The Extraterrestrial Highway

Nevada State Route 375 aka the Extraterrestrial Highway

Today, my copilot Becky and I (and the dogs!) are heading to Nevada via Flagstaff, Sedona and the South Rim of the Grand Canyon!

Nevada is one of those states that never gets as much credit as it should. Sure, there’s lurid Las Vegas, tucked into the very bottom southeast corner, but from border to border, the rest of the state is vast and empty and stunningly beautiful.

Joshua Tree and Nevada Mountains

One of the best ways to see Nevada is to drive across it on the Extraterrestrial Highway. State Route 375, renamed the Extraterrestrial Highway in 1996 after decades of reported UFO sightings and rumors about the nearby Area 51, rolls across 98 miles of wide-open country ringed by a few of the of the mountain ranges that gave the state its name; Nevada means snow-capped in Spanish.

Aside from whomever might reside at the clandestine Area 51, which sprawls to the south and west of the highway, this nearly 100-mile stretch is occupied by only one town: Rachel. Population: Humans 98, Aliens ?

Welcome to Rachel

Word to the wise traveling the Extraterrestrial Highway: there is no gas and we didn’t see a “Last Gas” warning sign leaving Caliente. We were down to half a tank when we finally saw a sign: No facilities next 160 miles! We had gone too far to turn around and just made it to Tonopah on fumes. Fill up before you Vegas, Caliente or Tonopah!

No gas stations, but there is an Alien Research Center, sadly closed the day we rolled through

Outside of the big cities of Las Vegas, Reno and Carson City, you won’t see many people in Nevada, which ranks among the most sparsely populated states in the U.S. In fact, 87 percent of Nevada’s land is federally controlled, the highest percentage in the nation (Alaska has a lower percentage, but higher total acreage).

The downside of all that federally controlled land is that almost all of Nevada is slated as grazing land for cattle and sheep, leaving little room for wildlife like big horn sheep and wild mustangs.

Mustangs, descended from domestic horses, have roamed this land for centuries. Today, as many as 14,000 wild horses and burros live in Nevada. Driving west on the Extraterrestrial Highway, I was lucky enough to spot a herd from the road.

One of my all-time favorite wild animal sightings! (Click to enlarge)

Mustang detractors are quick to point out that horses are not native to North America since all members of the genus Equus died out around 10,000 years ago, around the time that humans were populating the continent, a spurious ecological argument. North America is the original home of the horse; Equus evolved here and thrived here for more than 50 million years before humans arrived. If anybody’s not native it’s us.

All public land grazing rights ethics aside, here’s the upside of all that public land: more than half of Nevada falls under National Forest or Bureau of Land Management jurisdiction, meaning that you can go for a hike almost anywhere! I have yet to hit the ground here for a real trek, but Nevada is high on my to hike list for this winter!

Mustangs in Humboldt Toiyabe National Forest

Click here to read my previous post on wild mustangs and BLM herd management.


About theblondecoyote

Mary Caperton Morton is a freelance science and travel writer with degrees in biology and geology and a master’s in science writing. A regular contributor to EARTH magazine, where her favorite beat is the Travels in Geology column, she has also written for the anthologies Best Women's Travel Writing 2010 and Best Travel Writing 2011. Mary is currently based in western Colorado. When she’s not at the computer she can usually be found outside -- hiking, skiing, climbing mountains and taking photographs. Visit her website at
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8 Responses to The Extraterrestrial Highway

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  2. When we travel the rural parts of Nevada – Tonopah is our half way point as well as a great spot to gas up and use the restroom.

  3. I love your first photo on here. I spent a Halloween weekend in Rachel, NV in 2004. And when I think of the drive out there from Vegas, I picture that seemingly neverending road that disappears in the middle of nowhere. That photo captures the image in my mind perfectly!

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