The Continental Pt. 8: Strange Sightings and Otherworldly Observations
(This article is part of the 15-part series, The Continental, written by Christie Grotheim with photography by Niklas Andersson as the couple takes a six-week road trip across and around the United States in their 1979 Lincoln Continental. Click here to catch up on the full series.)
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Leaving Amarillo, we pushed on through the 110˚ heat, scanning the horizon in search of the edge of Texas, which was a long time coming. The landscape became flat; the gullies and gorges had been ironed out. Wild grasslands spread around us as far as the eye could see, divided by the road ahead, the only diversion the occasional spattering of cows. We began to see futuristic-looking windmills, their three pointy prongs slicing the prairie skies. We passed wild dust storms whirling like mini-tornados.
Toto, we’re not in Kansas anymore, I thought. We were some otherwhere.
We eventually came across an official ghost town, although along that stretch we’d already driven through dozens of unofficial ones. The restaurants were closed down and boarded up. The abandoned gas stations looked otherworldly, their curved pumps like rusting robots from another era. We were lucky to find one functioning gas station in some of these dried up watering holes. Hauntingly beautiful, buildings sat in varying states of disrepair. As we crossed into New Mexico, we saw more of the Indian and Mexican colonial influences, with the small adobe houses interspersed with brightly painted buildings. These sleepy, surreal towns seemed to be barely moving; we didn’t see another car—or another soul—for miles.
Leaving civilization behind, we headed further west, toward our next destination: Roswell, NM. The terrain continued to evolve, now into dry, rocky hills dotted with tumbleweed. The Cream Dream was no longer overheating or spewing out green fluid. She still had the occasional hiccup due to the heat and hills, but even so, we sputtered into town and headed straight to the UFO Museum and Research Center.
“Where y’all from?” The lady at the front desk asked us. “You drove here all the way from New York City for the annual alien convention and festival? Well, I’ll be damned, if that don’t take the cake!” Little did we know we arrived on the first day of a three-day festival and street fair to celebrate the 65th anniversary of the spacecraft and UFOs crashing into the desert.
What luck! A permanent exhibit was set up on the peripheral walls around the large room, divided by photography, handwritten accounts of sightings, government documentation and conspiracy theories, and oil paintings of the supernatural. Divider walls demarked panoramas of recreations of events: the Air Force control room, complete with a forties style stenograph and typewriter; a hospital room with an alien undergoing a procedure as documented by the nurse in attendance at the Base Hospital. She claimed to examine “several small non-human bodies” which she sketched on a napkin before being abruptly transferred to England.
Against the front center wall was a sort of stage with a plastic spaceship and its life-sized alien occupants spilling out. Suddenly, eerie music played and smoke began to blow out onto the set like a dreamy mist, bringing them to life. It reminded me of the gorilla band at Chucky Cheese.
Tables were set up around the middle of the room—and this might have been a special addition for the convention—where self-published authors sat selling their paperbacks. There was the specialist on the powers of the pyramid, the mystic selling crystals, and the crop circle guy lecturing to a small group that had gathered around, as well as astrologers and conspiracy theorists. According to their various T-shirts, all of them were “believers” in aliens, but according to their teeth, none of them had a strong belief in dentistry.
In the back I recognized a lady from Star Trek: The Next Generation, a crooked poster hanging behind her. An aging Denise Crosby, known to trekkies as Lt. Tasha Yar, sat behind a table full of autographed pictures. Though she has a long line of credits, including Pet Cemetery, LA Law, and 48 Hours, she had no line of customers. Sadly, she occupied herself by texting on her cell phone.
The gift shop and street fair were full of all things green: guitar picks, golf balls and sunglasses, all with large, white almond-shaped eyes. Alien murals covered brick buildings and plastic blowups billowed in front of gift shops. The locals, diverse and colorful, had come out in force. I’ve always liked Southwesterners’ style and temperaments: free flowing fabrics and free spirited in nature. Men in ten-gallon hats, skin leathered with wide smiles, and women wearing turquoise accessories in their long silver hair. They are friendly but proud, heads held high. We enjoyed the local flavor, quite literally, snacking on street food: sopapillas stuffed with meat and cheese and enchiladas with their famously spicy green chili sauce.
As we made our way down main street to look for a cheap motel, marquis beckoned: Our Cheap Rates Will Make a Believer Out of You; Best Rooms In The Galaxy; Deals That Are Out of This World. We checked into the Frontier Motel. Extra Terrestrials Welcome, it said.
The motel looked like it hadn’t been properly cleaned since the aliens landed and had an extra-terrestrial odor, so we chose to sit out by the cracked pool. The other inhabitants seemed to know each other and lingered in front of doorways, shifting about in seedy circles. The clientele seemed to have its own clientele, with low-rider trucks and jacked up cars pulling in and out all night long.
As we people-watched, we talked about the day’s many alien encounters, both the supernatural terrain we’d driven through and the characters we’d met at the convention. In normal circumstances, I would have summed them up as a bunch of whack-a-doodles, but that was hard to do while looking into the depths of a star-filled desert sky. As I sat in the cheap plastic pool chair with my very own Swedish-born legal alien by my side, I realized there was nowhere else in the universe I’d rather be.
“If it was true that a spaceship crashed here in 1947,” Niklas wondered aloud. “How did they end up in Roswell, of all places? It wasn’t the most happening town, based on our observations.”
“Perhaps,” he speculated. “Rather than some brainy alien scientists on an earthbound mission, they were just like us, regular Joes, on an intergalactic road trip who pulled off toward earth due to overheating or other mechanical issues.”
“You could be right,” I said. “And I’ll bet you anything it was a problem with the radiator.”
Niklas Andersson is a lighting designer and photographer from Gothenburg, Sweden, who has recently set his sights—and lights—on New York City. With a passion for ’79 Lincoln Continentals and a love of the open road, he offers a unique perspective, from both behind the wheel and behind the lens.
Christie Grotheim is a New York-based writer whose personal essays can be found at Ducts, Mr. Beller’s Neighborhood, and Smith Magazine. Though her workspace is in the West Village, she prefers writing longhand from the passenger seat with the world whizzing by and the wind in her hair.