Monday, July 30, 2012

Southwest trip day 7: White Sands—Roswell, NM

This morning I got up early to do some exploring in White Sands National Monument before the masses arrived. I got to the Visitor Center at 6:40am but it turned out the road through the dunes doesn’t open until 7am. I whiled away 20 minutes reading the various interpretive signs—not a bad way to learn about things.


White Sands Visitor Center—I love this style of architecture

When the gate finally opened, I was the 2nd person to enter the park. I passed the other guy, also a photographer, and ended up being the only human in the heart of the dunes. It was a surreal experience, being surrounded by nothing but square miles of white gypsum fields. It was so quiet, I heard the sound of my own heart.









As a succulent lover, I was particularly attracted to the soaptree yuccas (Yucca elata) which grow right in the gypsum. I have no idea if there is “real” soil underneath, but I tend to think that the gypsum layer goes quite a ways down.









I was also fascinated by the shade structures in the picnic areas. To me they look like alien sailboats, ready to glide across the hard-packed gypsum surface. Kudos to the National Park Service for installing something so imaginative instead of the boring structures you find elsewhere.







All too soon it was time to go. I joined my family at the motel in Alamogordo, the closest town, and we were on the road by 9:30am heading east toward Roswell. Yes, the Roswell. Wikipedia has a detailed write-up of the 1947 crash landing of an alien spacecraft and the subsequent cover-up by the U.S. government if you’re interested.

I’d been wanting to visit Roswell for as long as I can remember, imagining it to be a town full of craziness and kitsch. I was not disappointed. Roswell clearly has embraced its notoriety; UFOs and aliens feature prominently in signs advertising everything from eateries and motels to loan shops.







The only establishment we actually stopped to see in Roswell was the International UFO Museum and Research Center. It has a delightfully tacky mix of exhibits: newspaper clippings from 1947, affidavits from eye witnesses and historical photographs; original artwork featuring aliens and UFOs; photos of UFOs throughout the years; crop circles and animal mutilations; ancient astronauts. People with lots of time can even watch several full-length documentaries about the Roswell Incident and related topics. And let’s not forget the animatronic aliens—they were pretty creepy, actually.





And just before you wind up at the gift shop, you can take a close look at these three mannequins that were used in a TV exposé on the infamous alien autopsy.



I’m much too rational to be a believer, but at the same time too imaginative not to be. In other words, I find alien stories immensely fascinating and entertaining. In that respect, I’m glad we went to Roswell, but the town itself has nothing else to offer that would hold my interest for more than a couple of hours.

After Roswell, we had a long drive ahead of us to our final destination for the day. The scenery was much the same:



It looks like the middle of nowhere because it is. And there is an awful lot of nowhere in this part of New Mexico.

After three and half tiring hours we finally arrived in Espanola, a small town outside of Santa Fe where we will be staying for three nights while we explore Santa Fe, Taos and various Indian pueblos. To unwind, my wife and I treated ourselves to a very special beverage:


As you can see, aliens are everywhere in New Mexico!




  1. After a week it sounds like Team B is going strong. Gotta get me some of that Alien Amber Ale. Bill

    1. We finished our last Alien Amber Ale last night. Gotta look for something else. Saw a beer called Ziegen Bock in Alamgordo; maybe they sell it up here, too. Although I'm not much of a beer drinker, I like sampling local micro brews.

    2. P.S. I've been too chicken to try New Mexico wine but I should. But labels like "sweet red wine" scare me :-).

  2. Great, now the theme for the X-Files is playing in my head.

    1. There were lots of X-Files posters at the UFO Museum :-).

  3. Love some of the sand dune photos, and I had to laugh when you said you were particularly attracted to the yuccas, when I didn't really see any other signs of vegetation at all. :-)

    1. In addition to yuccas there is a type of grass that grows in the dunes. I think it's called Indian ricegrass. But the taller dunes are completely devoid of vegetation.

  4. "It looks like the middle of nowhere because it is. And there is an awful lot of nowhere in this part of New Mexico."

    That has to be one of the better descriptions of many parts of the desert that I've read... It's amazing how much "middle of nowhere" there really is. Thanks for sharing your vacation pictures!