes. This restaurant, bar, souvenir shop and motel has 14 rooms with shared bathrooms, plus a cabin that can accomodate 5 people. Its address is 9631 Old Mill St., Rachel, NV 89001, and is a great place to grab a burger and beer (the "ale" in A'Le'Inn) while watching the skies until closing at 10 p.m. daily.

No Parking Anytime

Probably the most-photographed roadside attraction along the Extraterrestrial Highway is the Little Al'E'Inn's UFO being towed away–or recovered. There's little to see in the area except expanses of desert, but the adventure of a desert road trip and the hopes of seeing something strange in the sky keeps visitation steady to Rachel.

A Patchwork Interior

The Little Al'E'Inn's interior is decorated with currency from around the world that customers have left, and military and law enforcement patches from a variety of units and departments that personnel have donated to the decor. It can be assumed some were left by military personnel working at Nellis Air Force Base, and possibly Area 51 itself. One of the patches is from the 509th Operations Group. It has the words "Classified Flight Test" and features an alien eating a B-2 bomber under the latin "Gustatus Similis Pullus" that translates to "Tastes Like Chicken." The 509th was the first atomic bomber wing and was originally based in Roswell, New Mexico, famous for its famous alleged UFO crash.

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