Day 4 – Roswell

At the moment, all I can see below this sentence is the white abyss of an empty page. Of course, by the time you read that sentence, and this one and the next one, the page will be full of happy paragraphs. I envy you.

After getting back from my road trip at the beginning of January, I began working as a full time freelance writer. The idea was to continue writing stories for a living, but with a more flexible lifestyle than can be found in a newsroom. The ultimate goal being to travel more, of course.

The gig is going better than I’d hoped. I’m writing consistently for six publications and pick up contract jobs for various websites and magazines. I’m insanely happy with my day to day work.

But I have commitment issues when it comes to personal projects, who doesn’t? I write multiple articles for work daily. Meanwhile, another day, another week and another month passes and I haven’t buckled down and constructed a new blog post. The longer I put off getting back to writing these, the more daunting it becomes.

But here I am. The Darth Vader mug is full of coffee, the Texas spring rain is coming down in giant droplets and the combination of the two offers a smell too perfect for writing to ignore.

Please, dear friends, allow me to finish this story. If I’m going to write for a living, I must also master dedicating time to my own, non-bill-paying work meant to entertain and inform people simply because it’s fun, and kind of magical.

Ok, let’s head back to New Mexico. In the words of my original enchanter, Stephen King, “Once again there was the desert, and that only.”

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Bottomless Lake State Park and the site where our tent was pitched all night. If you look closely, you’ll see that Garrick’s fingers are numb from the cold.

Sun rays began reaching up over the craggy landscape as we drove to the Bottomless Lake State Park visitor center. I changed my clothes in the center’s restroom, stooping under the hand dryer as I did so and turning my face directly into the blast of hot air. I crouched under the dryer as I brushed my hair, put on deodorant and laced my boots up, hitting the metal knob when it shut off every 15 seconds or so. As I reached up to turn it back on, I paused, listening to what sounded like an echo from the dryer. I realized Garrick was utilizing the same source of heat from the men’s bathroom on the other side of the wall. I smiled, because you know what they say about great minds – they’re worthless without coffee.

As we headed to Roswell, I began to notice a reeking porta-potty smell. I leaned forward as if I were looking for something under the passenger seat and sniffed at my feet. Nothing. I sat back up, took a few more breaths, and went back down to investigate my legs.

“What are you doin’ down there, hon?” Garrick asked.

“I think I peed on my shoes,” I said, recalling the lack of toilets anywhere near last night’s tent site. “Do you smell that?”

Garrick laughed and rolled down the window, allowing even more rank air to whip into the car.

“It’s the land,” he said. “Probably manure.”

When we got out of the car after parking in downtown Roswell, the smell was stronger. I might be a city child by birth, but I have smelled my share of cows, horses, pigs and chickens. I like farm air, it smells like hiking and weekend getaways. This was not normal farm air. It was sour and sharp all at once and left a thick texture in my lungs.

“Those cows have been tampered with,” I said. “Extraterrestrials. It’s the only explanation. EnCOWnters of the third kind.”

We swung into Stellar Coffee Company (nasty smells may quell the appetite, but more coffee fixes everything), where spaceship paintings, models and other star and alien art decorated the interior. We got our fuel to go and walked to the International UFO Museum and Research Center.

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The museum setup resembled a middle schooler’s science fair project, but in a delightful and coherent-enough way. Blocks of information typed on sheets of paper were tacked amidst photos, maps and trinkets filling up most of the wall. If you’re the kind of person who strides through a museum simultaneously looking and walking, stopping only to read those large summaries printed directly on the wall, it would take you 20 minutes to go through the museum, tops.

If you’re like me and need to read each square of information, peer at the items for mental digestion and sometimes backtrack to previous exhibits for another look because a new display just offered further insight, then you’ll need several hours to work your way through the UFO exhibits. I liked this summary of the Roswell incident:

“Once it became public, the event known as The Roswell Incident, the crash of an alleged flying saucer, the recovery of debris and bodies, and the ensuing coverup by the military were of such magnitude and so shrouded in mystery that 60 years later there are still more questions than answers.”

I think that sums up the museum experience, too. You immerse yourself in the mystery, and three hours later you have more questions than answers.

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A mural on the side of the International UFO Museum.

If you want a detailed account of the Roswell incident, check this page out. If not, here’s a brief summary of what happened, in my own words, a la “Drunk History,” though it’s 9:50 a.m. here and all I’m drinking is (regrettably) unspiked coffee.

In 1947 a rancher was checking on his sheep after a thunderstorm when he came across a trench and a lot of debris that seemed to be comprised of a thin metal later described as indestructible. The rancher had not seen any alien movies – probably because he was in the process of making the discovery that would launch the film trend – so he didn’t know that calling the government was a bad idea. After an investigation, military personnel blocked the site off to the public. A few days later, the local mortician was called by the base mortuary officer, who requested small, hermetically-sealed coffins and information on how to preserve bodies that have been exposed to the elements, as one does.

