The fourth stop on our 2008 summer road trip was Roswell, NM, the All American City. Now, without giving away too much of my own personal life history and to avoid total embarrassment, let’s just say that over the years I’ve developed a bit of a fascination with the idea of extraterrestrials, martians, aliens, or little green men. The appeal of these otherworldly beings and their omnipresence in my life has instilled in me an urge to visit the desert of New Mexico, to see the site where an actual alien aircraft supposedly crash-landed, to see how that crash still affects the folks living in Roswell sixty years later, and maybe if Fortuna would allow it, or as my Pa used to routinely declare, “If God says the same,” maybe Angela and I would camp out under the stars and witness our very own Roswellian unidentified flying object. New Mexico is tagged as the Land of Enchantment. Let’s see if it can live up to it’s name.
On the surface, Roswell appears to be relatively normal, or as normal as any other town along the highways of the Southwest – downtempo, largely unoccupied, rusted out around the edges. Then, crawling down Main Street you look more closely at the street lamp, adorned by two large slanted oval eyes, and you realize that Roswell, NM has found its niche – aliens. Aliens for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Aliens put this town on the map back in 1947 when the Roswell Army Air Field reported that it had recovered wreckage from a “flying disc”. This report was quickly re-worded from “flying disc” to “weather balloon”. The story was then forgotten about, swept under the rug for thirty years until military men started contradicting the original story, claiming government conspiracy. In 1980 The National Enquirer printed an interview that disputed the weather balloon account. This resurgence of information shed new light upon the Roswell Incident, and soon the whole world would know about the event. Meanwhile, Roswell started to print aliens on everything: storefronts, sidewalks, murals on the sides of buildings, and lamp posts. Alien heads even adorn the McDonalds playground equipment! Aliens are the cornerstone of Roswell’s tourism, evidenced by the re-worked city seal (left).
Our only planned stop in Roswell was the International Alien Museum and Research Facility. Upon entry we were greeted by a warm man with a British accent who charged us $5 each and directed us toward the beginning of the Roswell Incident Timeline. The museum, housed in one large room, consisted of dioramas, first hand accounts, photographs, and documents, all with shoddy matting hung up on grey wood-shop pegboards, as if it were someone’s weekend hobby. Actually, with all of these documents and artifacts sent in from around the world, you get the feeling that you’re perusing the weekend projects of several hundred people. It is most interesting that this space also functions as a research facility. Alien aficionados from all over the world looking to brush up on their knowledge of extraterrestrials visit the museum to research in its library.
This world map, one of the largest displays in the museum, was wired to tiny alien heads on the counter below. Eight displays were set up on the counter, each aligned with a tiny alien head and corresponding to a distinct series of UFO sightings. At touch, the tiny alien head sent a signal to the correct cluster of lights on the map, illuminating areas where people have reported witnessing UFOs.
The museum included an abundance of alien crash site dioramas. I enjoyed studying these tiny models, looking for the detail in each, and attempting to take macro photographs through the glass cases.
This X-Files display left me disenchanted and bent out of shape. This may be a leap, and I don’t know if this angle is even quantifiable, but I’m willing to bet that Chris Carter’s nearly decade-long television production, the X-Files, had a sizable amount of influence on the attraction of tourists to this museum. The sad little consolation corner with four posters hung fifteen feet in the air, peppered by a thermostat and wires, is not only impossible to experience, but it’s also very dismissive. Does the International Alien Museum and Research Facility shun the X-Files? Is there an official stance against the paranormal crime fighting duo of Scully and Mulder? Could it be that there is an ongoing conspiracy within the museum, a smokescreen of disinformation perpetuated by an underground group disguised as curators, whose soul purpose is to hide the truth by displaying layer upon layer of fabrication, and all for a $5 admission? In ernest, the International Alien Museum was an entertaining collection, but this X-Files presentation is laughable. Curators, if you’re reading this, please show a little respect to the show.
This Mayan sculpture is a replica of the mighty Palenque ruler Pakal. In 1949, the Mexican archaeologist Alberto Ruz unearthed this piece from below the Palenque Temple of Inscriptions. It served as the sarcophagus to Pakal’s tomb. Not everyone is convinced that this work pays homage to the ruler. Some, like Erich von Daniken and other proponents of ancient astronaut theories, or paleocontact, believe that the base-relief depicts an ancient space traveller and refer to it as “the astronaut”. Click the image on the right to reveal a detailed interpretation of the design and decide for yourself – is this simply Pakal or is it actually an ancient visitor from another world?
General Ramey Empties Roswell Saucer
Ramey Says Excitement is Not Justified
General Ramey Says Disk is Weather Balloon
Fort Worth, Texas, July 9 (AP) An examination by the army revealed last night that mysterious objects found on a lonely New Mexico ranch was a harmless high-altitude weather balloon – not a grounded flying disk.Excitement was high until Brig. Gen. Roger M. Ramey, commander of the Eighth air forces with headquarters here cleared up the mystery. The bundle of tinfoil, broken wood beams and rubber remnants of a balloon were sent here yesterday by army air transport in the wake of reports that it was a flying disk. But the general said the objects were the crushed remains of a ray wind target used to determine the direction and velocity of winds at high altitudes. Warrant Officer Irving Newton, forecaster at the army air forces weather station here said, “we use them because they go much higher than the eye can see.”
