I spent 4th of July weekend in New Mexico, visiting several cities. The first of these cities was Roswell, known for the Roswell UFO incident, when a local found a crashed object at a ranch. Interest flared in this being an alien craft harboring extraterrestrials, but the unidentified flying object turned out to be a surveillance balloon used by the United States Air Force.
This was in 1947.
Nearly seven decades later, Roswell hangs onto this thoroughly debunked myth as a way to bring in money for the community. Roswell has no other tourist attractions; the alien theme is tied into the core identity of the town.
This is the logo of the Roswell Civic & Visitors Center. The tagline, “Visitors Welcome,” is so redundant and bland as to be inappropriate at a similar organization in another city, but it’s funny here.
Alien artwork dominates surfaces on Roswell’s one main road.
I loved this artist’s work so much! I’ve never seen tires transformed like this before.
Before lunch, I visited the International UFO Museum and Research Center. This blend of hysteria, sensationalism, pop culture, and historic artifacts makes this museum a fun campy experience, although, like all blatant pseudo-science, it’s hard to take seriously.
Lots of authors and speakers were in town for the Roswell UFO festival. You don’t have to believe in stereotypical little-green-or-gray-men-with-giant-eyes to have a good time here; the entire town embracing the theme and letting it take over makes for a truly festive and interactive experience with the fair, shopping, live music, and nighttime parade.
I went to one of the many talks given, coming away with the conclusion that this festival would be more interesting to conspiracy theorists than hardcore science fiction fans.
When I asked for food recommendations from hotel staff, I was given a list of preferred restaurants. All except one was (New) Mexican, so I went with one of those – Peppers Grill & Bar. It was also recommended by a festival volunteer.
The restaurant was packed, but I got a table after a very short wait, which I spent taking photos of alien-themed posters for local organizations.
When the standard tortilla chips and salsa came to the table, I knew I at a really good place – the chips were seasoned! The waitress couldn’t tell me what was on them but I’m guessing a blend of chili powder and paprika.
The menu was newspaper-style and included information about local attractions, including the excellent (and free!) Roswell Museum and Art Center (which had a wonderful collection of American southwest artwork as well as science and history exhibits).
Mexican cuisine isn’t known for its variety; it’s easy to predict the menu at any homestyle Mexican place because the food culture is pretty standardized. The fajitas platter and enchiladas and taco plate could have been found at any other good Mexican restaurant, but Peppers went above and beyond with the rice and beans. The tomato-forward rice was intensely flavorful and was cooked to a firm texture that made it easy to pick up with a fork and eat, and the earthy pinto beans were too rich to be ignored as filler the way Mexican beans often are.
I did see something I had never had before – Native American fry bread topped with beans, ground beef, green chile (I was given a choice between red or green), cheese, and sour cream. Fry bread as the carb base instead of a usual tortilla elevated the other ingredients, which were very well-prepared, because it’s more enjoyable to chew fry bread than tortillas, which can get gummy under the wet ingredients.
The portions were generous so I didn’t try a new place for dinner and just ate leftovers. After eating, I ended my day in Roswell by watching the UFO Festival Light Parade, which started at 9 pm – dark to make the lights stand out.
Before the parade began, the street was crowded with people enjoying festival vendors. Due to the heat, misting stations, which misted people with cool water, were available; I loved this one built by Builders Do it Center that made mist look like exhaust from a UFO.
The parade was short, but no one of the thousands who descended upon Roswell for this festival would consider checking it out an inconvenience because Roswell is so small. A wacky end to a wacky day.
Peppers Grill & Bar
500 N Main St., Roswell, NM 88201