Desolate Nevada 375 has been officially christened the Extraterrestrial Highway -- a nod by the state's transportation board to the area's reputation for otherworldly sightings, and a ploy to attract more terrestrial money-spending tourists.
Four highway signs proclaiming the new status will go up in the next couple of months. "Of course they're going to be both horizontal and vertical so extraterrestrials can see them as they land," chuckled Tom Tait, executive director of the Nevada Commission on Tourism.
Nevada Gov. Bob Miller, the chairman of the board that voted the new designation on Thursday, suggested that the signs be placed flat on the ground so that aliens can land on them.
Of more earthly concern, though, is making the signs big enough -- maybe 8 feet wide. "Otherwise, if they're small, we're worried they'll be stolen," said Tom Stephens, director of Nevada's Department of Transportation. "Wouldn't that be a nice decoration for your room if you were a teenager?"
The highway, 140 miles northeast of Las Vegas, is just outside the top-secret Air Force range known informally as Area 51. The blacktop runs through an isolated swath of desert that has long been a mecca for UFO seekers from around the world.
Visitors and locals alike tell stories of seeing spaceships with odd lights traveling at warp speeds. The fact that all these sightings are close to a secret installation where experimental aircraft are believed to be tested has only fueled rumors that the military is testing captured alien spaceships there. Not surprisingly, the government denies this.
But Nevada has never been shy about coming up with gimmicks to make a little money, and the campaign to publicize the desert as a potential spaceport for extraterrestrials -- and a destination for their earthbound friends -- has been bubbling along for awhile.
"Basically it's pretty harmless," said Jim Merlino, a member of the Pioneer Territory board. "Any stimulation those poor folks can get from anyone trying to come through, alien or otherwise, would be really welcome."
Traffic on the highway in 1994 amounted to a grand total of 53 cars a day, according to Stephens. But local officials hope a name change will do for Nevada 375 what the appellation Loneliest Highway in America did for U.S. 50. It made it a little less lonely -- and gave the state a chance to market "loneliest highway survival kits" and encourage people to stop at some points along the way.
The proprietors of the highway's only restaurant/bar/motel, the Little A'Le'Inn -- "Earthlings Welcome," says the sign on the door -- urged the officials to act. "Our little community has become internationally known," said Pat Travis, who along with her husband, Joe, serves up "alien burgers" and good-natured hype at the Little A'Le'Inn in the tiny town of Rachel.
Of course, most of the supporters of the name change have more belief in economics than in extraterrestrials.
"None of the board members I know of has any special knowledge of visitors from outer space," said Stephens. "Extraterrestrial means it can be something just flying above the earth. It could be meteors." The state, he notes, wanted to stay away from scientific pronouncements.
Original file name: .CNI - ET Hiway in Nevada 2.5
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