[Pat and Joe Travis]

PAT TRAVIS right, and her husband, Joe, talk about extra terrestrials outside their cafe in Rachel.

Aliens given own road

State Route 375 renamed the Extraterrestrial Highway

By Robert Macy

RACHEL - If E.T. is ever looking for a place to phone home, or searching for a route back to his extraterrestrial kin, this blip of a town may be just the ticket.

Long a mecca for people who believe we are not alone, Rachel is now the anchor for Nevada's newest tourist attraction - the Extraterrestrial Highway. It's even going to get official state highway signs.

Folks in this Lincoln County town 150 miles north of Las Vegas are convinced there are alien visitors at the nearby top-secret government base known as Area 51 or Groom Lake.

"I think there are people and machines from other planets over there," Pat Travis said as she scrubbed breakfast dishes at the Little A'Le'Inn - think "alien" the focal point of this hamlet of 100 people. "I think our government is working in conjunction with them."

"I don't doubt for a minute that there are extraterrestrials," added Chuck Clark, an amateur astronomer who has written a guidebook on the area. "To think we're the only life in the universe is ludicrous."

Area 51 is veiled in mystery. The heavily guarded, isolated base is where the government has tested some of its most exotic aircraft, including the U-2, SR-71 Blackbird and F-117A stealth fighter, and is now believed to be flying Aurora, apparently a new reconnaissance plane.

Officially, the military won't even acknowledge the base exists. Uniformed Marines and Air Force personnel drive through, and some stop at the Little A'Le'Inn for breakfast.

But "I have never had anybody who works at Area 51 tell us anything," Travis said. "We've had some of them get pretty drunk and they still don't tell anything."

While the federal government wishes everyone would go away, the Nevada Transportation Department recently named a 92-mile stretch of desolate State Route 375 the Extraterrestrial Highway. It plans to put up four signs at a cost of $3,300.

Gov. Bob Miller quipped that some of the signs should be placed flat on the ground "so aliens can land there."

The governor said the designation shows Nevada has a sense of humor, as was the case several years ago when a magazine named U.S. 50 across the state "the loneliest road in America."

"Instead of being insulted, we turned it around," Miller said.

The Extraterrestrial Highway runs between Hiko and Warm Springs, traversing mountain passes and deserts covered with scrub brush and juniper trees.

Highway officials say it draws only about 50 vehicles a day on average, though more show up twice annually when Rachel holds "UFO Friendship Campouts" for tourists looking for flying saucers.< p> Clark, 50, said he has seen mysterious sights such as glowing orbs of light around Area 51.

"I think the stuff that is being seen is alien, but under the control of our government," he said. "I don't know if they're spaceships. But they're beyond our physics."

The tiny cafe features racks of UFO T-shirts, caps and books, and photos taken from a distance of the hangars and 30,000-foot runway at Groom Lake.

The photos were taken before the government last year banned public access to two ridges overlooking the complex.

UFO buffs still seek out the black mailbox along highway 375 that marks the road leading to restricted land surrounding Area 51. But armed guards keep gawkers more than seven miles from the base.

They cannot block the sights and sounds, such as the light and deafening roar that sweep across the remote valley when Aurora takes to the sky, Clark said.

Pat Travis has seen many strange sights in the nighttime sky around Rachel. She told of one incident when a strange beam of light pierced an iron door at the cafe, illuminating the doorjamb.

"I really believe in UFOs," she said, flipping a pancake on a griddle. "This is not just something to sell T-shirts."