When I was living in Albuquerque, everyone warned me not to go to Roswell. They said it wasn't worth the drive, as it's not exactly easy to get to.
So I went. You don't go to St. Paul and not order walleye for every meal, you know?
Before we get into this, I want to say that I've always feared aliens a great deal. I don't go around wearing tin foil caps, so I've kept my thoughts on aliens crystal clear throughout my life, just in case they've been reading my mind all this time: I fear you, but I respect you, and please don't hurt me.
If you ask any visitor of the International UFO Museum in Roswell about their visit, they might tell you it looks like a middle school diorama at a science fair. Harsh, yes. Accurate? I'll say this: Don't listen to them if they haven't gone to the UFO Festival in late June/early July.
Small New Mexico towns are, unlike the undeniably delicious green chile, an acquired taste. If you don't like one, you might not like any of them. As far as the diorama folks, it's like the possibly fake Marilyn Monroe quote perpetually floating around the Internet: if you can't handle me at my worst you don't deserve me at my best, you know?
Roswell really sings during the festival. UFO fanatics have descended on the town and they're there to talk about a pretty specific set of topics. For example, the year I went, what the government did with the remnants of the "weather balloon" and the fact that the alien that survived the crash is alive and is being held at the Wright Patterson AFB in Ohio were two separate panels.
If you're into that sort of thing and you've taken the time off work, bought the plane ticket, and rented the car, you should make sure you're there during the festival.
If you're not into that sort of thing, and not willing to talk honestly with the believers, why go? Why spoil a good thing?
What I mean by that is this: when I went, my girlfriend bought a beautiful orb painting from a street vendor who said he'd been abducted numerous times throughout his life.
"You know how some people just seem to get more mosquito bites on a hot summer night than others? I guess the little green guys just like me," he said.
His paintings weren't based on fiction. To him, they were reflections of what he'd seen in his travels.
On another occasion, we stopped by a bookstore to talk to one of the authors from an earlier panel. That panel was about how aliens have always been around and how they've subtly helped human civilization advance in the way that it has. He didn't try to sell us a book. Once he saw that we were honestly curious about what he'd seen, lived through, and believed, he invited us to the back of the store to get into some real stuff.
He said that when he was a younger man working at the UFO Museum across the street, he'd seen two aliens walk in, surely to do research on what humans thought they knew about extra terrestrial beings. He said they were dressed like stereotypical cowboys, as if it fit in, and that there was a short one that did all the talking along with a tall one that didn't seem to be the brains of the operation. Kind of like a Mice and Men sort of thing. He said he was paralyzed somehow, not in control of his own body, and he let them in for free. He said once the ordeal was complete, after they'd read everything in the museum and left town, he turned to an older woman coworker who told him she felt the same odd, inexplicable feeling in the pair's presence.
Again, don't go if you're not willing to be a believer for a few days.
Don't ruin a good thing. If you're a diorama person, you don't deserve the green chile-themed dish and Alien Amber Ale (not the best New Mexican beer by a long shot, but when in Rome, etc.) as you sit in your hotel room mulling over the stories you've heard that day.
You don't deserve the county fair-style attractions to look at and music to enjoy during the weekend of the festival. You don't deserve the glow parade when the sun goes down.
You certainly don't deserve the wonderfully weird fear you have when you try to go to bed that night, certain that tonight's the night you're going to get abducted.
New Mexico is a special place, and Roswell may not crack its list of Top 5 things to do, but if you want to alien out for a few days, make sure you do it right. Check out the UFO Festival. And if you do, make sure you come in peace, you know?