I just spent a week driving around New Mexico, enjoying its varied sights, sounds and quirky history.
The Caves at Carlsbad Caverns:
Driving through the flatlands of the Chihuahuan Desert, just north of Mexico, I couldn’t imagine there were extensive caves nearby, but the Guadaloupe Mountains appear out of nowhere. We wound our way upwards to the visitor center for Carlsbad Caverns National Park. Exhibits explained the desert fauna and ecosystem, but the attraction here is the caves – over 300 of them. The big 3 are entered via the visitor center, where you can walk down to a cave aptly named The Big Room, 1.25 miles and 1500 feet down on a well lit, fairly flat pathway.
However, we took the easy route, an elevator ride, where we met Andy the Ranger, for a guided tour of the King’s Palace cave. Andy led us through some huge caverns, all well lit with wide paths and railings, never feeling claustrophobic. Andy explained the formation and discovery of the caves, how each chamber was named and the length of time it takes stalagmites to grow (an inch every hundred years). At one point, Andy instructed us to turn off all cell phones, keep quiet and sit still. He turned off the electric lights and we all tried to see our hands – an impossible task. Andy said he was always surprised at how far people would drive to see absolute nothingness, but that is how dark the caves are without light of any sort. To give you an idea of the size, this is Andy in shadow and some of the stalagmites:
Following the hour and a half tour, we opted out of another hike through another cave and returned to the town of Carlsbad.
As a Canadian, I am endlessly fascinated by how common guns are in the US and was bound and determined to see a gun show. New Mexico, an open carry state, had plenty of gun shops and seemingly hundreds of shows every weekend. We saw a sign for one and turned into a parking lot filled with pick-up trucks, all attending The Carlsbad Gun and Knives Show. I suspect I was the only foreign made car there.
Before we entered the main hall, we were confronted with a huge “Vote Republican” sign above a 20 foot long table. Lining the edge were photos of the Republican candidates for a variety of posts-congress, sheriff, judge, etc. I picked up a card that succinctly explained the party’s position:
There was no Democratic Party table.
Inside the gun show (admission $6 with in and out privileges) were more guns than I had ever seen in one place. There were little handguns ideal for the beginner, pink guns for ladies, semi-automatics for who knows what, rifles, and a lot of other gun related stuff that I know nothing about.
The people were talking in English, but I didn’t understand much of it- torque and ammo and RPM and loading speed. A large booth along the back sold ammunition for just about any kind of gun.
One vendor I spoke with was happy to sell me a gun and the ammo so long as my visa card approved the transaction. Another was less willing. She could only sell guns to people with in-state driver’s licenses unless I wanted a long gun (whatever that is), then I would need a driver’s license from any US state. No mention of age or background checks or criminal backgrounds, just a driver’s license. Tempted as I was to see how closely they would look at my Ontario driver’s license, I decided to pass on purchasing a gun. I didn’t think I could bring it back to Canada.
The Aliens: Roswell
In the summer of 1947, a local farmer saw a flash in the sky. A few days later, he passed by a large crater filled with tin-foil like matter and other odd pieces. The farmer picked up some of the debris and drove it to the Roswell air force base, where he left it with the military. Shortly thereafter, the military issued a press release, indicating that one of its weather balloons had crashed. End of story. Or was it?
In the 1970’s, ufologists (that really is a word that means the study of reports, visual records, physical evidence and other phenomena relating to unidentified flying objects) reviewed the Roswell reports, interviewed alleged eyewitnesses, was the subject of a probing National Inquirer report, all of whom concluded that it was not a weather balloon that fell near Roswell that night in 1947, but a spaceship carrying 3 aliens who died in the crash. They state the air force carried out secret autopsies on the aliens and classified the information relating to it and the flying saucer. Conspiracy theories abound about the Roswell sighting, with the latest claim being that neither a weather balloon nor a flying saucer crashed, but rather it was a nuclear monitoring device which the air force did not want the world to know about; hence the cover up.
Whichever version one chooses to believe, Roswell has embraced the alien culture. Every store on the main street (with the exception of the Scrapbooking store which I would have visited but it was closed on Sundays) pays homage to aliens. The toy store offers stuffed aliens, the ice cream shop has zombie sundaes, the art gallery displays portraits of the aliens.
The academically named International UFO Museum and Research Center contains news clippings, photos, military letters and sworn affidavits documenting the UFO sighting and autopsy, along with displays detailing the official government position. Whether one believes in UFO’s or not, credit must be given to the town of Roswell for exploiting public curiosity about UFO’s. The grand finale in the Museum says it all: