Wednesday, January 31, 2007
Rachel and Nevada 375: Memories of a Place
This is a description of a favorite out of the way place. Maybe I’ll start a new feature of my log, writing about such places. The last time I was in Rachel was 2002. For more information on the town and for the source of the picture, click here.
I see the lights of Rachel a good ten miles away, soon after crossing Queen City Summit. “The bar will be open,” I say to myself, “I’ll get a cup of coffee and stretch my legs and take in some of the night air.” It’s after ten and I still have two hundred miles to drive to get home. In the hundred plus miles since Tonopah, I’ve only passed a couple of vehicles. I roll my windows down and stick my head outside, trying to stay awake and alert. Nobody’s likely to see if you run off the road in this country; furthermore since this is open range, I’m sharing the road with cows. They’re hard to see at night. “Thank God for Rachel,” I mumble, thinking about how this is one of three stops in the next two hundred miles where I can get coffee. I'd topped off my tank in Tonopah knowing that the few gas stations along this stretch are closed by this time of night.
Entering town, I pull off at the “Little A”le’Inn,” the center of Rachel’s night life. I’m shocked to see so many cars and people mulling around. Normally, there’d only be a car and maybe a pickup or two out in front. Tonight, I have to search to find a place to park. The line to the bar starts at the front door.
What’s going on?” I ask the guy in front of me.
“It’s Labor Day weekend,” he says, “people come from all over on Labor Day and Memorial Day weekends to check out the UFOs.” I’d noticed just outside the front door, mounted on a tripod, was a parabolic listening device. “These people are serious,” I think to myself. Many of them have cameras and binoculars dangling from their necks. At the booth closest to me a couple cleans the lens for their cameras. I consider telling them not to bother, as I’ve yet to see picture of a UFO taken through a clean lens, but I decide to hold my tongue.
“Do you think they’re really UFOs out here?” I ask
“I’m not sure, but you see some strange things,” he says, adding that he mostly comes up from Vegas to enjoy the party.
I look around at the eclectic crowd. There are guys with pencil protectors in their shirt pockets talking to guys with tie-died t-shirts. Some look to be college-aged, others probably have great-grandchildren. Many appear to have been strung out on drugs since the 60s, others look like they come straight from a desk job at IBM. It looks like a lot of fun and I imagine myself as a reporter for the Rolling Stones, getting to know these people and writing about their weekend shin-dig. Unfortunately, I have to get back home. I’d been gone for two weeks, hiking in the Sierras.
It takes me a while to get up to the bar and then I have to wait for the bartender to make another pot of coffee. Then he fills my insulated spill proof cup. I head outside, climb into the car and drive eastward into the darkness, over Coyote Summit and across Tikaboo Valley. It’s sad to leave the lights behind, for even if they don’t see a UFO, they’re going to have a good time.
In my travels between California and Utah, I’ve probably stopped at Rachel a dozen times. There are only two businesses in town. The gas station is on the east end. It includes a store that would make a 7-11 appear to be a supermarket. I’ve never seen it open after dark and their hours are irregular, another reason why to top off your tank before heading this direction. On the west end of town is the Little A’Le'Inn, a combo restaurant, bar, casino and motel. The motel rooms consist of refurbished trailers parked out back. I don’t think the place would make the Triple A Guide. But people come here because Rachel is the closest town to the supposedly secret Area 51, where some believe our government holds intergalactic aliens as POWs. Others think that the government has made a secret pack with some space race in order to dominate the world. I don’t believe it, but there is no doubt that strange things are seen in the skies along Nevada 435. Driving along this stretch, I’ve been scared out of my pants when a jet, flying maybe 50 feet off the ground, comes up behind me. Because of his speed, you don’t here him until he’s come and gone. Once, while checking out the mining sites in the Timpahute Range northeast of Rachel with Ralph, we watched several jets in apparent dogfight. I’ve never seen such aerial maneuvers, as they turned and swirled back and forth. One jet climbed almost straight up like a rocket, only to turn and come back to earth at supersonic speeds. When the jet went behind the mountain, we looked for a fireball, assuming it crashed, but was surprised to see it pull back up and climb again. Neither of us could believe that a place could do that.
This is barren country and all the land south of Rachel is controlled by the government. It’s a training ground for Nellis Air Force Base. The stealth fighters and bombers are tested in this area. It also contains the Nevada Test Site, where nuclear weapons were tested. Rachel is a relatively new town. In the 1860s, the town of Tempiute grew up around a vein of silver to the north east. That petered out. Later a tungsten deposit was discovered and until the 1980s, Union Carbide ran a mine there. Most of the miners lived in Rachel. There are also a few ranches scattered along 435, but it takes a lot of this poor arid soil to produce enough grass to feed a cow.
Every time I stop at the “Little A’Le’Inn” I meet interesting people. Once there was a family from Germany who came to see UFOs. Another time there were several young adults from the Netherlands. One evening, there was a couple at the bar who had driven up from Las Vegas. They were nearly out of gas and the gas station had already closed for the day (and the owners had headed to Vegas), so they’d rented a room at the motel and made the best of the evening by drinking hardly. They probably saw some good sights that night as well as some bugs on the wall in the morning. The bartender is always willing to offer advice as to the best places to supposedly see UFOs. And the walls of the place have pictures and clippings about UFOs and even a signed photograph of Spock from Star Trek. Recently, Nevada 375 was christened “The Extraterrestrial Highway,” a move that has helped bring the curious to town to support Rachel’s businesses.
I’m sure most people who drive across Nevada 375 think it’s the worst road to travel, but I find comfort in the desolation. A hundred or so miles to the north is US 50, dubbed the loneliness road in America by Life Magazine back in the 60s. Compared to Nevada 375, Highway 50 is a crowded freeway. Each end of the highway is located at a hot spring. The road begins at the site of Warm Springs along US 6. There use to be a gas station with a swimming pool, but that’s all been closed. You can still stop and soak your feet in the warm sulfur smelling water as it runs through a ditch. The other end of the highway, 98 miles to the southeast, is at the junction with US 93 at Crystal Springs. Crystal Springs are huge, with deep pools of warm water that creates a large wetland and bird sanctuary that never freezes. For those interested, there are other hot springs in the area. Just south on US 93 are the communities of Ash and Alamo, both of which have springs. Further to the east is Caliente, another with its developed springs. The traveler along this road needs to be prepared. It’s a long ways to help. There are limited services in Tonopah (108 miles west of Rachel) and Caliente (98 miles to the east of Rachel). The nearest city is Las Vegas, 140 miles south of Rachel.