Exploring the Extraterrestrial Highway
Two aptly named earthlings embark on an otherworldly road trip.
BY ALI ANDERSON AND RACHEL WRIGHT
It started as a joke. Or maybe more of a bad pun. “A Rachel in Rachel, Nevada.” Unexpectedly, the little quip snowballed. “Ali at the Little Ali-Inn,” playing off the legendary Little A’Le’Inn near Area 51. Before we knew it, the two of us were packing up the car, topping off the gas tank, and departing Carson City. Bound for the Extraterrestrial Highway, we were ready for a true Nevada road trip.
GOING TO GOLDFIELD
AA: As a self-described coffee connoisseur, leaving at 8:30 a.m. for a four-day road trip meant I needed to start with a cup of joe. Imagine my joy when we stumbled upon Larry’s Gourmet Coffee in Dayton, situated just off Highway 50. I was elated to find a staff of perky baristas in period dress (mustache, top hat, etc.). They served a wicked latte, and some great conversation.
With liquid fuel in hand and an invigorated sense of excitement, we set off for Goldfield. On Highway 95, we came upon a road construction stop. As we waited, we discovered the best way to make new friends: pop out of the car and offer Nevada Magazine & Visitor Guide to our traffic neighbors! It was a big hit.
RW: Late in the afternoon, we rolled into Goldfield. Our destination was the former home of famed boxing promoter George Lewis “Tex” Rickard. In 1906, he put a spotlight on Goldfield when the town hosted a record-setting bout between Joe “Old Master” Gans and Oscar Matthew “Battling” Nelson.
We met Jeri Foutz, proprietor of the Goldfield Stop & Stop Inn, who welcomed us to the Tex Rickard House and gave us a fascinating tour. When Rickard built the house in 1907, it had no kitchen, which worked just fine for a wealthy, single man. Thankfully, this has since been remedied.
We ambled through town, peeking in the windows of the storied Goldfield Hotel, and donated $3 to the Goldfield Art and Business Services in exchange for two pieces of wonderfully marbled wonderstone. Cotton candy colors filled the sky as we snapped photos of the mysterious “subway stations to nowhere.” A great end to a great day.
RW: I will never forget staying at the Tex Rickard house for one particular reason. In the literal seconds before my alarm went off, I heard three distinct knocks at the door. I bolted awake, assuming Ali was the one knocking. There was nobody at the front or back doors, though, and I later learned Ali had been showering at the time. Had I just had my first supernatural experience?
Still wondering who or what had knocked at my door, we strolled across the street to the Dinky Diner. Both Ali’s French toast and my Texas Benedict were delicious. Fully fueled for our morning activities, we met Steve Foutz, Jeri’s husband and our Goldfield High School tour guide.
AA: Touring the historic (and possibly haunted) high school was at the top of our Goldfield experience list. The school was built in 1907 and operated until 1953. Preservation efforts are underway to keep the three-story building upright. Abandoned for quite some time, the building can give off an eerie vibe, but small details humanize its interior. A Bunson burner in the science room, the piano in the basement, and the lessons etched on the chalkboard reminded me this was once a bustling school.
Steve’s take on the building was that it has a friendly spiritual energy, like students playing pranks. That was the vibe I felt as well, but then I noticed the principal’s office door has four hinges, while all the others have two. It might have been to protect student records, but Steve mentioned some tragic events that may have unfolded here. It was the only time I felt the energy shift during the tour.
RIDIN’ TO RACHEL
RW: Ali and I bid a fond farewell to Goldfield, stopping in Tonopah for gas and lunch. We chose Tonopah Brewing Company, where we dined on smoked turkey and pulled pork sandwiches accompanied by tasty housemade root beer.
We experienced a true Twilight Zone moment on the road to the Little A’Le’Inn. Nowhere near a time zone change, our cell phones jumped an hour ahead, reverting back as we neared the restaurant, gift shop, and motel that beckons aliens. When we asked if that was known to happen, the staff replied, “No, that’s not something we hear a lot.”
RW: Before they closed shop for the night, we quickly perused the VHS closet. You read that right—rooms come with VCRs (and DVD players), which brought back memories of my neighborhood video store.
