The truth is out there. However, you won’t find it on a trip to Nevada’s mysterious Area 51. What you will find by journeying to the barren desert a few hours north of Las Vegas is a fascinating trip into the American lore of government secrets, UFOs and “little green men.”

Area 51

Getting to Rachel, Nevada, the town made famous by its proximity to Area 51 (aka Groom Lake), isn’t hard but the trip is lengthy. You’ll need to rent a vehicle or secure a tour reservation. Guided excursions will pick you up from your hotel, provide lunch and return you for around $200 per person. On your own or part of a group, it could be six to seven hours before you see the bright lights of Vegas again.

The route to Area 51, which is actually part of an Air Force testing and training range, will eventually lead to State Highway 375, more commonly referred to as the Extraterrestrial Highway. A sign proclaiming it as such is a must-stop photo spot, with many visitors leaving stickers behind to prove that they, at least, were out there. The green-and-white hallmark becomes so obscured by stickers that it’s switched out from time to time with another sign, simply so they can be removed.

Also obscured? Area 51 itself. It’s a restricted military base tucked away on a dry lakebed and the armed guards, or “Cammo Dudes” as they’re often nicknamed, patrolling its borders take their task very seriously. Signs warning against trespassers are the most you’ll see and should be heeded. Ignoring them could lead to arrest and steep fines. Grab a quick snapshot if you must, but keep in mind that while your camera is trained on the signs, others will be trained on you.

Rachel sign

Why bother going, then? It’s the thrill of the unknown that draws visitors to this desert outpost as much as their love of the kitsch. Not only does a visit provide the chance to speak to locals about the mysteries they’ve seen and heard, but there are also two spots in particular where Earthlings are welcome: the Alien Research Center in Hiko, which can’t be missed thanks to the towering alien outside, and the Little A’Le’Inn in Rachel, which offers accommodation, food and a gleaming metal replica UFO. Head to both for more souvenir photos, but don’t leave before beaming your hunger away at the latter with one of two appropriately named burgers: The Alien, featuring Thousand Island dressing “with zing,” and The Saucer, topped with sautéed mushrooms, garlic, onions and pepperjack cheese.

If you’d rather Area 51 not abduct your entire day, there are several ways to lose a few hours alien hunting without ever leaving Las Vegas.

The Las Vegas Smithsonian-affiliated National Atomic Testing Museum features an Area 51: Myth or Reality exhibit. Rumours are paired with official documents to allow visitors to draw their own conclusions. The museum is also home to regular radio broadcasts and lectures on the unknown.

Written by Rebecca Frisch