On the Road: An out-of-this-world alien experience in Roswell
Express your inner alien in Roswell
Special to The Aspen Times
Short of going to Roswell’s annual UFO Festival in the summer, the only way to fully experience Roswell, New Mexico, in my humble opinion, is to go all out — far, far out. Walk the streets in your favorite alien outfit, take campy photos with the variety of wood carved, inflatable or gargantuan plastic alien statues lining the streets, read testimonials at the UFO museum, fully immerse yourself in the virtual reality of the 1947 alien landing and government coverup and top the trip off with a drive to the other-worldly White Sands National Park (plastic green saucer in hand, of course).
I spent Oct. 22-23 celebrating my birthday in Roswell and White Sands with both believers and nonbelievers. As “Ancient Alien” aficionados, my mom and I fall into the first camp, while my dad and husband balk at the idea of little green men. I admit, the theorists on the History Channel’s Ancient Aliens make ridiculously grand leaps with some gaping holes between their coverage of historical sites and their conclusions that aliens explain just about every strange phenomenon, including the Egyptian pyramids. But to think we’re the only game in the galaxy seems a little egocentric, so my mind tends more toward the curious, open end of the spectrum.
My husband refuses to watch the bunk, but he did humor me all weekend by dressing in a green onesie we picked up at a thrift store the weekend prior and donning the squid, or, as we like to think of it, alien hat, I bought in 2020, when we originally planned to go to Roswell for my birthday — until we discovered the state was closed to tourists due to COVID. My dad, a decorated Vietnam vet who lives in the more tangible world of building homes as a hobby and fixing just about anything mechanical, walked out of the International UFO Museum and Research Center thinking “something happened,” but his narrative revolves more around the military messing something up and creating a cover story, which morphed into stories about aliens and UFOs after military guys found themselves with little to entertain themselves after WWII, hence the outlandish alien stories.
Honestly, I thought for sure my dad and husband would become believers, or at least seriously entertain the possibility of aliens, after spending over an hour in the UFO Museum. I, personally, found it compelling: military men encountering technology they couldn’t explain, government agents threatening their lives if they claimed the Roswell crash was anything but a weather balloon — just the sheer volume of stories of sightings nationwide were enough to convince me that something very strange is going on. And, one walk through the adjoining research library filled with volumes upon volumes of books and reports added to the substantial evidence.
Despite all the heavy research and testimonials, Roswell doesn’t take itself too seriously, which is quite refreshing. Even the UFO Museum, filled with accounts of sightings and even abductions, has a staged UFO that, every so often, becomes animated with smoke and aliens that talk in their native tongue (uh, that is, if they have tongues).
An alien itinerary
The first stop to make on your Roswell adventure is The Roswell Visitor Center and Store, where your campy photos begin (or, maybe you just want to pick up a cool pair of alien glasses — the visitor center is your cheapest bet). This includes a seasonally themed photo stage (this time of year, picture yourself smiling under a “Believe” sign, among bales of hay, scarecrows and, of course, the always-present aliens, currently dressed in fall clothing), in which free printed photos pop out as the perfect souvenir.
The International UFO Museum and Research Center is an absolute must to fully acquaint yourself with the Roswell culture, as well as NASA data and research. There’s a hefty amount to read on the walls, but it’s worth it. Photos, movie posters, a variety of short videos and various alien scenes provide an alternative to reading documents, explanations and encounters, resulting in a fun, interactive, imaginative adventure.
On the short walk from the Roswell Visitor Center to the museum, take at least a few minutes to capture some creative photos or videos at the enormous wall mural of a UFO, bearing the hot pink headline: ROSEWELL …we believe.
Along the historic downtown strip, you’ll pass plenty of creatively decorated and painted storefront windows; if you’re a shutterbug like me, they’re all worth a snapshot. The alien-themed stores are fun, too; beyond the funny T-shirts and mugs, you’ll find everything from alien water-squirt guns to baby Yoda cookie jars and alien-themed dog leashes. Speaking of dogs, Roswell is an exceptionally dog-friendly town. Most stores allow the furry four-leggeds to sniff around for aliens.
Spaceport Roswell features one of the most memorable and exciting activities, in the form of virtual reality experiences. Our welcoming employee, dressed as a futuristic flight attendant, didn’t blink an eye at our costumes – all she wanted to know is if we had any flex capacitators in our carry-ons or luggage or any extraterrestrial goo, slime, mucus or glop on our persons (for these are prohibited) before showing us to our pod.
Once there, we adjusted our VR goggles and went on a wild, dizzying ride through the 1947 alien crash in our swiveling chairs. The adventure takes you face to face, body to body with aliens before their ship crashes and lands in the hands of probing military officials. This experience is truly a must-see, even if you don’t choose the alien adventure: Spaceport Roswell also offers Apollo 11 and other intergalactic adventures. One tip: Accept the complementary, disposable ear plugs when offered, because you never know if you’ll sit next to a pod like ours, with four people oohing, whewing and woahing as they go; you’ll want to be able to focus on your own virtual reality, and the ear plugs add to that ability.
Visitors can also purchase tickets to BrickTown, which features alien, pirate, moon landing, railroad, town and wonders of the world built from more than 250,000 toy bricks. Push a button and a portion lights up, while the World Buildings section tells you about each structure through a video, and if Ancient Alien theorists weighed in on the film, they’d probably say at least one of the Wonders of the World came about thanks to aliens.
Across the street, Roswell UFO Spacewalk and Gallery takes you through an artistic blacklight, family-friendly otherly world. Pets are allowed, and you can go through as many times as you want and take as many photos as you desire. Hint: Wear something like white that glows for the best photo ops.
If you’re into laser tag, check out the 15,000-square-foot Area 52 Tactical Laser Tag.
Beyond “the strip,” you’ll find more great photo ops. Dunkin’ Donuts boasts an enormous green alien, while, right next door, McDonald’s competes for attention with its own UFO-shaped fast-food restaurant, complete with streaming-colored lights and silver aliens (just in case you’re tired of the green variety). Further down the road, you’ll find a couple other photo ops, particularly ones attached to the Invasion Station store.
I found the people in Roswell to be very friendly and welcoming; at no time did I feel “out of place’ in costume. In fact, passersby and store owners seemed entertained. One 5- or 6-year-old boy yelled out the window, “alien!” as his parents drove past us; tourists wanted to take pictures with, or of, us (granted, one jokingly asked my husband if he had lost a bet) and people honked and waved (in a friendly way, I think) as the four of us (and two dogs), all dressed in alien garb, posed at the foot of the almighty Dunkin’ Donuts green being.
We capped our day with a relaxing visit to the Robert H. Goddard Planetarium’s full-dome digital theater; it’s a bargain at $5 (seniors, kids and military get a discount) for an approximately 45-minute film on various subjects. We immersed ourselves in Unveiling the Invisible Universe, which seemed fitting to the theme, with its depiction of x-rays, gamma rays, neutrinos, blackholes and cosmic rays.
The next day, we took the 2-hour 20-minute drive to White Sands National Park. This time, my dog and I dressed in a Yoda onesie, as the vast white sand dunes seemed to be the perfect Star Wars backdrop. Granted, I didn’t remain in costume the whole time; I didn’t want to get my oh-so-sexy pjs (ok, so I’ve only worn them as a costume — so far) full of sand when I sledded and skied (with vintage silver Volants, of course) down the hills. That particular day, the first snow of the season hit Colorado, and southern New Mexico was wickedly windy, so I didn’t get as much skiing, sledding or walking in as I wanted, though I did also manage to carve out a sand angel. My clothes prevented me from a full-body exfoliation, but my face definitely got pelted, and my hair felt like straw after the wind whipped through it. So, if you plan a visit, try to avoid a windy day.
A long, packed weekend will do to see Roswell and the national park. Located a little over a 10-hour drive from Aspen (or a short flight; just don’t crash), the town offers a whole different world in which to land, exercise your imagination and possibly find yourself transported.
Where: Roswell, New Mexico
When: June 30 to July 2, 2023 for the UFO Festival, or just anytime
More info: seeroswell.com or ufofestival.com