On the Goodnight Trail, on the Loving Trail,
Our old woman's lonesome tonight.
Your french harp blows, like a lone bawling calf
It's a wonder the wind, don't tear off your skin
And get in and blow out the light.
- Goodnight-Loving Trail, Utah Phillips
Roswell is at the intersection of a cattle trail and an alien spacecraft trajectory, both of which have been abandoned. The trail, because the days of the long cattle drives are over. The trajectory, because it ended with a crash. Now, the town is more properly described as sitting at the intersection of two highways still very much in use.
Highway 380 (Second Street) runs east-west and Highway 285 (Main Street) runs north-south, but not for long. Although they cross in downtown at cardinal directions, if you were to drive away along any one of these, careful to stay on what looks to be the main highway, you will find yourself in the State of Texas. This is due to a warping of geographical lines known as the 'all roads lead to Rome' rule of relativity; start north and you'll end up in Amarillo, to the east lies Lubbock, start west and find yourself in El Paso, and south is the town of Pecos.
A River Runs Through it
Three rivers converge at Roswell - the Pecos, the Spring and the Hondo. Only the Pecos generally has water in it (about one-tenth the amount that the Thames has on average); the other two have to wait for occasional floods to wet their banks. The Pecos, however, is a lovely river and it really is the reason that Roswell even exists. When the Goodnight-Loving Trail opened in 1866, it was no accident that there was a river nearby running the length of the trail as cattle need lots of water (about 30 to 100 gallons a day each, actually), and present-day Roswell was originally a campsite on that trail. In fact, you can still camp along the Pecos.
There's Lakes Too
Along the Pecos there is a state park at the Bottomless Lakes where you can swim, play, hike and camp - though not bottomless, or even topless. (There are probably rules against it, but as a more practical matter, you would quickly burn to a crisp under the desert sun). The lakes are interconnected sink-holes with currents strong enough to stymie early cowboys attempts to plumb the bottom with ropes. Scuba-divers have since solved the mystery, and it continues to be a popular diving-spot, as there aren't many others around.
In case it rains (which is unlikely given that only about ten inches falls in an entire year, and that all at once) wait until it's over and start hunting for 'Pecos Diamonds'. These are quartz crystals embedded in the gypsum deposits which wash away readily, exposing new 'diamonds' after each downpour.
A popular resort for migrating snow geese and sand hill cranes is the Bitter Lake. It's a wildlife refuge and permanent home to varieties of frogs, fish, quail and roadrunners some of which cannot be found anywhere else. If you go in the summer you will likely see lots of pecos sunflowers. (The sunflower is not the state flower of New Mexico, but it really ought to be only Kansas got there first).
Gusty Winds May Exist
Instead of an actual warning about a very real New Mexico hazard, this Zen-like conundrum is posed by numerous signs along the New Mexico highways instead. Douglas Adams was so enamoured of this little roadside poser that he made it a part of an unfinished Dirk Gently adventure included in the 'Salmon of Doubt'. Don't be fooled - Roswell is on a high plains desert with nothing in between it and Canada - the winds can be fierce. If you are coming from a wetter climate, you might be inclined to pack an umbrella. Don't. It's utterly useless here as it doesn't rain ever (and even if it does, you'll dry out quickly enough), it is more likely to attract lightning, which there's a lot of when it does rain, (though it never does) and finally, the winds will promptly turn it inside-out. Remember that line in the opening song at the top of this entry, 'It's a wonder the wind don't tear off your skin, and get in and blow out the light'? Did you think that was merely idle? Hah! Consider yourself properly warned and don't come around later with your hat and toupee gone where the tumbleweeds go, whining that we didn't tell you because you'll get no sympathy at all.
There Really Are Aliens
But you always knew that, didn't you? You're not alone. Here is where you can do serious research and have weighty discussions on the subject with other like-minded misf...scholars. There is a museum and research center that should be your first stop as it is for one million other people-per-year, more or less. ('Chinny Reckon' do you say? OK, more like one hundred thousand per year, twice the permanent terrestrial population of Roswell. Anyway, they can't all be wrong, can they? This alone should be proof enough that aliens exist.)
In case you were born under a rock and have no idea what we're talking about, in the summer of 1947 was the 'Roswell Incident' - so-called because something crashed on a ranch to the Northwest of the city. Many believe that it was an alien spaceship. While this remains speculative, it has resulted in a really terrific UFO festival held every year in Roswell. At the time of this writing (2007), the 60th anniversary of the incident is planned for 5 through 8 July. It has also resulted in the top-drawer 'Little Green Men' episode of Star Trek Deep Space Nine.
Other Things to Do In Case You're not so Keen on Aliens
As unlikely as it seems, there may be others travelling with you that just aren't interested in the whole alien thing. Here then are some other attractions to keep them busy:
The Spring River Zoo - A nice little park with miniature train, prairie dog town, and children's zoo.
The Roswell Art Museum - where you will find paintings by Henriette Wyeth and Peter Hurd. There is also a planetarium and permanent display of Rocket Pioneer Robert Goddard's workshop.
Cahoon Park - which is an older park with tall shady trees, a bike path, and public swimming pool. It is located in the historic district of town.
Pecans - If you are in Roswell in the very late fall or early to mid-winter, you should be able to find pecans just about anywhere you go in town. They drop from the trees with the first good frost and if the ground they hit is public (library, park, courthouse, etc) then they're fair game. (If the pecans fall on somebody's lawn, try knocking on the door and asking the owner if you can gather some - it's a small town so they'll know at once that you're from somewhere else and probably won't be put out.) The pecans in Roswell have a soft shell and so with two in your hand, you can always crack one of them open.
Drink the Water
Whatever you do, drink plenty of water. Have water with you at all times and don't ever not have water with you at any time. There, is that clear enough? Roswell is in a desert - the relative humidity is 20 to 40 percent on average, but actual conditions may be much drier. You will not sweat so much as sublimate your internal store of moisture. You will dry up like a doily and blow away without water. So do drink the water, it's really quite hard, but it's good for you.
But Don't Eat the Habañero
There are many restaurants in Roswell that serve New Mexican cuisine. Included in this fare you will typically find a bewildering variety of salsas all made with chile peppers of one kind or another. The quality of a restaurant is determined more by whether its chile peppers are locally grown and how the salsa is prepared than by its decor. So, if you are asking around for a good restaurant and someone says, 'Oh, try so-and-so's it's good' then you must follow with this question: 'How's their salsa?' Don't worry about what your person says, just look at them politely and start counting (not out loud): one-one-thousand, two-one-thousand... If they're still talking by the time you reach five-one-thousand, you've got a good recommendation. Once you're in the restaurant and have made your order, try not to look too stricken when the waitperson asks, 'You want red or green?' First of all, they are referring to red or green chile. Secondly, the question is largely ritualistic and there are a number of acceptable responses. Until you have gained some experience, the response that you want to give is either 'Which one is milder?', or 'Which one is hotter?' depending on your preference. The waitperson will conclude the ritual and your mates will be very much in awe of you.
Now then, about the habañero. (This section is about the habañero, remember?) If you are unaccustomed to spicy-hot food, then tread carefully. The hotness of peppers is measured in scoville units. Jalapeños are fairly safe for beginners and measure about 2,500 scoville units. The puniest habañeros typically measure 100 times this amount. They look innocent enough and taste great for the very briefest of instants, but they have been known to cause near-death experiences. Habañeros may not necessarily make you pass out, but you will definitely see aliens - and isn't that really why you came?