Darth Vader, better known as Assemblyman Bob Price D-North Las Vegas, to his friends and Lt. Gov. Lonnie Hammargren, above, stand in front of a sign that designates State Highway 375 as Nevada's official "Extraterrestrial Highway." The two-lane road north of Las Vegas was dedicated Thursday. At right, Jim Greenen of Yalaha, Fla., holds some of the UFO-related merchandise he was selling Thursday in Rachel at the dedication of the Extraterrestrial Highway. Greenen and his wife, Mary, operate the International UFO Center.
State officials, movie stars and directors help dedicate a stretch of road with an alien-themed title.
By Shaun McKinnon
Maybe it was the 40 mph winds, maybe it was souvenir stands selling UFO mugs and T-shirts, or maybe it was just as the governor said and the signs really were facing in the wrong direction.
Whatever the reason, no visitors from outer space showed up Thursday for .the dedication of Nevada's new Extraterrestrial Highway, 98 miles of lonely desert blacktop now officially devoted to the proposition that Someone Else Is Out There‹and It might be a tourist.
"Most people, when they look to the skies, see friend or foe," Gov. Bob Miller said during a brief ceremony. "Not me. I'm a Nevadan. I see intergalactic tourists."
That said, it was clear state tourism officials would prefer more earthly visitors, the kind who spend money in hotels, restaurants and casinos. To heighten interest in the E.T. Highway, a k a state Highway 375, the state struck a deal with the producers of the film "Independence Day", an upcoming science fiction film that depicts an alien invasion of Earth.
Twentieth Century Fox brought the movie's stars and directors to Rachel for the dedication, guaranteeing media attention from around the country, and the state gave Fox an ideal promotional tie-in for the movie, parts of which take place at a fictional secret military base in the Nevada desert.
All of this came about after the state Transportation Board voted in February to confer the otherworldly title on Highway 375, which connects Alamo with Tonopah. The road runs just north of the Nevada Test Site and Area 51, a classified military installation - which, by the way, the government insists is as fictional as the one in the movie - where the Air Force reportedly tests new aircraft.
It's also a significant site for UFO buffs, who believe the base has been used to store alien spaceships, to perform autopsies on captured aliens, and that it still attracts spacecraft ‹ reason enough, state of fiacials decided, to establish the Extraterresial Highway.
More than 200 reporters, promoters, politicians, UFO hounds and curious onlookers made the trip Thursday to Rachel, 140 miles north of Las Vegas. Strong winds filled the air with desert grit and sent many people seeking refuge in the nearby Little A 'Le' Inn - a bar and restaurant that cashed in on Area 51 long ago.
Looking no worse for the wear and seeming to enjoy themselves some of the time were four of the stars of "Independence Day": Jeff Goldblum, Bill Pullman, Robert Loggia and Brent Spiner, who, as the android Data on the TV series "Star Trek: The Next Generition," has previous experience with alien life forms.
The focus of the ceremony was the new 3-by-8-foot "Extraterrestrial Highway" signs - "I still think we should put some of them flat so the extraterrestrial visitors can see them," Miller said ‹ and a 6-foot high monument with "ID4," the movie's promotional initials, carved into the top. The first sign was erected across from the Little A 'Le' Inn late Thursday.
Not everyone thinks the state has its feet on the ground with this idea. About 20 people, calling themselves the "Extraterrestrial Highway Insurgency Force," protested the event, accusing state officials of selling out to the film's producers.
"The state sold the highway to Fox," said Glenn Campbell, director of the Area 51 Research Center, a small, private watchdog group in Rachel. "No one locally was ven consulted. It was all imposed from Carson City because the governor had a deal with Fox."
Worse, he said, tourists who decide to explore further and go looking for Area 51 could find themselves subject to arrest and harassment by military security.
But Jim Greenen, who operates the International UFO Center in Yalaha, Fla., and made the trip to Rachel to sell his line of UFO mugs, T-shirts and bumper stickers, sees some good from the E.T. Highway.
"This is great", said Greenen, a former engineer. "It can only help the cause. It will let people know these things exist."
HTML by Area 51 Research Center, 4/28/96.