My fellow Terror Dave, David Albaugh, celebrated his birthday just a week shy of our road trip. Since we’re rarely within nine hundred miles of each other during special occasions, I offered to treat him to dinner while we were on the road. My plan was to find something fun and unique; ideally in Roswell, New Mexico. Unfortunately, while the UFO capital of the world was chock full of gift shops they came up decisively short in terms of gimmicky food places. Not to worry because, as fate should have it, there was an alien themed restaurant right down the street from a hotel we were already booked at. And so, just two weeks after David’s special day, we’d celebrate at the E.T. Encounter Diner in Sedona!
Of all the National Parks we’d visit during the course of this trip, Saguaro was by far our favorite. Despite the image of immense cacti standing over a desolate expanse, the region is actually teeming with plants and animals perfectly adapted for its harsh conditions. It would also grant us a glimpse of one of our favorite creatures but, for the first time, in its own world instead of ours. And, as with the fulfillment of any quest, it began with a journey.
We arrived in Tucson on Friday June 10th and spent the earlier portion of the day visiting the Sonora Desert Museum. This accredited zoo highlights the region’s hidden wonders while supplying plenty of friendly volunteers and educational signage to help grant outsiders like us an appreciation for it. We intended to take full advantage of this and asked one of the docents what our chances were for finding wild tarantulas at Saguaro. He had just given us a private presentation on scorpions so it was the perfect segue.
There are few things we Daves love to see more during our travels than weird roadside attractions…and the goofier the better! For example, during this trip we got to see “The World’s Biggest Pistachio” near Alamogordo which was absolutely worth a pit stop.
A gargantuan nut, however, would pale in comparison to what we’d encounter just a couple of days later during our drive to Tucson. It actually started the night before when we hopped on Interstate 10 towards Deming and saw the first of many big yellow billboards advertising “THE THING?”
After a fun morning in Roswell, New Mexico we were back on the highway heading southwest towards Deming. What’s in Deming you ask? Not a whole lot, but we needed a place to crash before making the trek to Tucson where there’d be plenty. Today’s stretch was about three hours and if there’s one thing we’ve learned from previous road trips, it’s the importance of breaking up long drives with any interesting attractions we can find along the way. Unfortunately, those aren’t easy to come by in this mountainous region which is why we were very happy to discover something just an hour into the drive while also gaining new insights about America’s iconic messenger of forest fire prevention, Smokey Bear. Now for most of my life I’ve always referred to him as Smokey THE Bear but, after being admonished on numerous occasions by our friend April (whose father-in-law used to be the Director of New Hampshire’s Forest and Land), have since learned the error of my ways and no longer use the word “the” as Smokey’s middle name.
The International UFO Museum and Research Center is appropriately nestled on Roswell, New Mexico’s Main Street. Back in 1947 when the famous “Incident” occurred, the building served as a movie theater while likely going on to show many of the science fiction films its city would one day inspire. The museum opened in 1991 and not only features information on the Roswell Incident but the history of UFO sightings and alleged encounters worldwide. After spending the earlier portion of the morning perusing the local gift shops while taking full advantage of any and all goofy photo-ops, we were now ready for a more serious approach.
It was our fifth day on the road when we arrived in Roswell, New Mexico; the cosmic G-spot for all UFO enthusiasts as well as the inspiration for this entire trip in the first place. The three hour journey from Albuquerque was actually kinda bland as we’d leave picturesque mountains in favor of dull flatland. Fortunately we had decent conversation to help carry us through. We knew we’d finally reached our destination when we spotted a gas station (the first one we’d seen in about 75 miles) featuring a flying saucer on it. There were a few other not so subtle hints as well.
After our success at Aztec we headed down to Gallup, New Mexico and spent the night. The next morning we decided to skip the crappy, free hotel breakfast in favor of McDonald’s and a southwestern variant of their breakfast burrito with green chiles (I swear, everything down here had green chiles in it). We barely sipped our ice coffees before hopping on to I-40 towards Petrified Forest National Park. It was just over an hour from where we’d been staying but, as soon as we crossed the Arizona border, the clock gave us those sixty minutes right back courtesy of the Arizona Mountain Time Zone. In many ways it was like going back fifty years…