In July 1947, a flying saucer went skipping like a stone across the New Mexico desert. “Most people think the ship crashed in Roswell, but it only hit the ground before bouncing up and landing in Corona,” says Pat Jennings, ex-military UFO enthusiast and “Mercenary Genius Extraordinaire.”
Our route into town was opposite of the flight path, my wife and I barreling through the New Mexico desert at 65 miles per hour down US-285 from Clines Corners, a hiccup of a town.
It was my birthday weekend, and when my wife asked what I wanted to do, I just pulled out the itinerary I’d prepared and pointed to a map of Roswell.
It was like Mecca to a UFO freak like me, and I’d wanted to see it for myself since I was a kid.
“I know it’s just a little town with nothing to really do, but I bet I could get a funny article out of it. And Carlsbad Caverns is just down the road, so we could go check out some bats, too.” Secretly, I was hoping that I would somehow get to see a crashed UFO, or at least a dead Gray, but I decided to keep that to myself.
From two miles back, I could see the first landmark: a Super Walmart with “Welcome to Roswell” painted on the front window, surrounded in little green men.
I needed supplies before we dove in, so I stopped.
My initial human contact came in the form of a tooth-grinding redneck couple in the parking lot, skulls grinning through their skins. The man was marching purposefully to their car, somehow managing to keep from tripping over the hems of his ancient JNCOs (possibly the last remaining pair in existence). He ignored his girlfriend as she scratched at an elbow so sharp it could cut a man in two.
“Fuck that bitch. I already gave her ten dollars. She trippin’ on that bad bad.”
Pay no attention. Just go inside, buy your beer and souvenir shot glass and pray that the ETs never saw anything like this while they were compiling first impressions.
Of course, they probably had little time to check out the locals as their shipped clipped the Roswellian farmland, leaving chunks of itself steaming in a lonely field.
(Pat would later tell me that the only reason we know about the debris left in Roswell is because the Military was so busy with the actual wreckage up in Corona that they missed its first impact, giving the Press time to get wind before a cover-up).
Believers say most of the debris looked similar to tin foil and had “memory properties,” meaning it would automatically smooth itself out if you crumpled it up, and would repair itself instantly if you tore it apart. There were also supposed to have been metallic I-beams with strange alien hieroglyphs set into them. Some other stuff, too, probably.
And everybody knows that the Military took it all and locked it away someplace (probably Wright Patterson), where it was reverse engineered and put to work for America, giving us some of that sweet forbidden knowledge.
It’s where all our sexiest gadgets come from. Fiber optics, kevlar, cell phones.
But to really see the debris’ impact, you have to be creeping down Main Street with the windows down and the tejano up, your dog in the back seat, sniffing a six pack with a drunken alien on the label.
Everywhere you looked: the inescapable extraterrestrial influence. The world-famous flying saucer McDonald’s. Signs on every business bearing cute slogans like, “Aliens Welcome” or “Probing in Rear.” I nearly crashed into a telephone pole, laughing and pointing at a mailbox painted to look like R2D2.
The dog farted nervously and whined.
We found our motel, a slovenly charmer comfortably nestled between a quiet ER and a Whataburger. It’s one of about ten thousand motels along the eight mile stretch of Main. Lodging appears to be one of the main money-makers in town. That and postcards.
There’s also Covey’s Guns and Larry’s Discount Gun Shop on Main Street, two miles apart (Blount’s Firearms and Supplies and Colorado Shooters got the shit end of the stick, with locations up to a full block off of Main).
According to Wikipedia, one major manufacturer here is Leprino Foods, a company that boasts the title of the world’s largest mozzarella cheese producer. The Roswell Correctional Center is also nearby. And if the desert wind blowing in from the south is anything to judge by, there is a decent chance that cattle play a large part in something around here.
The smell was stifling, and we hurried into the front office, where a wisp of an elderly woman smiled behind an ancient computer. On the window sill, some local art was displayed: a few cute little sculptures of aliens made out of pipe cleaners and craft paint.
I gave the lady my name and while she looked up my reservation, I asked, “Where’s all the UFO stuff?”
I expected her to be sick of that question, but she smiled and handed me a tourist map with a legend. “All the good spots are marked on here. And definitely stop at the UFO Museum. It’s world-famous.”
My wife had been eyeballing the little window gallery. “Do you mind if I take a picture?” she asked.
