Monday, 10 September 2012

Day 12 - The Truth is Out There

100% refrigerated air: because 98% just won't do.

I really did not want to emerge from the bed this morning. I'll say one thing for the Blue Swallow: their mattresses are amazing. Chatting to one of the owners, Kevin, this morning, we learned that they buy home mattresses as opposed to commercial hotel ones, and it makes all the difference.

They also - and this was a huge deal to me - have PG Tips (and also Twinings if you're not into builder tea). Even better, Kevin knew without being prompted that the hot water in the coffee maker is not suitable for tea, and went out back to boil a kettle, and even brought me real milk. After a week and a half of being deprived of tea, this was bliss. Massive gold star for the Blue Swallow.

That said, we both felt that there's a nostalgic fan culture about this place that's led to a bit of an Emperor's New Clothes situation. It has 5 stars on Tripadvisor and I've seen someone describe it as the best place they've ever stayed. Well. It is a Route 66 icon, and I certainly enjoyed staying there, and of course Kevin was lovely, but come on. It's nice that it has a quaint old-fashioned feel, but things have changed since this place opened in 1939. The rooms don't have microwaves or fridges (everywhere else we've stayed since leaving Chicago has had both), the air con is too loud to leave on overnight, the bathroom door requires brute force to close (and has no lock), there are no laundry facilities, no breakfast, there is excessive street noise (perhaps not double glazed? I didn't check), and the room we were in had a bit of an ant infestation. And we paid $80, which is at the upper end of our accommodation costs (excluding Chicago and LA). So, it's nice and I would absolutely stay there again, but don't be fooled by the Tripadvisor reviews into expecting luxury.

Since we couldn't get breakfast at the motel, we went to Kix on 66 in Tucumcari, which was amazing. I'm a hopeless devotee of American carb-laden breakfasts so I've sampled a lot of pancakes over the years, and I can honestly say that these were the best I've ever had. "Jessica's secret recipe," according to the menu, so I may need to find out who Jessica is and take her home.

We're back to brown signs as our friendly companions in New Mexico

We only had a short stint of Route 66 to cover today, between Tucumcari and Santa Rosa, New Mexico. That short drive turned out to be quite the adventure, as there are long stretches of this road that are unpaved. It mostly runs alongside the Interstate, but (as ever) we resisted the temptation to cheat. Had we cheated, we would have missed the excitement of our road of clay making a sudden turn into a very narrow and really rather creepy tunnel. Those Interstate travellers don't know what they're missing.

As we reached Santa Rosa, we turned left and headed south into the depths of New Mexico for our first of three detours from Route 66. I cannot begin to describe how huge and empty this place is. It seems to  go on forever with no sign of civilisation, and we barely saw another car for hours. If you were an alien looking for an unobtrusive place to land and investigate this new planet, this would be a good place to choose.

Ideal spaceship landing site.
Unless you're Captain Kirk, in which case your primary mission objective is to cause as much of a commotion as possible.

A couple of hours down this empty road, we came across a hitchhiker:

The hottest holiday destination in the Alpha Quadrant

We didn't really have a destination in mind, but figured if this "Roswell" place was good enough to travel from wherever this fella came from, it was good enough for us.

The first thing that becomes immediately apparent as you drive into Roswell is that this is a town with one claim to fame, and it's determined to build a tourist trade out of it. Even the McDonalds is shaped like a flying saucer - er, I mean weather balloon.

Clearly, the aliens were aiming for Route 66. Clever aliens know where all the cool kids are at.

The streetlamp is watching you

Apparently Roswell's immigrant population has gone into the moneylending business

What are the odds inflatable Kirks are for sale in a tacky tourist shop on some alien world?

We decided to investigate further, and the obvious place to start was the UFO Museum.

It's a "research center" which means it's all serious and scientific and stuff

The museum was actually quite cool. It's obviously very low budget and had the feel of a display set up in a school gym, mostly consisting of laminated pieces of paper attached to the display panels used for convention art shows. There is a lot to read: big blocks of text telling the story of the Roswell Incident as well as other UFO sightings and weird phenomena, newspaper cuttings, witness statements (admittedly some of these "witnesses" were along the lines of "many years later, my grandmother who was around Roswell at the time casually mentioned that something weird happened that week" but others were actually quite interesting).

