17 Things I Saw in Roswell

Just finished a trip to Roswell, NM, and I know there’s nothing more interesting than vacation pictures from the desert.

So, here they are:

1 – Alien-Themed Stuff


It starts well outside of town, so as you’re driving through endless southwest desert (and trying not to pee in the car) you begin to notice a theme…



2 – Unintentionally Funny Signs


If you can trust your stuff with Billy the Kid, then who can you trust?


Someone call Mulder and Scully–we saw a Blockbuster sign.

I couldn’t (from the road) see a big dome made from Ramen, but that image will live on in my dreams.


3 – A Newspaper about a UFO


I think this is gonna be a big story.


4 – Those UFOs under my eyes.


Dear goodness, someone call a bellhop to help me check these bags.


5 – A Spot Where the Enola Gay Once Parked



6 – Emilie de Ravin Making Out


Okay, that might be something I remember from the show. It’s hard to keep it all straight. Who knows?


7 – Aleins. Everywhere.




8 – Aliens Who Have Given up on Life



9 – Emilie de Ravin Moving Stuff with her Mindtumblr_ok1scvvlow1rerzc4o1_400Full disclosure: This also could be something I remember from the TV show.


10 – UFO Research

The UFO museum is a fun slice of Americana, but take a look around back and you’ll find a serious research library with every document a UFO researcher could need.



11 – The Iron Cross of Germany Embedded in a Creek


Interesting story. Some German POWs were kept in Roswell during WWII, because it’s the middle of a desert and there’s no where to run. They built lots of stuff before being returned to Germany after the war…but these prisoners found that their homeland was not in good shape (for obvious reasons) and came back, sometimes with their families, to live in the New Mexico desert.

There’s also a lot of German culture in Texas (where I’m from), and most of it predates WWII. It’s a part of southwestern culture most people don’t know about.


12 – This Donut Shop with a Happy Alien Landing


Yes, I prefer the Donut spelling. “Doughnut” takes longer to type and life is short.


13 – A Magical Mountain Community


Less than 90 minutes from the dry, empty desert of Roswell is a lush mountain community called Ruidoso, where it’s cool in the summer and often rains. (When we first got to Roswell, the temperature was 113 degrees. Ruidoso was in the 60s.) There is endless shopping and excellent coffee, so we felt like hobbits stumbling into Bombadil’s house.

It’s surreal to see such different climates right next to each other, with almost no transition between the two. You’re in the desert, then you blink and it’s the rain forest.


This dog stood in the doorway of a candle shop. He stared and panted expectantly until we drew near, and then he retreated into the store. We followed him in and he ran to the back to join his owner at the register, apparently proud of bringing in some potential customers. I told you, it’s a magic village. The dogs work the shops.


14 – The local TV station and the Live and Amplified Show

Live and Amplified is a podcast run mostly out of Roswell, and since my wife’s a songwriter they asked us to play a few songs for them. I didn’t expect a podcast to have such a technically impressive setup, but these guys really know what they’re doing.


(The episode isn’t out yet. I’ll let you know.)


15 – The Abandoned Air Force Hangar Where (I’m Told) they Kept the Alien Bodies



16 – Emilie de Ravin was there Posing as Air Force Personnel


This one I’m pretty sure happened for real.


17 – A…Protest Horse?


This horse is covered in newspaper articles in an effort to combat the official Roswell UFO story. I don’t understand any part of that sentence I just wrote, but apparently there was once a tradition of doing this sort of thing in the Southwest. This country is so huge that lots of American culture seems foreign to me.


Just a weather balloon? Naaayyyy!

The Little People I Discovered in Chattanooga, Tennessee

On my last trip, the wife and I visited Tennessee and everyone told me I was tall. Even though I’ve been getting that comment all of my life, It happened a lot more often during this trip.  Maybe in Texas people are expected to be huge, I don’t know, but I felt like a sideshow attraction. Being a frustrated writer, I had to come up with a more fun explanation.

