Roswell - The truth is out there

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March 24th 2016
Published: May 2nd 2016
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Steve is a big fan of American Football and is almost as big a fan of that Dallas Cowboys’ Cheerleaders’ programme that’s shown on TV at some obscure time of night, so we decided to do a little detour from Dallas to see the stadium in nearby Arlington. Apparently, the stadium is so big it could accommodate the Statue of Liberty with its retractable roof closed. I decided it would also be quite nice to take in the Arlington National Cemetery (what is this thing I’ve got with cemeteries?!) but that’s a different Arlington, apparently, over 1300 miles away. The day was chilly (only 54 degrees) but the skies were blue and the sun shone. As we set off, we were approached in the hotel car park by a well dressed man seeking a free handout and his story was so plausible I couldn’t decide if he was genuine or not. We needed cash ourselves so we couldn’t give him what we didn’t have anyway. We had a pleasant journey out to Arlington and we drove right into the huge, empty, stadium car park where we got out to have a look-see at the stadium itself, which was quite impressive, before setting off again. We were heading for Snyder. No? Me neither, but it was conveniently situated as an overnighter for our next main stop point. Our journey would take us out into a much more rural, less-populated, almost-desert part of the country and I was quite looking forward to it. Steve had a bit of a cold (probably caught when we got wet on our 20 second foray into the hurricane) and I hoped it wouldn’t develop. Good health and peak performance (probably last achieved 40 years ago now!) are really important when you’re travelling and I dreaded the thought that I would have to do more of the driving.

We initially used the I-30, then the I-20, and we were definitely moving out into cowboy country. We saw the Silverado Cowboy Church at Weatherford and passed Cisco, Abilene and Sweetwater and there were many ranches and longhorn cattle mingled in along with oil pumps. It seemed to me that if the land had oil then the ‘nodding-donkey’ oil pumps were the order of the day and, if it didn’t, well there’s always cattle. On the higher ground, mainly around Roscoe, wind-turbines took their place. We saw a roadrunner bird (beep, beep), running across the road (man, it was fast!) and a woodpecker at one of the rest stops but otherwise there wasn’t much wildlife to be seen.

We hadn’t got too far into our journey when a red warning light lit up on the dash. Great, hundreds of miles to do and a red warning light. We did the usual ‘turn it off and on again’ to see if it went away but no. We did consider putting some liquid in the radiator but we only had lemonade and some bottles of Bud and we didn’t think either of those would do it much good. Hmmm. We checked the car manual (yes, finally we looked at a car manual!) which told us to ‘seek immediate advice’ but we decided to carry on to Snyder anyway and hope the car didn’t break down en route. On a rural highway. In the desert.

In fact, the journey was really pleasant and even I enjoyed the driving. The highway was dotted with information markers telling any traveller who cared to stop about the history of the area. After about 300 miles we arrived in Snyder around 5 pm and called into the Walmart to replenish our pantry. One assistant (Brandon) was fascinated by our accents and virtually walked around the store with me, just chatting, and Joyce on the check-out till couldn’t understand what we were doing in Snyder! Nor could I, really, because it didn’t have much going for it. After a short drive around the town (I decided I did quite like the old buildings there, real pioneer style) we checked into Room 101 at the Executive Inn where the owners went out of their way to make us welcome in their basic, but clean and newly renovated accommodation. There seemed to be only about half a dozen other rooms being occupied, seemingly by long-stay workers (because, who would go to visit Snyder?!). Some of the reviews had mentioned the noise from the nearby train tracks. I could certainly hear the trains as I sat outside (not so much inside) and I liked the hoots and whistles, the sound of the wheels on the tracks, the steady constant motion. It was the sound of the American heartland and I loved it.

The next morning we topped up the car radiator (with water!), hoping that would solve the red warning light. It didn’t. We had decided it was too risky to continue so we rang the Dollar Car Rental helpline. ‘What does the warning light symbol look like?’ asked the friendly man on the other end of the phone. ‘A submarine’ said I. ‘Er, could it be an engine?’ asked the man. Well, I suppose it could, if you stretched your imagination, but to my mind it was a submarine. It was decided that the car should be exchanged asap and the nearest Dollar depot was at Midland Airport, ‘only’ about 100 miles away. Unfortunately, it was ‘only’ 100 miles in completely the wrong direction which would add considerably to our mileage for the day. Nevertheless, we set off for Midland Airport only slightly later than check-out time (our lovely hosts had told us to take as long as we needed to sort it out) and a ‘shortcut’ road was recommended to us. It was indeed a lovely shortcut road (the 350) and it was deserted. Normally, that would have been a good thing, but in a car that needed to be taken off the road as soon as possible, it was perhaps not ideal. We adopted the ‘it’s still working, we’ll deal with it if it breaks down’ attitude and tried to enjoy the journey anyway, which we did. And, indeed, the car got us safely to the Dollar depot where, despite the man-on-the-phone’s assurances that he would let them know we were going and why, they knew nothing about us. It didn’t matter in the end. The young lady behind the desk and the man in charge of moving the cars around sorted us out efficiently, understood our needs for a spacious ‘trunk’, had no idea what a ‘parcel shelf’ was until we pointed out that the first car they offered us didn’t have one, and we drove out of there 90 minutes later in a grey Toyota Corolla. We were both quite sad to leave the red car behind as we would have quite liked to take it on a coast-to-coast journey but it wasn’t to be.

