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Aliens Ate My Motorcycle: : Things to Do in New Mexico When You’re UFOing
You could say I’ve been in the “UFO scene” ever since my fourth grade teacher, Mrs. Madougle, read Truman Bethurum’s Aboard a Flying Saucer, a cult classic in 1950s “contact” literature, to us kids every day. It left one of those unforgettable memories that swirled around in my head.
Now here I was, years later, riding my motorcycle from Los Angeles to Roswell, New Mexico, a vortex of interest to UFO buffs, the site of an alleged crash of a flying saucer and its occupants in early July 1947. recovered, as the story goes. The Roswell mystery of mythic proportions remains a hotbed of controversy half a century later thanks to official cover-ups such as the “cover-up” and the Freedom of Information Act, which allowed researchers to uncover incriminating documents.
You could say that Roswell is the Plymouth Rock for UFO researchers, although most of us Spacemen aren’t crazy about UFOs. We’re a regular motorcycle-riding, freelance writer, graduate-level traveler who’d rather spend our time delving into paranormal mysteries than gift shopping at Disneyland. We have our very own Tomorrowland to explore, where the stakes are cosmic and sometimes comical. But this is the nature of the universe, a balance of wild and silly, weak and strong forces that glue all quanta together.
As I zipped up my armored jacket and put on my face-covering helmet, I was actually more concerned that the forces holding my 20-year-old German motorcycle together were overwhelming. First gear was popping and puffs of gray smoke from the left cylinder tailpipe meant ring work, but the trusty old BMW R100/7 had 150,000 miles on it, so a couple of thousand more in the face of light years of adventure lurking around the next hairpin curve.
To cut to the chase, let’s just chalk up the time between Los Angeles and my stopover in Santa Fe as down time, a lot of boring freeway pavement in which to get the mood together for the current project. Since I had a short amount of time for this adventure, I took a semi-direct route from LA first to Santa Fe, about 860 miles from LA, then to Roswell, about 200 miles south. If you want to skip Santa Fe altogether and drive the 970 miles from Los Angeles, you simply exit 1-10 East and continue for 674.90 miles, connecting to US-70E which becomes US-285 S. A left NM -2, another left on NM-2 and you’re there. Sure, you can stop and smell the cactus every now and then.
Without any mechanical issues or speeding tickets, me and my trusty Beemer arrived in Santa Fe, also known as the “City of the Holy Faith”. Founded in 1607 and boasting 200 art galleries and five museums, the city is sandstone, cogwheels and cacti dressed by three cultures: the Native Americans who got there first, the Spanish who arrived later, and finally the English who in as a result owned the place. My first impression was that the Santa Fe was designed by Barney Rabble thanks to the rounded, asymmetrical, hand-molded, ground-hugging look. Everything is reflected in the shades of the surrounding desert… the brown of the breccia, the gray of the geckos, the tan of the rockfish… an entire city muted to eco-friendly invisibility. What keeps it on the map are the intensely colored supernovas that burst through the clay-bite cloaking device. They can be seen in the historic Plaza area, particularly in the stalls located under the portico of the Palace of the Governors, where local Indians gather to sell their brilliantly polished silver jewelry and iridescent woven tapestries and clothing. Also, huge strings of dried red chilies hang everywhere, looking like mummified kelp forests. The shamanic mascots of Santa Fe, they cast a spicy spell because everything you order seems to come with chili salsa.
I heard a growl and it wasn’t coming from some secret US Air Force/alien underground facility, although one is believed to exist in the area. I was hungry, and something led me to the massive hand-carved wooden doors of the Inn of the Anasazi (113 Washington Ave., 505-988-3030). The inn’s 59 guest rooms feature gas-lit fireplaces, four-poster beds, Indian artwork, and even organic toiletries crafted locally with local cedar extract. Artists, historians and archaeologists chat by the fire in the hotel’s living room. Call it a microcosm of the best Sante Fe has to offer under one Vigas and Latino roof. The hotel was named after the Native American people who built a thriving culture on the nearby cliffs of Chaco Canyon and then suddenly disappeared without a trace six hundred years ago. Yes, the petroglyphs and cave paintings in the area do depict strange creatures wearing helmet-like headdresses. Alien UFO-nauts or bikers? Science didn’t have the answers, but the hotel’s excellent restaurant had… a signature lamb cooked by chef Randall Warder and complemented by a stellar wine list.
