Ask someone about Roswell, New Mexico, and they're likely to think of aliens, Area 51, and UFO encounters. Even the local McDonald’s looks like a flying saucer. But dig a little deeper and you’ll discover a community committed to its artistic and historical Americana roots. You’ll find Roswell in Chaves County in the southeastern corner of the state, about 3 hours from the state capital of Santa Fe. Roswell is a fun and relaxed destination with a diverse selection of local festivals and eateries, a variety of nearby wildlife areas, and a thriving local art community.
Sure, there’s more than alien attractions in Roswell. But you can’t—and shouldn’t—ignore the city’s sci-fi attractions and events. Taking place in July, Galacticon is a yearly summer convention that celebrates all things alien. A steampunk ball, costume contests, cosplay, art booths, workshops, and famous guests are just some of the usual events. Don’t miss out on Galacticon’s partner event, the Roswell SciFi Film Fest, which features international sci-fi films.
About 14 miles southeast of Roswell, the Bottomless Lakes are the featured attraction in the state park of the same name. These nine bodies of water aren’t lakes, but sinkholes, ranging in depths from 17 to 90 feet. According to local lore, visitors have tossed items in the sinkholes, only for them to reappear 97 miles away in Carlsbad Caverns or even as far as the Gulf of Mexico. Swimming is allowed in one of the sinkholes, Lake Lea. Camping, picnicking, kayaking, scuba diving, and hiking are popular activities here.
New Mexico’s nickname is “Land of Enchantment,” and its diverse haven for wildlife must be one of the reasons. A dry, desert environment of dunes surrounds a wetland refuge for birds, mammals, and reptiles. Fields of sunflowers, sandhill cranes in flight, and spectacular sunsets peering over the gleaming water habitats create many photo ops. In September, make your way to the annual Dragonfly Festival, a free, family-friendly celebration of the area’s 80 species of dragonflies.
Listed on the National Register of Places, the downtown district is 38 city blocks filled with a myriad of architectural styles. The district's buildings mirror the origins of the people who settled in the area in the mid-to-late 1800s. Stop by the Historical Center, a picturesque, prairie-style home filled with antiques from past decades. In the archives building to the north, you’ll find rare and historical books, thousands of photos, and other references to the city’s development and its significance to state history.
Whether you’re a foodie or just love to try new flavors, Roswell won’t disappoint you. Green chiles rule New Mexico cuisine; eateries serve them sliced, diced, or whole on everything, including cheeseburgers. Roswell’s Chef Toddzilla’s is famous for its gourmet burgers and features a popular chile relleno version. Many Roswell restaurants also serve up delicious and reasonably-priced breakfasts. Try Martin’s Capitol Cafe, a local favorite for the past 25 years, for some huevos rancheros or an egg and chorizo burrito to start your day off right.
Some travelers prefer to include cultural experiences that benefit the local community. Way Way Off-Broadway is a non-profit community theatre company in Roswell offering professional-level theatrical and musical productions. To support these productions, both individuals and organizations provide financial support through ticket sales and donations. The staff primarily consists of volunteers, and local actors fill the roles in each production. Past performances included Seussical: the Musical, Mary Poppins, Young Frankenstein, Mama Mia! and Chicago.
Since 2004, the owners of Pecos Flavors Winery have featured 80 different varieties of New Mexico wines. They’ve also grown Cabarente, Syrah, and Tempranillo grapes, and have also created their own signature vintage. An on-site shop offers coffees, green chile foods, and other New Mexican specialties to take home. Grab lunch or dinner at the winery’s bistro; their unique menu features shared cheese and appetizer plates, warm bread, soups, salads, sandwiches, and pasta dishes.
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Off-road adventure seekers will find thrills and more at Haystack Mountain, a 1900-plus acre area filled with novice-to-expert trails. The Bureau of Land Management oversees the area, and they recommend off-highway vehicles measuring 50-inches or smaller attempt the hill climbs, trails, gullies, and sand washes. The area is not only popular with motorcyclists and mountain bikers, but also those who enjoy wildlife viewing. Camping and picnic sites are available, and the area is open year-round.
The state of New Mexico is a mecca for artists from around the world. In Roswell, the Anderson Museum of Contemporary Art holds a collection of more than 500 photographs, paintings, drawings, sculptures, and prints inside its 12 galleries. Visitors are free to browse the 22,000 square feet of exhibition space. The museum highlights artwork from participants in the Roswell Artist-in-Residence Program. There’s no charge for admission.
No matter where you go in Roswell, you’ll see aliens. For those who are more serious--or curious--about the local alien connection, consider a two-hour tour of the 20 sites with links to the 1947 Roswell incident. You’ll see Hangar 84, where believers say the government stored aliens after the flying saucer crashed on a ranch near Roswell. Whether you buy into the city’s alien connection or not, the tour is a great way to learn more about the area from a knowledgeable local researcher and guide.