In the popular imagination, the name Roswell often conjures images of government intrigue, flying saucers, and alien visitors. The mythology surrounding the 1947 incident involving a UFO crash 30 miles north of Roswell has fueled nearly a century of speculation regarding the existence of aliens, and it’s made this modest community in southeast New Mexico an international destination. But alien lore isn’t the only reason to pack up the car and head west immediately. The city is surrounded by jaw-dropping natural beauty, and there are plenty of ways to enjoy it, from an afternoon at the city park and day trips outside of town to an air-conditioned journey through the cosmos.
Here are five places hikers, campers, day-trippers and stargazers will want to visit while in Roswell.
Bottomless Lakes State Park
One of the area’s most popular nature destinations is Bottomless Lakes State Park, 15 miles southeast of town. New Mexico’s first state park, Bottomless Lakes is named for nine small but incredibly deep lakes some used to believe were literally bottomless and fed into the Gulf of Mexico. Today, the park is a popular camping destination, and one of the lakes—Lake Lea—is open to casual swimmers, kayakers and scuba divers, who are drawn to the lake’s rich underwater ecosystem.
Bitter Lake National Wildlife Refuge
Stretching along the banks of the Pecos River just a few miles north of town, Bitter Lake National Wildlife Refuge is a desert oasis teeming with varied and rare wildlife—including 350 bird species, 59 different mammals, and over 100 species of dragonfly—thanks to its unique ecological positioning between the southern plains and the Chihuahuan Desert. Birders flock here in search of life birds, hunters with refuge permits seek out their next trophy catch, and hikers, cyclists and horseback riders traverse miles of rugged trails and gorgeous scenery. There’s no camping or swimming permitted at Bitter Lake, but those in thrall to the mysteries of nature won’t want to leave this lush paradise.
Aspiring spelunkers from across the country flock to Carlsbad Caverns for its formidable network of large caves—some of the largest in the U.S.—which includes Lechugilla Cave, “the nation’s deepest and fourth longest limestone cave at 1,567 feet,” according to the National Parks Foundation. From Roswell, head south 90 miles on Route 285; you can spend the day exploring the caves and still be back in Roswell in time for dinner.
Cielo Grande Recreational Area
Not every outdoor adventure has to be so epic, and if you have children in tow you might be looking for something lower key and near the hotel. To that end, you can spend a relaxing day picnicking and playing at Cielo Grande Recreational Area, an outdoor respite within the Roswell city limits and an ideal spot for families seeking low-impact outdoor leisure. Stretching across 150 acres, the complex includes biking and walking trails; football, volleyball and soccer fields; a skate park; a large playground, and numerous picnic areas. Spend the day grilling and playing, then spend the evening counting the stars—there’s no night sky quite like Roswell’s.
Roswell Museum and Art Center
Not everyone likes to play outside, and that’s OK—a trip to Roswell offers plenty of stimulation for those who feel most at home indoors. Chief among these attractions is Roswell Museum and Art Center, which features an amazing collection of visual art ranging from Early Modernists and American Southwest work to Spanish Colonial artifacts and contemporary pieces by regional artists. Dali, Picasso, O’Keeffe—they’re all here. The museum is also home to the Robert H. Goddard Planetarium, which offers photorealistic journeys through the cosmos in the comfort of an air-conditioned theater. In addition to regular star shows, the planetarium also hosts educational programs, special screenings, and various children’s activities.