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Roswell, New Mexico, is a fine city that boasts a small museum, a picturesque state park, a gorgeous wildlife refuge, and all kinds of shopping. Not that it mattered to the 15,000 or so people who visited last weekend. All they cared about were aliens.
It’s been that way since 1947, when a rancher named William Brazel stumbled upon some strange debris in the desert 30 miles north of town. The US Army Air Force declared it the wreckage of a flying saucer, but upon closer inspection said, no, wait, it’s a weather balloon.
Too late. The legend was born. For 70 years now, people have believed ET landed in this corner of southeastern New Mexico. That’s prompted no end of conspiracy theories and outlandish stories, not to mention a thriving business in UFO-themed gift shops, museums, and restaurants.
And, of course, the four-day UFO festival. True believers came from as far away as Vermont for last weekend’s 22nd annual extraterrestrial extravaganza, and WIRED sent Angie Smith to take it all in. “Everywhere you looked you saw neon green,” she says.
Alien aficionados roamed Main Street, gobbling delectable desserts called Martian turds, buying kitschy alien eggs and other mementoes, and generally getting more than a little out there. A woman decked out in glittery blue paint with pipe cleaner “antennae” in her hair told Smith she attended the festival to “lift everyone’s vibrations.”
The truly inquisitive listened to experts hold forth during panels addressing topics like “Are Aliens Demons? Evidences That Suggest ‘Yes’” and “Why Defending UFOs with the Bible is a Bad Idea.” Afterward they lined up for pictures with UFOlogists like Travis Walton, who claims he spent five days with aliens in 1975, an experience that inspired the 1993 film Fire in the Sky (call him weird, but more than half of all Americans believe in aliens).
You don’t have to believe in aliens to appreciate the playful, bizarre spirit of the event captured in Smith’s photos. “It’s fun and fascinating,” she says, “whether or not you believe in it.” Should aliens ever truly land in Roswell, they’ll have a lot to live up to.