The small, remote, and delightfully oddball community of Rachel, Nevada is a must-stop dock for your adventure vessel along the (in)famous Extraterrestrial Highway. Scarf an Alien Burger, clink Alien Amber Ales, stock up on all manner of ET-themed swag, or spend the night trying to spot UFOs. Whatever you do, be sure to talk to some locals; the closest population to Area 51 knows: THE TRUTH IS OUT HERE.
Rachel, Nevada: The Closest Town to Area 51
Where is Rachel, Nevada? For quite some time, only hardscrabble ranchers, folks looking to live far from civilization, and top-secret government officials knew of this tiny town near Area 51, the most mysterious section of the Nevada Test and Training Range. OK, to be fair, “town” is probably an astronomical stretch. This Lincoln County community (population: circa 70) is the only one in remote Sand Springs Valley—and is the polar opposite of the bustling metropolis of Las Vegas, located 2.25 hours south. Today, Rachel is a must-experience destination for road trippers, real-deal UFOlgists (yep, real word), lovers of offbeat attractions, and combinations thereof. And it all centers around the one-stop, alien-themed everything shop that is the beautifully named Little A’Le’Inn.
AREA 51: Don’t Be A Space Invader. Area 51 does exist (officially now). It’s also part of an active military base, patrolled and guarded 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. And let’s be real: no selfie is worth that kind of headache.
History of Rachel, Nevada
Rachel, Nevada—originally named Tempiute Village and, later, Sand Springs—was first developed by an alfalfa farmer in the 1970s. After agriculture, other settlers were drawn to the community to work at a mine opening nearby, swelling the population to a whopping few hundred. Within a few short years, the first baby to be born in town came along—Rachel—and the town was renamed a third time in her honor. By 1980, the mine shut down, and the town shrank precipitously.
In the 1990s, decades of rumors about UFO sightings within the close proximity of mysteriously secretive Area 51 (which the government now admits does exist) finally reached the mainstream, prompting the publication of countless books and on-screen references, and even drawing in reporters like Larry King to suss out people’s experiences.
In 1996, Twentieth Century Fox jumped on the bandwagon, filming parts of the blockbuster alien invasion flick Independence Day in Rachel. (Look for the time capsule-housing ID4 monument in front of the Little A’Le’Inn.) Then some pretty clever folks (ahem, we) seized the moment and somehow convinced the Nevada DOT to embrace the hype and officially name the stretch of highway between Alamo and Tonopah the “Extraterrestrial Highway,” securing—and publicizing—Rachel’s title as the UFO Capital of the World forever.
Travel Nevada Pro Tip
Things to Do In and Around Rachel, Nevada
You’ll know when you hit Rachel, located smack-dab in the center of the Extraterrestrial Highway (NV-375). From the east, you’ll first spot the Alien Cowpoke Gas & General Store. From the west, it’ll probably be the Extraterrestrial Highway Sign (photo-op!) and the tow truck tending to a broke-down UFO in front of the Little A’Le’Inn.
In Rachel itself, all the action is at the Little A’Le’Inn. Outside, fun photo-ops abound. Inside, get ready for alien-themed everything: one-of-a-kind souvenirs galore; walls lined with alien sighting articles, photographic “evidence,” and memorabilia; a themed café menu that fits the whole bill; and plenty of locals full of tales. For gas, snacks, and more souvenirs, hit up the Alien Cowpoke Gas & General Store a half-mile east.
For more alien action, check out our Extraterrestrial Highway road trip itinerary to discover the Alien Research Center, the mysterious Black Mailbox, the E.T. Fresh Jerky shop, and even wild, wide-open Basin and Range National Monument, where the landscapes are as vast as the star-studded skies. (Keep your eyes peeled for mysterious phenomena up above.) If you’re into geocaching, study up before you leave service; there are hundreds of caches along what this treasure-hunting community has designated an official Geocaching Mega-Trail.
The Little A’Le’Inn—Rachel, Nevada’s Hotel & Café
“EARTHLINGS WELCOME.” Naturally, the joint closest to Area 51 is alien-themed—in every possible way. Originally opened in 1989 as Joe and Pat’s Bar and Grill, Rachel’s—and the entire Extraterrestrial Highway’s—sole restaurant and motel became the Little A’Le’Inn in 1991, as a gesture to the number of UFO hunters who were increasingly spending their time there.
Today, the iconic Little A’Le’Inn serves up out-of-this-world-famous Alien Burgers (don’t worry, it’s Earth beef…we think), Alien Amber Ales (brewed, appropriately, in Roswell, NM), galaxy wraps, and a classic mom-and-pop menu offering breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
If you are looking to make a night of it, you can space out in one of several funky, multi-room “units” (AKA spiffed-up portables; rent a whole unit if you want your own bathroom). This very affordable Nevada Uncommon Overnighter gives you access to a free, mostly-VHS library—stocked, both overwhelmingly and fittingly, with alien invasion flicks—and permission to roam the grounds under dark skies full of stars…and maybe a few other things.
Whether you’ve encountered a UFO, an Alien Beer, or one of the best wide-open road shots you may ever discover, tag your snaps #TravelNevada so we can follow—and share—your voyage right here.