So, allow me to show you our trip and also let you in on a little secret I learned.


We stayed in a Victorian era train car that had been converted into a hotel room. It’s smaller than it looks, and I banged my head on many things. The water from the showerhead hit me square in the belly. Washing my face wasn’t easy.

We went to Ruby Falls, which is a huge, underground waterfall. It’s very neat. For some reason, every Baby Boomer in our tour group felt like they needed to photograph every square inch of the place with their phones and tablets. Sure, their generation likes to complain about “those darned kids and their cell phones,” but they were the ones holding us up at every turn.

But, more importantly, the caverns leading to the waterfall aren’t very tall.

 Along the way, we were told that the first people to find Ruby Falls traveled through these tiny passages. It’s hard to tell from this picture, but that passage is a foot tall at best. Really–someone crawled through that? Something didn’t seem right.
Then we visited Rock City, a wonderful trail through huge rocks, up high in a mountain. I pretended to be Indiana Jones. As usual.
It’s a beautiful place. Gnomes, eh? Hmmmm…
Visiting that place is sort of like walking through Middle-Earth.
With ridiculously tiny paths.
Who can fit in there?
Fat Man Squeeze. That’s funny. Also, if you’re tall you can’t get through unless you crouch low while walking sideways. Try it sometime. Not as easy as it sounds.
Ooh, Fairyland Caverns! That sounds like a good place to take kids!
Mildly creepy…
Gnomes are watching you sleep! Ok. That’s, uh…hmm…
Gnome hipsters.
Probably inventing Pabst.
Always watching.

While walking through this collection of strange scenes I finally understood all that I had seen.

The creepy menagerie of gnomes that is totally not fit for kids. The tiny walkways and impossibly small tunnels. The way everyone treated my meager 6’6″ like a band of lilliputians surrounding Gulliver.

There was only one explanation: the town was built by gnomes that have learned to live as humans.

I was not walking through a roadside attraction, but a museum detailing the fantastic legacy of these people.

It was obvious to me that the locals were still adjusting to being normal sized. But how did these gnomes grow into human-sized people? I wasn’t sure  until I found this provocative box in the lobby of a hotel that explained everything…

 “I wish I was big…”


Comic-Con 2012! (Dallas)

I’ve always wanted to go to a nerd convention, and I got my wish this year.  How could I resist seeing Patrick Stewart and John De Lancie?  And it’s worth the small price of admission just to see the amazing costumes.  I never thought I would care about costumes, but when they are done well it’s hard not to stand in awe of them.

But that’s not all – at Comic-Con I didn’t feel strange or different.  I actually felt like I blended into the crowd and could not be considered “that weird guy” by anyone around me.  Normally, my social clumsiness  and fondness for unusual things (“Hey, that reminds of the original ‘Dune’ movie, you know the part where…you guys have seen that, right?”) I end up being an outsider, but not at Comic-Con.  Not even close.  I went with my mother and my wife, and we all had a blast.

The line was outrageous, and those of us who had tickets in advance (which usually is not necessary) were very thankful.  It took some people four hours to get inside.


The Black Widow was a popular costume, this year, but this lady had the best one.
Believe it, or not, this guy was really nice.  I’m not sure how he could see.  There a lot of these costumes, too, but only one that was really great.


This 6’5″ Jawa was my favorite costume.  He regretted that one of the eye-bulbs had stopped working, but I thought it looked cool.  I don’t think my picture does it justice, but I was reduced to using a camera phone in bad lighting so this is what I am stuck with.


And that’s Adam West stepping out of the bathroom.  Some days you just can’t get rid of a bomb.


Yeah, that’s me, Picard, and Q.  (I’m well aware that they have real names.)  My mother and I were on cloud nine.  Or warp nine.  Or something.  Also, Patrick Stewart is 71, but he’s in such good shape that I felt embarrassed to stand near him.  Q is one of my favorite TV characters of all time, and it was neat to stand next to him.
And my wife got Sir Patrick Stewart to sign a copy of Shakespeare’s complete works.  He turned out to be a very charming and nice fellow, despite his celebrity.  Everyone should be as cool as him.

