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  • Nic Plume

Smokey Bear, Billy the Kid, and Aliens, Oh My!

Have you ever gone somewhere with a purpose in mind and when you got there you realized where you actually are?

On the surface, this question seems silly. After all, how can you go somewhere without realizing where you are going? Especially, full time RVing. I mean, while we used to be able to do spur-of-the-moment trips without a plan—which is how my cross-country trip to 20BooksVegas happened in 2019, but that’s another story—nowadays, we have to plan our route carefully and well in advance to get the type of campsites we prefer—affordable while still being of decent quality.

Before I go too far down purple bunny trails, let me tell you how Smokey Bear, Billy the Kid, and aliens are connected.

Our first year on the road had two major routing goals: to hit Colorado, since I love mountains but have never explored the Rockies, and to be back in Atlanta, GA, by Labor Day for DragonCon. Since we started our nomad life in Gulf Shores, AL, we decided to spend the rest of the winter along the gulf coast. We stayed a couple of weeks in Louisiana, a few days in Galveston, and a month north of Corpus Christi. Then we turned inland, spent a month in Kerrville, about an hour west of San Antonio, before turning north-west. On our way to Albuquerque, we stopped in Roswell, because…you know…ALIENS. Need I say more?

Our plan was to stay two weeks in Roswell; with both of us working during the week, staying two weeks gives us a full weekend to explore the area.

Well, Roswell was not what I expected. It was, but it wasn’t. I know that doesn’t make sense, but bare with me.

Roswell, NM, city border welcome sign
Welcome to Roswell, NM

What comes to your mind when you think Roswell, NM? Aliens, right? Me, too. I expected a small town that is milking an event that took place over half a century ago…and it is…plus so much more.

That part of NM is at the south end of the Rockies. On the map it looks like large mountain ranges surrounded by flat land, and that is exactly what it is. However, even though Roswell sits smack dab in the middle of a huge plain, it is still at 3,573 ft elevation. That’s 1089 m, for those who prefer the metric system. For a girl who grew up in the Rhine valley plains, at 60 m (196 ft) elevation that’s the height of a mountain.

But wait! That’s not all!

Alien in front of Dunkin’ and Baskin Robins in Roswell, NM
You want an alien with your donut and ice cream?

Roswell, NM, is also smack dab in the middle of a desert, with dusty wind, cacti, and sand burrs…and we had three dogs at the time…and the RV park we picked was a large gravel parking lot, mostly filled with permanent residents, and without any decent place to walk the dogs. There was a large field across the four lane highway the RV park was located on, and one on each side of us…but…you know…sand burrs. We tried a few times, but the only places we could walk the dogs without them picking up burrs by the dozens within minutes, was to stay on the gravel of the RV park.

We did find a nice paved walkway in town that was less than a mile away, but getting there involved packing the dogs into the Jeep and driving there. Doable, but with two German Shepherds and a Rhodesian Ridgeback, not very practical unless we turn it into a planned, two-man event.

So, when we arrived in Roswell, NM, on Saturday afternoon, our campground was a bust. No big deal, we can adjust and make do. There was only one reason we stopped in Roswell, after all…you know…ALIENS.

Roswell, we believe mural in Roswell, NM
Roswell, we believe mural

We set up Bevi (our RV) and took the dogs for a jaunt around our new, gravel lot home.

Since it was only afternoon, we decided to go into town to check out…you know…ALIENS.

We did, and were done with it by evening. I mean, we didn’t expect much, Roswell’s claim to fame is only aliens, right?

Oh boy were we wrong, but that first day we didn’t know, yet.

Don’t get me wrong, aliens are cool, and the aliens museum in Roswell far surpassed our expectations. It isn’t one of those hyped-up, forced-down-your-throat entertainment venues out to grab tourist money like you find in so many other places.

No, the International UFO Museum & Research Center is done well, even outstanding.

UFO shaped McDonalds in Roswell, NM
You want fries with your UFO?

