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Tuesday, July 9, 2013

The Strange in a Stranger Land: UFOs and Aliens

I was playing the Google Doodle in honor of the 66th anniversary of Roswell's alleged UFO crash (in case you missed it click here) and got to thinking of all the weird places we've traveled over the years.

We've been through Roswell NM, and it seems to me the city got pretty lucky back in 1947; they couldn't have asked for a better marketing tool to draw tourists. Parts of southern New Mexico are pretty, mostly in a stark/flat/desert kind of way, and there's Carlsbad Caverns (which is very cool) but for the most part, there's only dry, dusty scrub as far as the eye can see. There's a military institute in Roswell, and of course they have the Walker Air Force base, but the main attraction these days seems to be UFO-themed museums, t-shirt and gift shops. The local KFC has an alien to greet you at the door, and even the street lamps are adorned with alien eyes. It's funny and actually pretty cool. But I must admit I'm not a believer in the whole visitors-from-another-universe sort of thing.

Roswell lamp post
Take me to your chicken: the Colonel has a bouncer in Roswell
Roswell converted it's theater to a museum.
One of the many gift shops in Roswell.

Highway 375 aka the Extraterrestrial Highway

If you're ever traveling through Nevada on the Extraterrestrial Highway (375)--it runs across Nevada roughly from southern Utah to Tonopah--you have to stop at the Little A-Le-Inn in Rachel. It's not a big town (I don't think it's even big enough to call a town, collection of mobile homes and shacks might sum it up better) but you'll know you're there when you spot the flying saucer dangling from the tow truck on the side of the road. Even better, after you take a couple pictures of that, go inside the bar/restaurant and have the most expensive crappy meal you'll ever enjoy.

How you know you've arrived at the Little A-Le-Inn Motel and Bar.
The place is filled with alien and UFO knick knacks--Rachel is located right on the edge of the infamous Area 51--and I dare you to leave the place without a souvenir. The back wall of the bar is completely covered with memorabilia and alien themed bumper stickers with a mix of political stickers for color. There is actually an "inn" here too; it's a collection of mobile homes that rent out by the half. That's right, you have the chance to share a mobile home with a complete stranger in the middle of the Nevada desert.

We just stopped in for lunch though and had a great time talking with the bartender, watching the locals come and go. We were allowed to sit in the "bar area" (as opposed to the "restaurant area" that was on the other side of the red line painted on the floor) since we were over 21. We ordered burgers and cokes and were promptly given a hard time for our choice of beverage (what? No beer?). For the two hours we were there, a deeply inebriated man at the end of the bar swayed on his barstool clutching one of those Big Gulp travel mugs. Every so often the bartender would discreetly pull it out of his grip and refill it with what looked like rum and coke. We stayed as long as we could, laying odds on when he would tumble off his stool, but he never did. Perhaps the work of an alien force field...

Bellying up to the bar: The Little A-Le-Inn

We've seen a few strange things camping in the desert. Once over the Anza Borrego horizon we saw lights that seemed too bright and steady to be a plane, seeming to travel too quickly and abruptly reverse directions to be human driven. There are a lot of military bases out there, so it was most likely one of theirs. Perhaps they're not required to have the regular red blinking lights that the commercial airplanes have. Or who knows, maybe we were seeing experimental drones--this was in the early 2000s after all.

Alien eggs? A wash near Seventeen Palms, Anza Borrego.

Oh, we learned something all right.

We've also met the most interesting characters out in the desert. The caretaker and lone resident of Ballarat outside of Death Valley comes to mind. If he didn't have alien blood in him, he was perhaps probed too deeply at some point; he told us some stories that might have made sense if we had polished off a couple bottles of tequila before talking to him. Maybe.

Charles Manson's truck. Really. (Ballarat, California)

It seems the conspiracies and visions of little green men always seem to originate somewhere in the desert. I think it's the sun; I don't think the human brain is meant to withstand years of the sun's rays boring in, slowly coddling it until the parts that sort out reason and sanity are irretrievably short circuited. But hey, maybe I've got it all wrong. Maybe there are aliens out there, whirring around in futuristic spacecraft. If so they're pretty wily: they're clever enough to only show themselves to the people you're least likely to believe.

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