I pictured a lonely housewife who had left her family behind to shave her head and join a UFO cult, but to be honest, I’d already had cults on the brain.
I’d been fantasizing of stumbling into a dark barn to piss, or something, where I’d find a whole slew of loonies in white robes and Nikes. They would invite me to observe their bizarre rituals, and I would even pretend to get converted (so I could get the story from the inside).
I’d been looking around street corners for trailing robes the whole way into town, and had been disappointed to find only cowboy boots and sweatpants.
So it goes.
After checking in and unpacking our stuff, we lock the dog in the room with an Orson Welles movie and head out to the main strip.
I studied the map we’d gotten. A glittery star sticker marked the motel’s location, as well as other “points of interest.” Chamber of Commerce. Roswell High School. The New Mexico Military Institute. No crash sites or secret Air Force bases to be found. In other words, useless.
Our first stop was the World-Famous International UFO Museum and Research Center. To get there, we walked down a bustling street, passed street lamps that looked like alien heads. From the corner of Main and 2nd Street, I could see four souvenir shops.
Every storefront sported its own little green man. Some had full-size dioramas. ETs playing poker. A plywood cut-out alien rock band, the Pleiadians, play in the display window of the Ginsberg Music Company. But most just had a cartoony alien painted on the front, wearing the appropriate attire for the business. Little green waitresses and chefs.
My view was suddenly obscured by a 90’s pickup, driven by a tatted-up vato blasting Eminem and trying his damnedest to look gangsta. I was attempting to formulate a “thug half-life” joke when the classy, old-fashioned theater marquee of the museum suddenly materialized next to me.
It was an iconic image that I had been familiar with for years, thanks to internet photo albums. A bright blue sign with “UFO” in huge letters, and a stylized flying saucer hovering over it.
Dennis gained a bit of notoriety after an interview appeared in a book, UFO Crash at Roswell by Kevin D. Randle and Donald R. Schmitt. He claimed to have known a nurse working RAAFB hospital who had told him that she’d been involved in the autopsy of three extraterrestrial bodies, recovered from the crash. Dennis’ story has changed a number of times over the years, and subsequently his claims have been disregarded by some, if not most believers.
His buddy Haut was the Public Information Officer at the Roswell base, and was the actual person who drafted the infamous press release stating that the Air Force had found a “flying disc.” He had originally denied being a party to the recovery of the saucer, but later claimed more involvement in the book Witness to Roswell: Unmasking the 60 Year Cover-Up, which featured a signed affidavit in which he told anyone who would listen that he had not only seen the debris, but bodies as well.
Not exactly the most trust-worthy witnesses, I know, but they sure do know how to put together a shindig.
At only three dollars a ticket, the museum was well worth the visit. Along the perimeter, partitions had been put up, separating different displays.
In the Roswell portion, there were blown-up reproductions of the original newspaper articles, audio recordings of the first news reports, facsimiles of the debris, and numerous witness accounts.
The crash only took up about an eighth of the exhibits. There were spots dedicated to different sightings, opposing theories, fan art, UFOs in Hollywood, and a homemade movie theater that was playing Fire in the Sky the whole time we were there.
But the pièce de résistance was a life-sized landing party of Gray aliens, complete with a big badass saucer.
I was studying the anatomically correct buttocks of one of the ETs when I overheard the sound of a little girl being sucked into a lifetime of obsession with alien abduction stories.
“Look, Dad. It’s almost exactly the same as the other one!”
“Well, look at that. I think you may be right.” I looked up to see the girl staring intently at a display of photos featuring supposed “cigar-shaped” UFOs, her brow knitting ferociously. Behind her head, father winked at mother and stifled a grin.
If she’s anything like I was at that age, she’ll spend the next few years reading about Bigfoot and Mothman, suffering the occasional bout of anxiety as she lays in bed, desperately worried that this will be the night the Grays come and take her.
We left the museum, and I stood on the sidewalk, thinking about her.
I started to realize that I had been chasing the wrong story, all along. Maybe there had never been a crash at Roswell. Maybe there was no real debris. It didn’t matter. The idea of the crash had left psychic debris that could still turn a six-year-old girl into an investigator, and could still make a grown man get excited about a trip to a backwater desert town.
It felt like I was on the brink of some incredibly significant concept. Some essential idea that could explain my entire life up to this point.
But then I spotted a trail of three-toed footprints leading off into a side street.
It was early in the evening, and I still had some little green men to catch.
Photos by J Rodriguez Grisham