The town of Rachel, Nevada, founded in 1973, squats in the center of the oxymoronic Sand Spring Valley. It was reportedly named for the first baby born in SSV. After the tungsten mine closed, Rachel’s population dropped from 500 to the present 100, or so.
In 1996 Rachel caught some luck. 2oth Century Fox, now 21st Century Fox, came here to promote its new film Independence Day and left behind a time capsule to be opened in 2050. It’s just outside the A’Le’Inn. The dedication on it calls this place “…a beacon for visitors from distant stars” and whimsically speculates that by the time the capsule is opened interplanetary travelers will be regular guests on Planet Earth. Independence Day went on to become the top grossing movie of 1996.
That same year State Route 375, which crosses 98 miles of Nevada desert from Ash Springs to Warm Springs, was officially named the Extraterrestrial Highway. The Nevada Commission on Tourism apparently hoped to turn frequent, alleged UFO sightings, 2 or 3 per week, into a bonanza like nearby Las Vegas. That doesn’t seem to have happened. The EH remains lightly traveled, and the A’Le’Inn is the only business left in bedraggled Rachel. The only other tourists Ruth & I met as we drove it last week were a family of 3 from Geelong, Australia. Rob Scott told me that he was indulging his video-game-loving son as part of their Southwest U.S. trip. Perhaps January simply wasn’t peak season for the Extraterrestrial Highway, but I can’t imagine busloads of tourists traveling up and down this remote road in the searing heat of summer.
The A’Le’Inn is a hoot. Its ceiling is partially covered with currency from many countries. I watched as the Scotts added to the clutter. The walls are decorated with pictures of odd discs in the sky, most little more than shadows, with captions like “Nashville, 1989” and “UFO over Argentina in May 2, 2007”. Books with names like Ancient Aliens on the Moon, coffee mugs, bug-eyed otherworlders on shot glasses, hamburgers, etc. are sold.
An Alien Research Center has opened near Ash Springs. We didn’t get inside because it was closed when we passed by. I suspect that a fair number of conspiracy fans thrill to this desert scene that has been named the UFO Capital of the World. Area51.Org calls it The Front Door of the Paranormal World. Area 51, described as a top secret air force base, is close. Edwards AFB, known for the development and testing of experimental aircraft, is not too far away in California. Neighbor Nellis AFB conducts air combat exercises in the area.
As we traveled the landscape, which surprisingly sported a fair number of Joshua trees, I was trying to decide whether to dub the Extraterrestrial Highway a 3 or 4 Compass experience when a tiny UFO the size of a bird zipped across the road just in front of us. “Did you see that?” I asked Ruth. She described in detail exactly what I had seen. We finally decided it was a toy-sized drone of unknown origin. Seriously. 375 just had to be 4 Compasses after that.