Driving the Extraterrestrial Highway with kids!
Updated: Oct 1, 2021
It’s long, hot and dry - smack bang in the middle of the Nevada desert… is the Extraterrestrial Highway a good road trip to do with kids?
Exploring the Extraterrestrial Highway wasn’t on our original itinerary when we were planning our road trip through the USA, however when we were looking at a map to figure out how to get from Death Valley to Las Vegas and saw that one route took us via the Extraterrestrial Highway, we had to do it!
Sure, it added 3 hours to the journey, but as an alien-obsessed family, it would have been rude not to!
The Extraterrestrial Highway in Nevada (State Route 375) is a 158km stretch of road that goes between Warm Springs (at the junction with US Route 6) and Crystal Springs (at the Junction with State Route 318).
It runs right past Area 51 - the top secret government base which is (allegedly!) where experimental aircraft and weapons are tested.
There are so many conspiracy theories surrounding what goes on at the base (like the fact that they are using alien technology to build these machines, and the many reports of people seeing UFOs in the area) that in 1996 the road was officially named the “Extraterrestrial Highway”. This coincided with the release of the movie Independence Day - marketing genius!
There are signs all the way along the highway warning of low flying aircraft, and we were really hoping to see some, but unfortunately we didn't see any on our drive.
After driving the highway, we spent a night in Alamo, just South of Crystal Springs, and spoke with people who live there about the awesome things they have seen, like rockets being launched in the middle of the night and jets whose sonic boom shakes paintings from walls!
The drive is long and hot but it was one of our favourite days! Here is where we stopped along the ET highway with our young kids:
Coming from Beatty (just outside Death Valley) to Rachel was a 3 hour drive, and other than stopping for petrol and to switch drivers, we pushed on through and arrived in Rachel at lunch time.
By this time, the boys were a bit sick of not actually seeing any aliens, so arriving at the Little A’le’inn was very exciting! It is a simple restaurant, bar and motel, but it is so much more than that!
The first thing that you see as you drive down the highway towards it is a flying saucer hanging from a tow truck (two of our boys’ great obsessions!) and in the parking area you are greeted by a child-sized statue of an alien holding up a sign saying “welcome earthlings”.
We were won over right away!
When you step inside, the whole place is full of alien and Area 51 paraphernalia, photos and souvenirs.
We sat down and ordered lunch (Alien Burgers, of course, which were surprisingly good) and chatted to the owner and her son who was working there. They loved showing the boys around, explaining what different things were, and the boys were so excited to see “real :)” photos of aliens and UFOs.
They were sad when it was time to leave, but cheered up after the owner gave them toy aliens to bring with us!
After lunch we wandered around outside, checking out the flying saucer tow truck and the time capsule that was buried there by the Governor and the filmmakers and cast of Independence Day, to be opened in 2050. Thanks Jeff Goldblum!
And then it was time to hit the road to check out our next stop along the Extraterrestrial Highway…
The Black Mailbox
Pumped up on Alien Burgers, we were excited to see the Black Mailbox, about a 20 minute drive away.
We had been told that an ex-Area 51 worker called Bob Lazar had told alien hunters to come here to watch the test flights of the aircraft that had apparently been reverse engineered using UFO technology and that it had now become a bit of a shrine to aliens.
We were expecting to find a black mailbox labelled “Alien”, where we could post drawings the boys had done for the aliens to collect when they were next in the area.
What we found, however, was the remains of the mailbox, vandalised and smashed into pieces. The boys were so excited to post their pictures, but instead we had to explain that some people are jerks who ruin things for everyone else.
And so we drove on...
Inside is just a gift shop selling everything and anything alien themed you could imagine, but the awesome thing about the Alien Research Center is the building itself.
It’s like a big old aeroplane hangar made of corrugated metal, with a huge silver alien statue at the front. It’s the oddest thing to see in the middle of the desert and it was fun to make up stories for the boys about the “alien research” that went on inside in the olden days.
The Extraterrestrial Highway sign
Although we stopped at a similar sign at the start of our journey along the highway, the sign just after the Alien Research Centre is the more famous one, covered in stickers and is definitely worth stopping at to take some photos. There are also shady picnic benches there if you fancy a rest.
Our last stop on the Extraterrestrial Highway was the ET Fresh Jerky Shop, right at the start of the Highway if you are coming from Vegas. This was our favourite stop along the way!
They sell a pretty big range of jerky that they make themselves, as well as a whole lot of alien themed snacks and souvenirs (of course!).
It was nice and cool inside and the sign out the front told us that you can “drop your toxic waste in the cleanest restrooms in Area 51” - it wasn’t lying!
We had fun chatting for ages with the lovely owner about what it’s like to live out here, about the people he meets and the strange things he’s seen. We bought some jerky and ice blocks and he gave the boys alien ID cards and alien toys as early Christmas presents. He came outside to take photos for us by their huge alien mural and he was just so welcoming that I hope everyone stops here!
Even though we didn’t see any UFO aircraft being tested or any actual evidence of aliens at all, this was still an awesome day!
The scenery was so different to what we’d seen on the rest of our road trip - the desolate desert landscape, filled with Joshua Trees and huge open range cattle ranches as far as you can see.
We had chats and laughs with everyone we met and we all learnt a lot about aliens and the stories surrounding the area. If you are going to Vegas and want to see something a bit different, a bit quirky and fun, we definitely recommend heading up to Alamo and driving along the Extraterrestrial Highway.
** With two little kids, we didn’t dare venture anywhere near the entrance to Area 51. We had been told that the security teams are advised to shoot first and ask questions later, so we weren’t going to push our luck just to try and get a glimpse of what was going on in there. **
It is a long drive - pack snacks and drinks. Use the time to teach your kids about all the alien stories from the area and to look for cows that wander around on the open ranches!
Make sure you have enough petrol! We filled up at Tonopah, before starting the ET highway and I don’t think there was anywhere to refuel on the highway until we got to Alamo.
Talk to people - everywhere we went we met the loveliest people who had the best stories. For once, being Aussies was a novelty, and I feel like not many young families travel this route, so everyone was happy to see us!
We spent the night in Alamo, rather than driving all the way to Vegas (another 1.5 hours away). It meant we could check in and relax after a long day driving, and then hit the road in the morning after a great dinner at the only diner in town and a good night sleep (undisturbed by missile launches, unfortunately!).