During Roswell’s annual UFO Festival in July, humans and pets parade through town after donning painted green faces or alien masks, wearing metallic jumpsuits, and pulling tots in wagons outfitted to look like flying saucers.
It’s all for a costume contest, which town residents like Anne Baker count among their favorite events of the year. Both the contest and the festival celebrate the 1947 Roswell Incident, when a UFO supposedly crashed in the desert near the southeastern New Mexico town—and cemented its ongoing status as a UFO capital. Although official UFO-ologists lend authority to this event and the town’s International UFO Museum and Research Center, Roswell residents are open to both serious and playful extraterrestrial fandom as they drive down boulevards with alien-shaped lamp posts and order Big Macs from a UFO-themed McDonald’s. “Aliens sum up a little bit of Roswell,” Baker says. “But there’s a lot more to it.”
The entrepreneur behind Stellar Coffee Co., aka the town’s living room, moved to Roswell in 2011. Growing up, Baker followed her Air Force dad to posts in the eastern U.S. “When I moved to Roswell, it hadn’t had a renaissance,” she says. “It’s come a long way.”
Baker’s own investment downtown has been part of the town’s redevelopment. She purchased a former JCPenney department store building dating to the 1890s. The building still features its original pressed-tin ceilings, hardwood floors, and leaded-glass windows. In addition to Stellar Coffee, the building houses a gift shop and Moonrock Outfitters, a bike repair shop that offers community bike rides.
The next block over, Pecos Flavors Winery owners (who also have a bistro a few blocks away) launched The Liberty in another renovated historic building, which books live music from national and regional touring acts en route to bigger cities. “They bring in music groups you wouldn’t normally be able to see. It’s made my life here so fun,” Baker says. A few downtown destinations have also gotten second lives — including a historic service station that’s now the Roswell Visitor Center, the HiQ Venue housed within another landmark historic service station and Bone Springs Art Space in the historic railroad district.
On her days off, however, you’re unlikely to find Baker downtown. Instead, she heads outdoors. She runs the trails and takes her paddleboard out at Bottomless Lakes State Park, home to nine deep lakes along the Pecos River Valley. Established in 1938, it was New Mexico’s first state park. Its sinkholes range from 17 to 90 feet deep, attracting scuba divers who descend into the glistening turquoise waters.
Baker also loves the hiking trails around Bitter Lake National Wildlife Refuge, where the salty and freshwater wetlands are home to unusual wildlife, including one of the most diverse populations of dragonflies and damselflies in North America. The trails through Salt Creek Wilderness, a more than 9,000-acre area that the refuge manages, provide access to remote sinkholes in the Pecos River Valley and more solitude.
Beyond these rare and unmatched attractions, Roswell’s can-do spirit is one of the best aspects of the place, Baker says. “It’s really welcoming and friendly,” she says. “If you have an entrepreneurial spirit, you can make your way here.”