Roswell, New Mexico: Beyond the UFOs

by  Elissa Garay | Feb 19, 2015
Roswell, NM
Roswell, NM / ehrlif/iStock

Perhaps you're just passing through en route from Albuquerque to one of southern New Mexico's must-hit natural wonders (like the superlative Carlsbad Caverns). Or maybe you're caught up in the company of one of the many UFO hunters who descend upon this legendary little city in droves. But if little green men aren't tops on your own personal agenda for visiting Roswell, New Mexico, there's happily more to this city than just alien kitsch (though, thanks to the purported 1947 UFO crash here, there's plenty of that, too). Art and nature lovers will find diversions worthy enough to deem Roswell a destination in its own right, while some memorable local dining and night spots will get you up-close-and-personal with some down-home New Mexican hospitality and chile-infused cooking. Here's the scoop on what to see and do -- and where best to eat, drink, and sleep -- in Roswell.

What To See and Do
Two well-presented (and entirely free) local museums give a proper nod to New Mexico's intrinsic artistic spirit. Pop in first to the Roswell Museum and Art Center, founded in the 1930s as a Great Depression-era New Deal WPA project. The 50,000-square-foot facility spans a dozen galleries dedicated to art and history. Here, look for works by Southwestern artists like Georgia O'Keeffe, Henriette Wyeth, and Peter Hurd; assorted Native American, Spanish, and Anglo artifacts and artworks; and an engaging display on rocket technology pioneer and physicist Robert H. Goddard. Connected to the museum is the 120-seat Robert H. Goddard Planetarium, which opens for free public space shows on select weekends. Call ahead to 575-624-6744 for the schedule.

Follow it up with a visit to the Anderson Museum of Contemporary Art (free), which was born of the personal collection of founder Donald Anderson in the '90s and now encompasses a gorgeous exhibition space showcasing more than 400 photographs, paintings, prints, drawings, and sculptures, over nine galleries. The contemporary visual artworks on display are all contributed by the 200-plus former and current fellows from the nearly 50-year-old Roswell Artist-in-Residence program.

For nature lovers, 14 miles southeast of town, the lake-speckled landscape at Bottomless Lakes State Park ($5 per vehicle) proposes in-season opportunities for swimming, canoeing, fishing, picnicking, hiking, and bird-watching. The greenish-blue lakes here are lent their hues by aquatic plants -- and are technically sinkholes, reaching depths of up to 90 feet.

Another popular nature area is the Bitter Lake National Wildlife Refuge (free), nine miles northeast of Roswell. This wetlands preserve provides a protected habitat for an array of wildlife, most notably for wintering migratory birds -- there are more than 350 species that have been documented here -- as well as more than 100 kinds of dragonflies and damselflies.

Where To Eat and Drink
Again, there's more to Roswell after dark than searching for flying saucers. Stop by the Pecos Flavors Winery on Main Street, stocked with New Mexican wines, including the establishment's signature label, and beers from statewide crafters. Pull up a chair for a tasting at the century-old bar or peruse the shop for take-home bottles of beer and wine, plus a selection of New Mexican-made products and wine accessories. The tasting room also hosts special events and live music on Fridays.

Just a short wander out the back door will take you to The Liberty, a sophisticated members-only club and performance space. The venue, a converted auto repair shop that's now adorned its soaring ceilings with dangling chandeliers, opens its doors to the public for special concerts several times monthly -- upcoming performers include Leon Russell and the Reverend Horton Heat. Tip: If there's no show scheduled while you're in town, but you'd still like to pop in for drink, simply tell them that you'd like to inquire about membership; that'll get you access to their members-only weekday happy hours held 4-9 p.m.

Across the street, the wonderfully divey locals' haunt Billy Ray's is a must for some no-frills fun. The friendly, family-run operation is a great place to spark up conversations with locals. While husband Billy Ray mans the kitchen, ask wife Deb, who tends the bar, to tell you about the venue's history. It dates back more than a century, and the owners even claim to have the ghosts to prove it. The food here is well worth sticking around for, too -- don't miss the green chile-stuffed rib eye -- and they host live bands and karaoke on weekends.

Another top spot to refuel at is Main Street's Big D’s Downtown Dive, best known for their heaping burgers. Try the Tomohawk, slathered with cheddar cheese, red chile, lettuce, tomato, and avocado lime mayo, on Native American fry bread.

Where To Stay
Roswell's lodging scene is dominated by major chain hotels and motels. The best of the bunch is the 70-room, value-packed Hampton Inn & Suites Roswell with clean, modern guestrooms and facilities. Rooms start from $96 per night, are outfitted with comfy beds and cozy earth tones, and come with extras like free WiFi and in-room microwaves and coffeemakers. Guests also get access to an indoor heated pool, whirlpool, sauna, and fitness room. A daily hot breakfast is included, but the hotel will even give you an on-the-go breakfast bag if you're in a rush to hit the road.

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