It doesn’t try to feed you a story or hyperbole, but presents the facts of what happened and what people reported in an entertaining way, but allows you to make up your own mind. But the museum only took about three hours to go through and then, after another hour of walking around ‘downtown’ we were done.

The alien saucer shaped McDonalds can only hold your attention for so long.

The next day we decide to see what other surprises Roswell holds and we found a couple of interesting things.

POW Iron Cross inlay on side of Roswell, NM, river canal
Iron Cross in river canal

There was the iron cross (the one representing WWII and before Germany, not the one made out of metal) formed from fieldstone used by WW2 German POWs as they built the river canal flowing through Roswell. Robert Goddard’s first laboratory as he experimented with rocket propulsion. Plus, Bottomless Lakes State Park, whose lakes are fed from the 100 mile distant Capitan Mountains through natural underground aqueducts.

It all was interesting and surprising, but not to the point where it made up for the cons of our stay.

That night, as we were talking and picking sand-burrs off the dogs, pausing our conversation to let the semi trucks pass by on the highway a hundred yards away, we decided to find a new location.

We picked Riodoso, only about an hour and a half drive west and further up into the mountains. The map showed much more green there than where we were currently sitting. So, four days later, we packed up and moved again.

As we drove along US-70, we kept seeing historical markers. Pulling up our handy, dandy App for that, we realized that they were all connected to Billy the Kid—yes, that Billy the Kid.

Wild horses coming through the campground in Riodoso, NM
Campground Visitors

So, after we set up in the new place, surrounded by pine trees, with wild horses and deer wandering through the park—and not one sand burr in sight— we decided to do a bit of exploring and found Lincoln, New Mexico, where Billy the Kid started his path to infamy during the Lincoln County War. (For some reason I, C.Bit, thought he had started in Lincoln, Nebraska…oh well live-and-learn). As we followed Billy the Kid’s war path the following weekend, we found a little park that held the gravesite of Smokey Bear.

Holy Crap - Smokey Bear was a real bear??

Smokey Bear Historical Park sign in Capitan, NM
Smokey Bear Historical Park

Yes he was. The museum attached to the park explained that during a wildfire that devastated the Capitan Mountain range, Park Rangers rescued a wee little cub whose mother had been killed. The rangers, with the help from the Capitan community nursed it back to health and named it Smokey. Soon after that little cub became the famous Smokey the Bear and toured all over the US to teach people about wild fires.

“Only YOU can prevent forest fires.”

How cool is that?

Lincoln County, NM, Courthouse and jail Billy the Kid escaped from during the Lincoln county war
The jail that couldn’t hold Billy the Kid

Oh yeah, and Lincoln was pretty cool too. We have never seen that many historical markers that close together. The picture to the left shows the courthouse where Billy the Kid was held to be hanged and where he killed two deputies during his escape. Lincoln was amazing and full of history that we were unable to capture in picture. If you ever find yourself in the area, we highly recommend you check it out.

History lessons at its best; in person, at the locations the events took place. They’re even more fun when you come across them unexpected.

These were not the only surprises New Mexico had in store for us.

The next one happened on our drive to Albuquerque, our next stop. As I (Nic) was driving Bevi along US-380 west of Bingham, NM, I kept wondering what that white dome was in the distance on top of a mountain. It reminded me of an observatory or a military installation, but we were in the middle of the desert, over a hundred miles north of White Sands missile range. Then I saw a gated road turn south and on its far side was a pull off with another historical marker—have I mentioned that I love historical markers? On very short notice, I pulled over. It has been one of the few wheee moments I’ve had in Bevi, a 33 ft motorhome pulling a Jeep Wrangler. However, it was worth it, because the marker’s Title was: ‘Trinity Site,’ which started us on another adventure of being in a location without realizing where we actually are.

Trinity site historical marker along US-70
The mushroom cloud grew near here

But that’s another story for another post. This one is already long enough.

‘Til next time,

Nic & C.Bit

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