Area 51 Museum, Alien Zone
Roswell, New Mexico
For our limited attention span, the most satisfying attraction in Roswell is the Area 51 Museum at the Alien Zone cafe and gift shop. It was built in 1998 by Randy Reeves, a commercial artist and pastor of Roswell's Washington Avenue Baptist Church. "Families with kids were coming to town and they were bored with the UFO Museum," said Elsie Reeves, Randy's wife. "We decided we'd become like the Hollywood part, where they can become part of the story."
To that end, visitors to the Area 51 Museum are encouraged to pose for photos with dummy aliens in about twenty different life-size dioramas: a crashed saucer scene (you can crawl into the saucer), an alien in an upside-down room, an alien at a bar-b-que, in a jail, in an outhouse. Our favorite was the "alien autopsy" scene, complete with bloodied plastic meat cleavers that you can hold aloft.
In the early 2000s, Alien Zone opened a second store in Roswell with a new attraction: Hangar 84 (named for the place where Roswell's aliens were supposedly first hidden). That location closed in 2008, but Randy salvaged much of Hangar 84 and added it to Area 51, accessible through a small tunnel. It presents a much darker view of extraterrestrial relations, depicting a crew of aliens undergoing what appears to be Bush-era enhanced interrogation techniques. In one corner, a cage of what look like super-intelligent rats gnaw on alien bones.
However, Randy ends his museum on a cheerful note: a miniature "City of the Future" model, an elaborate nighttime sci-fi cityscape of Roswell-yet-to-come that glows with black light paint.
Elsie said that Randy enjoys making people happy, so he's always adding new things to the Alien Zone (he'd been installing aliens in the cafe when we visited). "There's room to keep going, so he'll just keep going."