Our journey out of Midland took us through the vast Texan oil fields, black gold beneath a flat and scrubby landscape. In Seminole we saw a wonderfully creative blacksmith displaying his wares, which ranged from small weathervanes to huge metal animals and it seemed the residents of the small town gave him their full support as evidence of his workmanship was scattered throughout the town and gardens. It was difficult to know where else he might get custom from as there was very little passing traffic – maybe the internet would serve him well. We also saw tumbleweed in Seminole – yes, it really does blow in large balls all across the roads and the fields. We crossed into the state of New Mexico just after Seminole. Our journey in the new car continued under blue, sunny skies on roads less travelled and it was a delight.

We arrived in Roswell much later than we had anticipated due to The Car Problem, and we found it a much bigger place than we had expected. Nevertheless, we were able to locate the Sally Port Best Western Inn with no problem. I didn’t get the ‘Sally Port’ bit and hoped we weren’t staying in some secure, fortified building but no, it was a normal hotel entrance. We checked into Room 150 which was described as ‘oversized’. I’d agree with that, it was enormous, but at the expense of the bathroom which was tiny. There was barely room to waft a towel in during our showers. What were they thinking? Nevertheless, as we were now both struggling with colds, it was a lovely place to feel under the weather in, after we’d got some extra blankets from Housekeeping, though I wished the person who rang our room at 1.30 am to try to make an international phone call had rung Reception instead. At one point the temperature dropped to -2 and the constant wind made it feel colder. One guy I chatted with said the weather conditions were unusual for Roswell, but not unheard of.

We’d gone out of our way to Roswell because Steve is a big sci-fi fan and this town offered elements of that, alien visitations and conspiracy theory - if it's good enough for Mulder and Scully it's good enough for us. While I’m not into sci-fi or aliens I do like a bit of conspiracy theory so I was happy enough. We spent a day trying to get healthy again and a trip across the road from the hotel took us to Walgreens, a nationwide Pharmacy ‘which ... specializes in serving prescriptions, health & wellness products, health information and photo services’ (Wikipedia). It did all that alongside selling alcohol which struck us as somewhat contradictory – ‘come to us and we’ll get you well enough to buy alcohol to pickle your liver’ (Me). We were also somewhat taken with the gun shop nearby which proudly advertised that it was even open on Sundays. This was almost in Bible-belt country! Don't mess with the congregation. God and guns .....

Roswell didn’t run to city bus tours so all our exploring was down to us. Apparently Roswell didn’t embrace the alien visitation on a grand scale until relatively recently and its fortunes have improved significantly since it did that, attracting increasing numbers of tourists to the area. I found this a bit surprising as they only really have one ‘museum’ for tourists to visit, though that was interesting enough with plenty of convincing material, and we spent quite some time there. The streets and shops had a real 50s feel to them, but many of them were empty and available for rent. The occasional ‘alien’ was strategically positioned on the main street but I could understand how some of the residents I talked to found the place ‘boring’. In fact, I found the most interesting things in Roswell weren’t alien-related at all. The New Mexico Military Institute was established in 1891 (under another name) and its castellated architecture seemed anomalous in its environment. The golf club behind our hotel was extremely popular and I woke one morning to a field of daisies, liberally sprinkled on the green grass, literally thousands of them. In fact, they were golf balls, some of which had come over the nets into the car park, presumably during the night. Thank goodness the car didn’t take a hit! There were lots of nearby wildlife areas to explore but, generally, the emphasis was on the aliens and not much else.

We explored the side-streets of Roswell by car as we were looking for a post office. Once off the very busy main street (I never did figure out where all the traffic was coming from or going to) there was a real small-town vibe. The visit to the post-office was our first attempt in America to post some things home but the guy behind the counter kept quoting us astronomical sums, despite our attempts to explain that sea/surface/snail mail was all we needed. We left still clutching our envelope of unposted memorabilia.

Overall impressions of Roswell? It makes the most of what it has but, for me, it was the journey to and from it that was the real star of the show.

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