The first thing you see of the Crescent Dunes Solar Energy Facility, and you can be miles away, is a light so bright you can’t look directly at it. This sits atop a 640-foot cement tower, rising from the flat, empty Nevada desert around the halfway point on the highway from Reno to Las Vegas. The tower’s surrounded by a nearly two-mile-wide field of mirrors that send shimmering beams of light into the sky.
Travelers sometimes ask whether they’ve driven past something extraterrestrial, said Darby, the bartender at the century-old Mizpah Hotel in Tonopah, a dusty former silver mining town 15 miles from the plant. Such questions are accepted at face value around here. Area 51, the classified facility where the conspiracy-minded believe the U.S. Air Force hides evidence of space aliens, is just another hour or so down the road.