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While traveling, I’ve been on a lot of wild goose chases. I’ve searched for Nessie in Scotland, tried to find Bigfoot in Washington, listened for ghosts at The Stanley Hotel and, more recently, visited Roswell, New Mexico to find enlightenment about extra terrestrial visitors on Earth.

 I didn’t expect much from Roswell, New Mexico. I was actually surprised there was even a town there, since most of the alien conspiracy TV shows use a lot of footage from farms and empty fields. Roswell is conveniently located between Albuquerque and Carlsbad Caverns, so it’s an easy stop if you enjoy quirky diversions. Most people have heard of the UFO cover-up theory that’s been circulating since the ’70s. In 1947, a mysterious object crashed near Corona, about 75 miles from Roswell. Officials claimed it was a weather balloon. Evidence of the crash seemingly disappeared shortly thereafter. It wasn’t a big deal until 20-something years later, when the story starting getting a lot more scrutiny. Since then, every crop circle, abduction story, UFO sighting, and suspicious government document about the 1947 crash has been collected and put on display in the UFO museum in Roswell. 

And what a museum it is! The giant room’s walls are covered with newspaper clippings, photos, eyewitness accounts and bits of evidence that attempt to prove that not only are we not alone in the universe, but that we’ve been getting visitors from parts unknown for thousands of years. Not only does the museum display a few items from the TV show Roswell, there’s also a life-size replica of the “Palenque Astronaut” sarcophagus lid that is connected with alien visitations to the Mayan culture, some life-sized alien figures and—of course—a gift shop that offers every type of otherworldly trinket imaginable. The museum was fine and dandy, but in the end I just wanted some “I’ve been there” alien photos to go with my Route 66 sign. That’s where Area 51 comes in.

Area 51 is an extraterrestrial photographer’s paradise. There’s at least a dozen life-sized sets where you can sit with aliens, drink with them, poke your head out of a flying saucer, or lie on a table like you’re getting a body probe, not to mention plenty of retro-futuristic gadgets and gizmos that look like  they came out of a 1960s science fiction movie. The store doesn’t take itself too seriously, and you’re guaranteed to get a few pics that will make your Facebook friends jealous. It only costs a couple of dollars. It was the most fun I had in Roswell.

Surprisingly, no one has cashed in on a science fiction–themed diner in a town that most people would consider to be the nucleus of all things “spacey.” The closest thing to a UFO-themed restaurant is one of the two McDonald’s in town. There’s a flying saucer sticking out of the roof of the playground and murals and 3D figures of the McDonald’s characters dressed in spacesuits orbiting cartoon planets. McDonald’s doesn’t claim that the moon is made of cheese… It’s made of cheeseburgers! 

If you drive down the main street at night, you’ll notice an alien glow along the avenue. Years ago, a Roswell artist noticed the street lamps were shaped a little like alien heads and also happened to be green, the accepted color of visitors from space. The city wasn’t interested in modifying the lamps, so one night the artist, his wife, and a few friends spent the evening adding eyes to them. The city decided to leave them as a nod to its history. They’ve been there since 2001. Several enterprising residents have built homemade flying saucers that can be found around town. Type in “alien” in Google maps, and you might find the world’s only alien-themed Coke machine.

The alien hype doesn’t stop there. There’s dozens of T-shirt shops, souvenir marts and murals scattered through the town. You’ll find alien statues at gas stations and in front of stores, plus entire buildings painted with pictures of saucers and colorful planets. The most famous mural is a larger-than-life 3D one just south of town on the east side of the highway. This giant artistic rendering features a flying saucer landing, with Roswell residents interacting with their intergalactic visitors. The most prominent green man looks horrified at the apple pie being offered to him by a woman from the town, while to the right, a man has handed a set of jumper cables to an interstellar guest to help him start his broken truck. John Cerney completed this masterpiece in 2013, and it welcomes guests to the “alien capital of the world” as well as making a great addition to the rest of your alien photos. Hop through the barbed wire fence to get to it. Everyone else does.

Will a stop in Roswell make you believe that there’s life on other planets? Even if it doesn’t, you’ll have a great time searching the skies for answers to questions that you probably never thought about. It’s less than 3 hours southeast of Albuquerque and about an hour north of Carlsbad.

 

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