To burn off some of the calories, I signed up for a little tour that I learned about from the many brochures found at the hotel. (Brochures and looking in the local Yellow Pages are often my first scouting maneuvers when entering uncharted territory.) No tours to UFO landing sites, but I found something called “Aspook About Ghosts” Close enough that some researchers see a connection between ethereal and interdimensional warps and UFOs. What the heck, I needed a walk after a big lunch.
For a few dollars, tour organizers promised “a thrilling experience into Sante Fe’s hazy past…life (and death) among coyotes, witches, ghosts and the not-quite-dead.” Led by Santa Fe Ghost Guide Peter Sinclair (505-988-2774), my fellow ghost hunters and I met at the posh Eldorado Hotel at the intersection of San Francisco and Sandoval Streets for a two-hour exploration of Santa Fe’s haunted locations. It’s a great way to see Sante Fe, like Ghostbusters meets Travel Channel.
Santa Fe is also digging up the bones of the past, and so am I. But I like to look for UFO related things in fossil and mineral stores. You never know when a piece of the Roswell disaster is going to come out, do you? No saucer trash, but Charlie “Have Rocks Will Travel” Snell, located at 1110 Calle La Resolana, had a great deal on dinosaur eggshells.
Before spending all my money on eggs I couldn’t eat, I threw my pack back on my bike and pointed its headlights toward Roswell, about 175 miles south of Sante Fe. State Route 285 is the perfect location for a hijacking. There is virtually no traffic here, just scrub brush and wide open nothingness for hundreds of miles in every direction. It is better to ride it at night if you want a close encounter of the fourth species, but it is better to do it in daylight if you do not want to run into the pronghorn antelope that you see everywhere. Antelope and motorcycles don’t mix well.
I hit the throttle and got back to 285 and soon I was in the Roswell city limits. It was in the form of a giant trampoline with the face of the Gray Alien… big head, bigger eyes… plastered on the front of a monstrously large Wal-Mart department store. Something was whispering in my head that UFOs were commercialized. It was no big secret that Roswell was on the international map because of the 1947 incident and the city’s subsequent full acceptance of the idea. If there’s any place that deserves the title of “UFOville,” it’s Roswell. From Wal-Mart to Arby’s sandwich drive to the International UFO Museum and Research Institute, Roswell was 100% UFO hub. I liked the place at first sight.
I checked into the “cheap” Crane Motel, one of those places where you have to bring your own ice bucket. You can’t miss it. There is a strange assortment of old junk cars with flat tires growing roots in the ground, an old trick to convince people that the place has visitors. Or maybe the guests never left. One Plymouth had a faded “Vote for Nixon” sticker on its bumper. Anyway, I spent most of the next two days living in the Roswell International UFO Museum. You can easily spend a month if you are interested in this topic. Exhibits shed light on the Roswell crash or crashes, as other witnesses have come forward with information about another crash site about 58 miles from Roswell. You can watch a video made by the late Jim Ragsdale a few days before his death. He recounts the details of his encounter with a shattered disk that hit his pickup truck, in which he and his girlfriend at the time were “naked.” You can buy a copy of the tape or the book Judge for yourself, but damn convincing.
Dozens of other UFO-related books and videos are available, some of the more than 1,000 items housed in the museum’s gift shop, which in itself takes up an entire day. I bought an Alien New Mexico driver’s license which I think will get me into most bars in town. I also bought a Roswell commemorative rug and a museum membership. I spoke with the lovely Ms. Phyllis Blackard, one of the museum volunteers (admission is free!), who was in Roswell as a child when it all came down from the sky. “I was here when the military came in, and I know Glenn Dennis, the gravedigger, who saw the alien bodies. You can take his word for it.”
Located at 114 N. Main, the museum has had over 1,000,000 visitors. Exhibits follow the timeline of the July 1947 incident and its aftermath, display alleged fragments of an alien craft, and shed light on the crop circle mystery and other related topics. Documents and photographs line the walls, as do various artists’ drawings of UFO scenes. There’s even a section with UFO humor, cartoons, etc., and two video screening rooms where you can watch documentaries. You can also take a photo in front of the “alien dissection” scene, which boasts props from the movie “Roswell” starring Martin Sheen. The bulletin boards post the latest messages from around the world, and if you’d like to take a tour of the Roswell UFO crash site, you can call (505) 622-0628.
Although I wanted to stay in Roswell for the annual 4th of July celebration, UFO themed of course, I had to go back to Los Angeles and work. But I looked up from time to time, always responding to the ufologist’s mantra: “Watch the sky.”
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