The weather balloon was found several days ago near the center of New Mexico by Rancher W. W. Brazel. He said he didn’t think much about it until he went into Corona, N. M., last Saturday and heard the flying disk reports. He returned to his ranch, 85 miles northwest of Roswell, and recovered the wreckage of the balloon, which he had placed under some brush. Then Brazel hurried back to Roswell, where he reported his find to the sheriff’s office.
The sheriff called the Roswell air field and Maj. Jesse A. Marcel, 509th bomb group intelligence officer was assigned to the case. Col. William H. Blanchard, commanding officer of the bomb group, reported the find to General Ramey and the object was flown immediately to the army air field here.
Ramey went on the air here last night to announce the New Mexico discovery was not a flying disk. Newton said that when rigged up, the instrument “looks like a six-pointed star, is silvery in appearance and rises in the air like a kite.”
In Roswell, the discovery set off a flurry of excitement. Sheriff George Wicox’s telephone lines were jammed. Three calls came from England, one of them from The London Daily Mail, he said. A public relations officer here said the balloon was in his office “and it’ll probably stay right there.”
Newton, who made the examination, said some 80 weather stations in the U. S. were using that type of balloon and that it could have come from any of them. He said he had sent up identical balloons during the invasion of Okinawa to determine ballistics information for heavy guns.
The highlight of the museum for me was the section on crop circles, not for the extensive research displayed on the pegboards, but for the little boy sitting in the middle of the exposition making notes in his book:
One of the
sines of a
a crop circle.
A crop circle
is a circle
– shape of a….
Then below that he scribbled what looked like a bail of hay on fire. I’m pretty sure it was supposed to be a crop circle. His entire family was walking around the museum. They came to check on him twice, but he was too busy to care.
We walked around town a bit after the museum – checked out the gift shops and bought some Mexican pastries. One of the gift shops, Zone II Alien Headquarters, had a very cheesy black light hallway filled with aliens in test tubes, aliens on dissecting tables with their guts hanging out, and other strange things that had no business under black light.
Our last bit of business in Roswell was to find an internet cafe so that we could upload our newest exploits to the Slices of America blog. We found a great spot in the Not of This World “Heavenly” Cafe. The shop was run by very nice people, the iced coffee was just what we needed to beat the 104° heat, and the internet was fast as the dickens.
That evening we drove about fifteen minutes east of Roswell to Bottomless Lakes State Park. There we secured a campsite near Lea Lake, which just like every other lake in the park, was not actually bottomless. The lakes get their name because of their ratio of width to depth, like very deep ponds. For instance, I probably could have swum from one end of Lea Lake to the other in less than ten minutes, yet it was 90 feet deep! We spent some time in the park education center, playing with all their neat gadgets and reading through the informative backlit displays.
The state flag of New Mexico (left) has appeared this way since 1920. Designed by physician and archeologist Dr. Harry Mera of Santa Fe and constructed by Dr. Mera’s wife Reba, it was the winner of a Daughters of the American Revolution contest. The red symbol, called a “Zia”, was found on a jar in Zia Pueblo in the 1800s and is believed to represent the sun. The colors were based on the predominant colors of Isabel of Castilla’s Spanish Conquistadors.
Click on the thumbnails below to read about the history of the park: area formation and geology, New Mexico state parks origins, prehistoric populations, endangered plants and animals, and even park myths, lore, and legend involving cowboys, mermaids, and monsters.
We drove to the end of the state park road to Lea Lake Recreational Area, picked a campsite nearest the lake, and set up for the night.
After setting up camp we enthusiastically made our way to the lake, solace from the 104° day. It only took one toe in the blue-green water to realize that this was not a respite from the New Mexico heat. Lea Lake was an icy pool of DEATH. How could the water be so cold on such a hot day and amidst a heat wave? Then we remembered the ranger mentioning that the lake was spring-fed and that it always stayed “cool”. I thought he meant “not a hot spring”, but he actually meant “cold”, too cold for comfort. Eventually, after maybe a half hour of squirming and squealing, we became fully aquatinted with the water and began to explore the bottom of the shallow end with goggles.
Each Labor Day weekend, the park hosts “Bottomless Bubblefest”. Visitors participate in beach volleyball, guided nature hikes, an “Enchanted Evening” of educational talks, and scuba divers from near and far take pleasure in activities such as underwater poker. Lea Lake is the site of the “Dive Poker Tournament”. The state park website describes the event:
Park rangers will toss two decks of weighted cards into Lea Lake, where divers will compete for the best hand as they collect the cards. No more than five cards can be held at a time, and divers may discard one of their cards in exchange for a new card. Prizes will be awarded on Sunday to the diver with the best hand.
Later that night we reclined into our camping chairs, whipped out a star chart, and surveyed the heavens. I was hoping to see more than constellations, maybe a shooting star, possibly a meteor shower, for all one knows a light moving in impossible zigs and zags, performing aerial acrobatics that could only be classified as “unidentifiable”. We didn’t see anything strange out at Lea Lake that night, but we did successfully identify the Ursa Major, Ursa Minor, Draco, and Scorpius constellations in a night sky clear of clouds and light pollution. And while the All American City didn’t bestow upon us some miraculous vision, Roswell still exemplifies a land of dreams, a place where anything can happen, the American Dream in a Land of Enchantment. Roswell, NM consists of a bizarre and unique social consciousness that sucks people into the desert. I’ve had strange dreams involving aliens, I’ve seen strange things in the sky, and I’ve seen all nine seasons of the X-Files. It looks like I have been abducted… by Roswell.