Well, of course, we had to visit the U.F.O. Museum in Roswell. After all, we were staying for two days and the number of Sights To See in Alien watching over Roswell Roswell is not large. We had already sampled the impressive natural beauty of the surrounding area on our way into town, by stopping at the Bitter Lake National Wildlife Refuge, where snow geese and sandhill cranes are wintering. Even though it was the middle of the day, and the birds are supposed to be best seen in early morning or evening, we found plenty of them to admire as we drove the loop road through a collection of ponds and small lakes.
So that left the UFO museum. Roswell has one long -- very long -- main street, with motels, hardware stores and auto repair shops strung side by side for several miles. Just north of the county courthouse is the New Mexico Military Institute, where we saw uniformed students returning from their Sunday afternoon shopping and strolling time. The UFO museum is just a couple of blocks farther south, near the center of the older The long march commercial district of the city. A few souvenir stores and coffee shops attempt to capitalize on the theme -- Arby's advertises "Welcome, Aliens" -- but the entire neighborhood is rather staid.
The story of the Roswell Crash, as the museum terms it, dates from 1947, when ranchers in the area found pieces of metallic-like material and other mysterious objects. Stories of a strange crashed craft and little people seen near it quickly spread. The law, and almost immediately the Air Force, took over the investigation and suggested that the object might have been a weather balloon. The local inhabitants, however, were offended and alarmed by the efforts of the military to quiet speculation. Soon there were stories about witnesses disappearing or being threatened, reports of autopsies on the space aliens being performed behind locked doors at the military base, speculation about just what those Local rancher space creatures might have been doing here in New Mexico.
The UFO museum is an earnest effort to keep the issue alive. Visitors can read dozens (hundreds?) of letters, affadavits, newspaper clippings, and see photographs of the area. Lately additional searches of the "crash site" have been undertaken with metal-finding equipment. And to round out the subject, there are small exhibits on other mysteries: The Bermuda Triangle, crop circles, and Area 51 in Nevada.
After the UFO museum, we weren't expecting to be impressed by anything else Roswell might offer us, but then we visited one of the best small art museums we have seen in many months: The Roswell Museum and Art Center.
This museum was founded in the 1930s as part of the Works Progress Administration (WPA) arts projects, and it is one of only two such museums Godard's workshop still in business. An introductory video taught us that the WPA efforts in New Mexico were greatly aided by its talented director, who established the museum and made arrangements with many New Mexican artists for them to provide murals, frescoes, and other public art, some of which can be seen still today in schools, courthouses and post offices around the state. The Roswell museum contains a number of works purchased through the WPA project, and displays photos of more.
But this is only a part of the museum. One large wing contains historic objects like chaps and saddles, Spanish armor, costume, weapons, Native American beaded work -- this collection is apparently still being developed. The workshop of Robert Godard, an early rocket pioneer, has been reconstructed here, with information about his life and career (he came to New Mexico looking for more space to shoot his rockets, after his O'Keeffe masterpiece Massachusetts neighbors complained). A temporary exhibit in another gallery featured modern Korean ceramics.
The rest of the rooms contain an array of art from New Mexico, from the time of the museum's beginning in the 1930s. An amazing Georgia O'Keeffe skull and leaf painting is a major treasure, and one room features the light-filled western and portrait art of Peter Hurd, who has lived near Roswell for many years.
We were delighted and surprised at the energy and talent displayed in this museum effort. It is definitely worth a detour to Roswell.