We both liked the fact that they don't ram the conspiracy theory down your throat: they just put up all the details (including the official explanations) and allow the visitor to make up their own mind. We both left convinced that something had been covered up, but less convinced that the explanation was necessarily extraterrestrial. Still, it's a lot of fun to pretend.

To be fair, these guys just look like me after I've spent too long in Durham away from the sun.

As a break from all the reading in the museum, we ventured into the video room, which is a load of plastic chairs in front of a large TV playing a "documentary" about crop circles that looked to have been made on a cheap home camcorder in the 90s. The tone of it was so forceful (lots of hating on the "irresponsible media" who are "denying people the truth") and the explanations so ridiculous (unless aliens really do travel all this way to leave Christian propaganda) that after a while it stopped being funny and we left.

After the museum, we felt it was our duty to support local businesses by visiting the other tourist tat shops and buying unnecessary numbers of t-shirts. The staff in these shops were very nice but not terribly talkative.

Apparently they don't sell trousers 
Where else can you get artwork by an alien?

The proprietor of one of these establishments told us we had to experience something called the "Spacewalk." This sounded relevant to our interests, so we ventured around the corner towards what appeared on the outside to be just another purveyor of tourist tat.

Dammit, I just cleaned that pavement
I made a new friend! He looks scared.
As soon as we opened the door, we realised this place was Different. We were greeted by a man with pointed ears who gave us a Vulcan salute, said "Greetings, humans," and explained that he was minding the store while the humans were out.

It seemed like it would be rude not to take the Spacewalk after that, so in we went, having been assured that however many hours we spent in there, only a few minutes would have passed in New Mexico time. We entered through what appeared to be a curtain made of tin foil, and emerged inside a lava lamp.

Stargate got wormholes all wrong
Our tour of space included a psychedelic galaxy, depictions of the Roswell Incident, and several pieces of unidentified artwork.

I'm going with a circus on the planet Zog

Seriously, this place is worth the trip to Roswell by itself. By the time we emerged through the exit foil curtain, we were both crying with laughter.

Also, as a bonus, the Vulcan gave us some alien money so that if we're ever abducted we can buy our freedom. Win!

Sadly, we eventually had to say goodbye to our many new alien friends and head back up to Santa Rosa. Along the way, I started to notice black things scurrying across the road just in front of the car. We started watching out for them, and realised they were TARANTULAS. As in, actual massive, black, hairy, people-eating (possibly) TARANTULAS. At this point, we stopped getting out of the car to take pictures, because we are wusses who have a hard time with British house spiders, so the following was taken out of the window.

Sun sinking below New Mexico horizon, or explosion of crashed alien vessel? You decide.

We arrived safely and un-devoured-by-tarantulas at our hotel in Santa Rosa, ready for an evening of high glamour: we're at the halfway point of our trip (or thereabouts), and that means it's laundry time.

A night on the town in Santa Rosa, New Mexico. Don't wait up.

Rock 'n' roll, baby.


  1. Roswell looks fun and much as I imagined it to be, in terms of pandering to the tourists. I wonder how many visitors they get each year as it's quite off the beaten track. Sadly, though you went there from a sci-fi convention, I gather you didn't meet Paul. :)

    As for the tarantulas. Ugh - my skin crawled reading that!

    I haven't mentioned it before, but I'm loving the photo captions! :)

  2. Tarantulas ??? FREEKING TARANTULAS ???? *crosses Roswell off the bucket list* ;)

    1. LOL I thought about that last night when you were posting about the spider under your sofa! Glad Marlo has done his cat duty and disposed of it for you.

  3. I had a whole comment about tarantulas, but I wasn't logged in or whatever so it vanished, and I can't be bothered retyping it. But it was funny, I promise. ;)

    Loving reading this now I'm all caught up! It's really flying past, isn't it?