Going to Las Vegas this year? If you fancy taking a little diversion from Sin City for a couple of days, don't miss the chance to check out the spookier side of Nevada. We're delving into the eerie cowboy and alien country to the north of the city, with a look at some of the Silver State's quirkiest encounters...
Valley of Fire
One of our favourite road trips from Vegas is to take Interstate 15 towards the Valley of Fire Highway and head into the Valley of Fire State park, about a 75 minute drive from the city. It's the oldest state park in Nevada, and its red and orange sandstone formations will blow you away, especially at sunset. Remember to take plenty of water if you're going in summer; daytime temperatures regularly exceed 100 degrees. Check out more on our previous article about the best side trips from Las Vegas.
From here, it's an easy drive on I-15 to Highway 93, also known as the Great Basin Highway, where you can head north towards the Pahranagat Valley town of Alamo (about a two hour drive). Aside from being a great place to pick up alien memorabilia due to its proximity to the Extraterrestrial Highway and Area 51 (see below), Alamo is the jumping off point for the Pahranagat National Wildlife Refuge. Stop here for a hike in search of the ‘Pahranagat Man’, one of the first petroglyphs left in the area by the indigenous ancestors, or to view migratory birds and waterfowl.
Fit for a cowboy
Back in Alamo, check into A Cowboy’s Dream luxury bed and breakfast, a fantastic wild western retreat for would-be John Waynes. This B&B opened a few years ago and creates an authentic western getaway for its guests where they can soak up the leather and oak aromas. Enjoy a decadent meal in the Dining Room restaurant of the B&B before settling down for the night in rooms which all feature a private porch with rocking chairs, along with everything a modern-day Annie Oakley could possibly need - high speed wifi, rain showers, claw foot bathtubs and MP3 docking stations.
Head west on Highway 375 to the small town of Rachel (about an hour). The road is also known as the Extraterrestrial Highway, which runs parallel to the Nevada Test Site’s northern border and Area 51. While the U.S. Government acknowledges the testing of top-secret military tools in this desert, locals believe aliens might also be tested here, and there have been countless alleged UFO sightings by travellers. Don’t miss the Black Mailbox - now painted white - where aliens are said to deliver correspondence with the locals.
Drop by the Little A’Le’Inn and start your extraterrestrial encounter with an alien burger. Hear the best ET stories and learn why enthusiasts from all over the world travel here for the annual UFO Conference. (British movie comedy Paul features Rachel and the Little A’Le’Inn.)
Continue northwest towards the quirky town of Tonopah (two and a half hours) and check into Mizpah Hotel, a gem of western life that has been restored to its former glory after it was reopened in August 2011. Once the tallest building in the whole of Nevada, it houses 47 guestrooms, two restaurants, a casino, two saloons and possibly a number of ghosts, including the infamous call girl Lady in Red who met her demise on the fifth floor.
For a taste of true cowboy culture, head to the Tonopah Historic Mining Park and experience for yourself how it felt to work in a turn-of-the-century ore mine. The underground experience features a walk down a mine tunnel, and at the end of the adventure visitors are able to step into a steel viewing cage and look down the 500 feet deep stope. Tonopah also lays claim to the darkest night sky in the United States, so be sure to set your gaze skywards for signs of extraterrestrial life.
Head south on Highway 95 and you'll pass through some living ghost towns, such as Goldfield (about a 30 minute drive) which was once the largest city in Nevada. Continue on to Beatty (one and a half hours) and keep an eye out for signs to Rhyolite, located in the Bullfrog Hills, the most photographed ghost town in the West.
If you continue south on Highway 95, you’ll enter the town of Pahrump, with its casinos, fireworks stores and a high-end winery. Taste some of the local wines at the Pahrump Valley Winery with the option to dine at the winery’s celebrated Symphony’s Restaurant - more details in our Las Vegas to Death Valley Road Trip feature.
Virgin Atlantic operates flights to Las Vegas from London (Gatwick) and Manchester.
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About the author: MaxineMaxine Sheppard
Maxine is the editor of the Virgin Atlantic blog. Travel and music are her joint first loves, and despite having written for Virgin for more years than she cares to remember she still loves nothing more than jumping on a plane in search of new sights and new sounds.