With tapes in hand, Ali and I walked out and met Connie West, co-owner of the Little A’Le’Inn with her mother Pat Travis. She invited us to sit, and we ended up shooting the breeze for almost two hours. During that time, we got a glimpse of the truly international audience this place draws. English tourists asked for directions to Area 51, and an Australian family joined our conversation while taking photos of all the alien attractions.
SONIC BOOMS AND BLACK MAILBOXES
AA: Moments later, everything shifted. An incredibly loud bang erupted. My heart stopped. Rachel catapulted up from the picnic table. “Did a bomb just drop?” I thought.
“That was a sonic boom! A jet just broke the sound barrier!” our companion told us.
My eyes were just able to zero in on a jet disappearing behind the surrounding mountains. We braced for a possible second jet to zoom overhead, but it never came.
We jumped back in the car to locate the famous Black Mailbox. Many believe it to be a meeting place between humans and the unknown. Located just along Highway 375—relatively close to Area 51—I can see how it earned its mysterious reputation. It looks like a mailbox, but it’s in the middle of nowhere. A lone ranch sits far off in the distance…could it belong to them? We’ll let you decide—is it a portal to extraterrestrial activity or just a mailbox?
AWAY TO AUSTIN
RW: After a good night’s sleep, Ali and I ordered ham and cheese omelets for breakfast from the inn’s kitchen, which were fresh and tasty. We didn’t get a chance to try the “World Famous Alien Burger,” but we did secure hefty slices of homemade “alienfruit” pie for the road. The last to-do before this Rachel departed Rachel? We added a decorated dollar bill to the cash-rich ceiling—look for it hanging from a colorful $5 Australian banknote.
AA: I must stress the importance of snapping photos in front of the iconic Extraterrestrial Highway sign. This is as much a souvenir as all the other amazing things you’ll gather along this road trip. Make sure to do it next to the sign…not the road, as it’s an active highway. Don’t forget to do the Vulcan salute (a.k.a. the Spock hand)!
RW: We left Rachel for the town of Austin, located on the Loneliest Road in America, Highway 50. Once in town, the Magnolia Gallery & Inn was our first stop. Owners Laurian and Ken Arbo warmly welcomed us, filled us in on the building’s history, and showed us around the two suites. The building once served as a brothel, and the first floor had nine rooms, each the size of the current suite bathrooms.
With our bags tucked away, Ali and I set off for a sunset walkabout through charming Austin. We saw deer, a historic Lincoln Highway marker, and made a note to stop at Jason’s Art Gallery before leaving town the next day.
For dinner, we walked to Grandma’s—a restaurant billed as “Austin’s living room”—which was serving slow-roasted carnitas and chicken tacos for dinner. Yes, please! Ali and I could’ve eaten many more than we did, and paired with a delicious margarita, it was the perfect end to our day. We capped the evening off with our alienfruit pie (we cannot confirm or deny what alienfruit is!) and hit the hay.
AA: Our adventure’s final leg started with a visit to Stokes Castle, a relic from Austin’s mining-era glory days. Found on the west edge of town overlooking the Reese River Valley, this tower was built in 1897 for businessman Anson Phelps Stokes and his family. Easily accessible via a dirt road, this historical landmark is a true testament to the heyday of this quiet town.
The last stop in Austin was Jason’s Art Gallery, a jewelry shop full of handmade pieces in vibrant hues. If you’re on the hunt for Nevada turquoise, they have a beautiful selection that won’t break the bank. I bought my first piece of fine jewelry, and Rachel scored a cabochon. Smitten with our purchases, we headed back on the road, inching our way home.
RW: We had one final stop before the road trip officially came to an end: Sand Mountain. Perhaps I haven’t driven the Loneliest Road in America enough, or it’s simply been too long since my last journey, but seeing this massive mound of smooth, beachy sand surrounded by craggy mountains was an impressive and bewildering sight.
We carefully ambled our vehicle into the sandy staging area and watched OHV riders effortlessly wheel up and over the dune. We briefly considered putting the company’s four-wheel drive to the test but decided upon keeping our jobs.
Ninety miles later, the trek was complete. Is this a trip we’d take again? Absolutely, especially considering we didn’t make it to Gemfield (for rockhounding) or Lunar Crater (for pretending to be astronauts).
Good thing we didn’t take the work vehicle off-roading—there’s a lot more awaiting our next Nevada adventure.