Pictures of Texas – Finding Billy the Kid

I visited some central Texas areas, not too long ago, and go to see a lot of my favorite state on the long drive.  Believe it or not, the Texas countryside is largely unmolested by modernity and its beauty rivals that of any place I’ve been.  (I thought that the Italian countryside that I saw last year was slightly more beautiful, but while driving through Texas I decided that I had been wrong.)  On the way back home we got to check out some infamous Texas lore – the resting place of Billy the Kid.  (Maybe.)

In town’s like Hico (which are near the Dr Pepper bottling plant) they have ‘Dublin Dr Pepper’ on tap.  On.  Tap.  This was at Dairy Queen.  I think the town should adopt the motto, “Visit Hico, Tx.  Come for Billy the Kid – stay for the Dr Pepper!”  Of course, some of you are scratching your head and wondering what a Dublin Dr Pepper is.  I’m sorry to tell you that you’re missing out.  It’s made with cane sugar, but there’s something else special about their mix that I can’t figure out.  Other places have used cane sugar in recent years to make my favorite soda, but the results are not the same.



This sign was in the bathroom of a Cracker Barrel.  It made me laugh.
William Henry Roberts claimed that he was Billy the Kid, and he had been living under a false name in Hico (sometimes calling himself “Brushy Bill) ever since faking his death.  No one is sure if he was telling the truth, but he knew a lot of details about the life of Billy the Kid that were not published and not easily accessed.  His grave is well kept by the city and looks very new.



And, for some reason, people put pennies on his tombstone.  I don’t know why.  And someone puts flowers out, too.  Perhaps it’s like the Poe Toaster, but since it’s a small town no one ever sees him.  I’m sure if he every rises from the grave (zombie Billy the Kid…now that’s a good idea) he’ll use the pennies to by a Dublin Dr Pepper and will say, “If someone had invented this drink in my day I wouldn’t have killed so many people.”  Alas.
According to Wikipedia, this is the real grave of Billy the Kid (it’s located in New Mexico).  More than one source claims he faked his death, so we’re going to call it the “official” grave so that we can keep things interesting.  And what does Wikipedia know, anyway?
Equally amusing was this nearby tombstone which was obviously set up by a religious fanatic who is certain that their father has gone to Hell.  (Or, it’s the grave of the guy who first started saying, “dadburnit.”  My Texas History contacts haven’t returned my calls.)

Discovering the Abbey of Grottaferrata

In January I presented a paper at a local medievalist’s conference about St. Nilus and the monastery he founded in Grottaferrata. (The paper has been “published” online by the conference and can be read here.) The best part about my recent trip to Italy was that I got to visit this amazing abbey.

It is not exactly a typical tourist spot. To get there you first stop at the beautiful town of Frascati and walk or take a bus to the town of Grottaferrata. We walked (because we couldn’t figure out the buses) and had a long journey. When we finally arrived I was amazed – it had been worth every step. (And every step we would have to take on the long walk back.)

This monastery was founded under the Latin church but, due to their Greek heritage, operated in the Byzantine style. During the Schism when the Eastern and Western churches were divided these monks were loyal to the Pope but on friendly terms with the Eastern churches.


Along the way we ate at the Cantina of St. Nilus – the food was amazing. No one spoke English out there and since tourists don’t hit this spot we were stared at as we walked the streets.


The monastery was founded in an ancient fortress that was updated in the middle ages. The Norman tradition of castle building was still influential in Italy when this happened and, as a result, when you enter the abbey you think are walking into a medieval castle in picturesque England.


St. Nilus greets you as you enter the monastery. I wanted to ask him if he could get me a deal back at the cantina.


The courtyard in front of the chapel is beautiful and very large.

Another view of the courtyard. Greek letters for “Alpha and Omega” and “Mother of God” have been made with white stones.


