"I wasn't sure what I had found, but I knew it was Nevada," says Jon Christensen, as he drives the so-called Extra-Terrestrial Highway in eastern Nevada. The road flanks Area 51, the top-secret military facility where scientists are rumored to be studying captured aliens.

Originally a series on Nevada Public Radio, Nevada Variations is a collection of 17 eight-and-a-half minute audio profiles from each of the state's counties. Christensen, a longtime HCN contributor and former Nevada resident, says he wants to portray the land beyond the cities as something besides a "great, black void."

With each story, Christensen touches on a larger issue for the Silver State and the West as a whole. He literally gets down to the bottom of Yucca Mountain, the slated burial ground for the nation's high-level nuclear waste. Christensen also explores historic mining towns that are reinventing themselves, visits the Burning Man Festival site in the Black Rock Desert, and meets the oldest-known living tree on the planet, the bristlecone pine.

The best segments introduce us to places we normally rush by, such as Rachel, Nev., where Christensen downs an "alien burger" while listening to locals' spacecraft stories. With every interesting local and landscape he encounters, Christensen shrinks "the void" for his listeners.

Listen to Nevada Variations on www.knpr.org/nevadavariations/list.cfm, or link to it from www.hcn.org/radio.