For my money, this kitschy road trip’s best attraction was the ability to spend the night in my RV on Nevada’s Extraterrestial Highway, which I wrote about last week. The unparalleled solitude and star watching of the night sky coupled with the mystery and intrigue of stories of UFOs and aliens made for a unique camping experience.
Beyond that, however, there are a few stops you should make if you’re taking this trip yourself.
Nevada’s Extraterrestrial Highway route: Tonopah to Las Vegas (or vice versa)
Technically, neither of these towns is actually ON the ET highway in Nevada, but since Nevada State Highway 375 starts and stops in more or less the middle of nowhere, these two familiar landmarks make good starting or ending destinations for your ET road trip.
I’ll leave you to explore Las Vegas on your own, as much has been written about it already.
As to Tonopah, while not a booming metropolis, it does offer travelers some odd attractions that make it a worthwhile bookend to the ET Hwy trip. Conveniently, the town’s two main claims to fame are situated right next door to one another.
The World Famous Clown Motel, a kitschy, gaudy, lodging/gift shop and “museum,” will take just minutes to explore, unless you LOVE and collect over-priced clown memorabilia. But it is worth a quick look-see to say you were there. Unless, of course, you are brave enough to spend the night. The motel maintains legendary status as one of Nevada’s most haunted places.
Perhaps some of the ghosts visit from the historic Tonopah cemetery next door. We spent a fair amount of time here, strolling through the fascinating gravesites that told a tale of the Old West the way it really was. Most of the rustic wooden graves, as well as the fancier marble monuments, include a short history of how the deceased met their end. Mining disasters and murders were big in the Old West, and Tonopah was no exception.
Before you head to see the Extraterrestial Highway attractions (or once you’ve finished, depending on the direction you travel), know that the Station Casino in Tonopah offers affordable full RV hookups in their parking lot. It’s not picturesque, but it’s cheap and has easy access to the casino and the laundromat.
Even cheaper is their $7 (as of this writing) offer to just use the dump station and fill your water tanks. We opted for this then boondocked down the street in the truck parking lot outside the Banc Club Casino. This free overnight parking spot offered us a view of and walking distance access to the World Famous Clown Motel and the Tonopah Cemetery. The small casino also houses a Chinese restaurant (closed Sunday, so we didn’t get to try it).
Hitting the Extraterrestrial Highway
From Tonopah, you will travel about 45 minutes on Highway 6 until you come to the junction of Highway 375.
From Las Vegas, you will take State Highway 93 to Crystal Springs, where you will then pick up Nevada state route 375 North.
Bring some stickers for the sign—it’s just what you do.
ET Highway sign locations
Regardless of whether you approach Highway 375 from Tonopah in the north or Las Vegas in the south, you will be greeted by the famous Extraterrestrial Highway Sign. That’s right, you get two ET Highway sign photo ops on this trip.
In the north, the Extraterrestrial Highway sign location is on Hwy 375 right after the junction with Hwy 6. There is plenty of space to temporarily pull your rig over to the side of the road, park, get out and take photos.
In the south, the sign is conveniently located near the ET Highway Rest Area in Crystal Springs. There’s room for several RVs to park and pull through here.
I am not sure how the tradition got started, but the ET Highway signs are adorned with all kinds of stickers left behind by visitors from around the world. Normally I would never recommend defacing public property in such a manner, but stickers on the ET Highway sign seem to be so much a part of the experience that Nevada highway officials regularly just swap them out.
When in Rome…
We added a sticker from a magazine I write for, took a few photos, and headed off down that long, straight stretch of lonesome highway.
The Little A’Le’Inn in Rachel, Nevada
The Little A’Le’Inn (get it?) is the epitome of what makes kitschy road trips like this one so much fun. A mom-and-pop roadside bar, restaurant, motel, and campground in the only town on the Extraterrestrial Highway, this stop is definitely part of the experience.
The clientele, a colorful mix of local ranchers and military personnel, along with the eccentric staff, seemed straight out of central casting. Not surprising. It takes an unusual individual to live and thrive in these remote environs.
My time spent conversing with strangers at the bar was both fun and enlightening. I left learning a lot about the mining history of the area, and a little about the current military presence that now dominates.
I also had fun kibitzing with the waiter/bartender, a charming young man whose dialogue style closely mimicked the E.B. Farnum character in HBO’s “Deadwood.”
After the loquacious barkeep inquired as to whether or not “sufficient time had transpired in order for me to peruse the literature and come to a definitive conclusion on what I wanted to order,” I settled on a cheeseburger and fries.
And a memorable cheeseburger it was. Thick and juicy, cooked perfectly to order and accompanied by crispy fries with just the right amount of grease. This dish was a roadside Americana classic done well. I will definitely return for another, should I travel this way again.
I was in for a big surprise when the check arrived.
For having such a captive audience, the Little A’Le’Inn is not priced like a typical tourist trap. The prices are on par with any coffee shop anywhere in the U.S. (not so the local gas station). Perhaps that’s because they cater to locals as much as, or more than, tourists. So whenever you find yourself in Rachel, stop in for breakfast, lunch, or dinner.
They even have a full bar, so those opting to stay in the RV park or boondock in the large parking lot can have a nightcap or two before bed.
If you want Alien souvenirs, you’ll find an EXTENSIVE selection of them here and also at the nearby Alien Cowpoke gas station just down the street.
ET Jerky and the Alien Research Center
Near the south end of the ET Highway—the end of Hwy 375 when traveling south or the very beginning when traveling north—you’ll find two worthy stops.
ET Fresh Jerky offers an out-of-this-world variety of tasty jerky to fuel your travels. There are also a number of fun alien-themed photo ops here and lots of ET-themed souvenirs. Take advantage of the mural on the outside of the building to pose the family with the various aliens for some fun vacation photos to send home or post to your social media accounts.
A mile or so north of ET Fresh Jerky, the Alien Research Center is almost never open these days. Hopefully, that will change sometime soon. Nonetheless, the towering silver alien statue standing guard at the entrance makes it a worthy photo-op stop before continuing north to Rachel, or south towards Las Vegas.
Plan to spend at least one night star watching and UFO hunting on the ET Highway. Check out last week’s post, RVing Nevada’s Extraterrestrial Highway, for details.