The monastery has large beautiful iron doors.

The Italian countryside is gorgeous and there are few places from where it can be viewed so well. I took some of the landscape pictures from arrow slits in the walls.


The chapel and bell tower are very impressively built.


St. Batholomew, co-founder of Grottaferrata, stands overlooking the courtyard.


St. Batholomew was also a calligrapher and a musician.


Another large door. This one is just past the entrance.


Grottaferrata is famous for restoring old writings and some of their printing devices were on display.


Differing types of architecture and a variety of plant life make Grottaferrata a unique place to visit.


This is the only picture I didn’t take – it came from the abbey’s website. We got to listen to their evening vespers in this chapel but the light was poor and I didn’t want to be a distraction. Hearing the monks sing their chants in the traditional Byzantine style was a rare experience that I will always cherish.


The rest of my Grottaferrata pictures can be found here.

Warning Signs on Rome’s Subway

It’s difficult enough to get around a foreign country when you don’t speak the language – it’s another when the signs are confusing. My recent trip to Rome brought to face to face with some of my favorite street signs.

First, we rode on the Rome Subway and were faced with these signs. I’m pretty sure my translations are completely accurate.


This one says, “Do not wear this white speedo while boarding the subway.” Probably.



“Do not lean out the door and attempt to get other passengers to do ‘the monkey’ with you.”


“Do not re-enact the story of Samson and Delilah while riding the trains.”

It got even worse when we got off of the train – I’ll share more signs with you, later.

A Walk Through Pompeii

The wife and I just returned from our 10-day trip to Italy and it was a blast! I’ve got some well earned blisters on my feet and some of my best photos. (And, of course, a desire to bore my readers with travel stories like the annoying neighbor who makes you see their vacation slides. Ah, blogging.)

To check out the city of Pompeii it’s necessary to stay in another town, like Naples or Sorrento, and then get there by train. We chose Naples and regretted it right away.

The view from the balcony of our hotel room. Somehow, these pictures never make it to Hotels.com. (Also, we decided to stop opening the window.)

The place is dirty and violent. Cab drivers were fighting with their passengers over fares quite aggressively and on the beach a serious fight was happening between and man and a woman who were trying to cut each other. Uncool. However, when we got to Pompeii it had been worth it.

My beautiful wife as we walked in to the main entrance. The place is inspiring and you have to stop as you walk in just to admire how well preserved things are (even though people complain that archaeologists didn’t preserve as well as they could have).


These poor people were forever memorialized in their final pose as ash rained down on them.


A Temple of Isis. There were many temples in town for the worship of different gods which made me wonder if the priests got along or competed for patrons. I’ve been told that these religions worked together but I don’t think we know for sure.

Pompeii had a wonderful arena that was like a small version of the Colosseum (of course, it could hold as many people as a high school football stadium so it wasn’t that “small”). Very neat.


A view of the arena from an orchard above.
The city is large and includes high places where you could see other parts of town.


(Sorry, couldn’t get any closer for a better pic.) There were many wall paintings remarkably preserved in full color showing us just how colorful were their lives – and how artistic and creative they were. I have read about the artistic habits of ancient people but seeing it is always better.


Most floors had neat designs that seemed like part of a modern art exhibit. This maze took me a while to work out. I probably shouldn’t have used a Sharpie.

OK, this is totally a UFO. See the little alien heads sticking out the top and looking down from their glass covered spaceship? Obviously aliens destroyed the town. I’ll probably get an award for this observation.


Christine has put these dogs to sleep with her mind powers. Actually, Italy was full of dogs in random places and we had to walk around them while they slept.


See all the graffiti on the walls behind my wife in that last pic? Every single wall in Italy looks like that. I’m pretty sure not one single square-foot of wall is clean in the entire country – even in nice otherwise attractive towns. Churches and monuments are the exception but in Naples even those had been marked on.

More pics of Pompeii and Naples are here and more posts about my trip are on the way. (Eventually, I’ll get back to that discussion on post-modernism…)