That evening, the local mortician drove to the base hospital, “where he saw large pieces of wreckage with strange engravings on one of the pieces sticking out of the back of a military ambulance. He entered the hospital and was visiting with a nurse he knew when suddenly he was threatened by military police and forced to leave. The next day, the mortician met with the nurse, who told him about bodies discovered with the wreckage and drew pictures of them on a prescription pad. Within a few days she was transferred to England; her whereabouts remain unknown.”

The military put out a press release that said the wreckage was only a fallen weather balloon and has been attempting to dismiss the entire episode ever since. However, the museum had more accounts and bizarre stories via letters and video interviews on display than I knew existed. You can’t read all the detailed interviews with witnesses and believe in a balloon.

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The exhibits walk you through the series of events surrounding the Roswell incident from the 1940s to present day. The opposite side of the museum delves into UFO sightings throughout history, the classification system for encounters of the first through fourth kinds and fun space concepts like black holes, comets and infinity. Nothing twists my brain and heart more than thinking about time and space.

The middle, wall-less areas of the museum display life size scenes that offer visitors a glimpse at what it’d be like to find a few large-foreheaded friends in the neighborhood cornfield. Every ten minutes or so, one of the displays blares suspenseful techno music with eerie tones and emits clouds of dry ice smoke. I liked this very much.

After poking around the research center, we left the museum and began strolling the stinky streets of downtown Roswell.

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“Hey Garrick?” I said. “Is it true there are buildings and bunkers and stuff under Fort Hood?”

“Yeah,” he said.

“What are those used for?” I asked.

“Training.”

“Are there any aliens down there?” I said, glancing at him in hopes of catching a telltale flinch. He laughed.

“You’re funny,” he said.

“You aren’t saying no!” I began bouncing with each step. “I bet there are and you’re just sworn to secrecy. Aw, you’re protecting me.”

“I’d want to tell you if I knew about anything like the Roswell incident,” Garrick said. “Which I do not.”

I stopped bouncing and we devised a plan. If Garrick ever witnesses any kind of extraterrestrial activity (Katy Perry videos not included) at work but the information is deemed classified, he’ll just come home and tell me our code word: Roswell. Bugging is far more advanced than it was in the late 1940s, now “they” put cameras in your computer and decorative oranges even if you’re not Russian, so you have to take extra precautions.

The merchants of Roswell have embraced the alien motif, and praise be to E.T. for that. Every storefront window adheres to the theme and the local McDonald’s is shaped like a spaceship. Even the lampposts have little eyes and resemble glowing heads peering down from above.

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Nothing captured the far-out vibes of Roswell quite like The Roswell Spacewalk. The black light art exhibit cost $2 per person and was trippy despite our sober state.

We stepped behind a thick black curtain and onto a Star Trek chic, metallic catwalk that led us past tiny, glow in the dark dioramas depicting the Roswell incident. The entire experience takes about five minutes and is 100% worth the $2. The stranger the better, that’s what Hozier and I always say.

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After the groovy Spacewalk, we meandered past all the alien, crystal and other new-age-esque shops and around functional buildings such as the courthouse and city hall. Soon it was afternoon and time to move on. We felt good about Roswell, well, as good as one can without knowing what really happened there in 1947. *Cue spooky spaceship music.

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We drove three hours northwest, marveling at the deep red color the New Mexico desert had become. Farther on the landscape turned hilly and almost alpine, and soon we were in the Sandia Mountains, base elevation 6,500 feet, top elevation 10,400 feet.

The end-point for the day was Turquoise Trail Campgrounds. We weren’t sure what the food situation around the park would be, so we stopped in Edgewood, a small town along Historic Route 66, for dinner.

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The Pizza Barn was not only farm/Native American/cowboys and aliens themed – it had incredible pizza. Though I would have many more pizzas throughout the trip ahead of me (we’re talking 10 or more, people) Pizza Barn would remain in my top three. The crust was crunchy, but not hard to tear off, while the toppings filled my mouth in a fluffy cloud of sauce and cheese. Paired with Alien Amber Ale, I was the happiest earthling south of the Karman line.

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It was dark when we reached the campground. We went crazy and paid an extra $10 for a cabin instead of a tent site. The park attendee sent us into the night with our keys and some shower tokens and told us to “come bang on the trailer” if we needed anything.

The cabin had four thin walls, a roof, a tiny window, a bed and a space heater. Reveling in our new found luxury, we quickly kicked off our boots and twisted open a jar of apple pie moonshine we’d picked up in downtown Carlsbad the day before.

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The inside of our warm (!!!) cabin.

We Facetimed the aforementioned Charlotte and her now-fiance Bobby (introduced by yours truly), cheersing from their flat in downtown Baltimore to our tiny cabin in the middle of the Sandia mountains.

We talked about weddings, buying houses, careers, leaving careers.

“I ate a quarter pound of jelly beans today,” Bobby offered, and I felt much better about our status as adults.

We said goodbye to our friends, and because the moonshine was empty, the moonlight was full and it was warm and dry inside, we fell asleep.

And there we have it, back to blogging. I told Garrick what I was writing about today and he said the word Roswell. Call me Scully Grace, because I want to believe. When he said Roswell again, I stared at him pointedly. He may have winked, but it’s hard to tell because he’s Asian.

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