Roswell — UFO Capital of the World

Downtown Roswell Photo by Phyllis Eileen Banks
Downtown Roswell

The above other-worldly tag was superimposed on Roswell with the 50th Anniversary of the Roswell Incident in July of 1997. But there’s so much more.

Roswell is the seat of Chaves County, population 58,000, and the fourth largest city in the state; its population is 48,500 and its elevation is 3,649 on average. The city lies at the west edge of the Llano Estacado (Staked Plains) and east of El Capitan Mountain, in the rich and fertile Pecos Valley, a place of relaxed pace and friendly people.

From a rowdy little cowtown in the 1800s, where cowboys drove their cattle on the Chisolm Trail, Roswell has grown into an agricultural center with cotton, alfalfa, chile, pecans, sheep and cattle production. It is home to more than forty dairies and the largest mozzarella cheese manufacturing plant in the nation, using 4 million pounds of milk daily.

Van C. Smith, a professional gambler, in 1871 named the town for his father, Roswell Smith, but ex-Confederate Captain Joseph C. Lea is credited with turning it into a community. In 1891 the town was incorporated with its first bank and newspaper, both of them still in existence. Large, Midwest-style homes were built near the crossroads of U.S. highways 70/380 and 285, the center of town, and are now designated the historical district.

The year 1891 was also the beginning of New Mexico Military Institute. The General Douglas McBride Military Museum is located on its campus.

Dr. Robert H. Goddard, the father of space exploration, made his rocket experiments in the city between 1930-1941. The Roswell Museum and Art Center has a replica of his workshop on display.

The closure of Walker Air Force Base in 1967 was a blow to the economy, but it soon bounced back after a widely publicized campaign geared toward retirees. The advertising stressed Roswell’s attributes: a delightful and economical place to live, with fabulous year-round weather. Many responded by retiring there.

Opportunities abound for cultural experiences and leisure. There is a Symphony Orchestra, a Little Theater, Spring River Park and Zoo, miles of walking trails, and such celebrations as Party on the Pecos, Chile-Cheese Festival, Art in the Park, Juneteenth, Pinata Fest, Gus Macker Tournaments, and International Art Exhibits. Nearby are Bottomless Lakes State Park - New Mexico’s first state park - and Bitter Lake Wildlife Refuge.

Not too far away are the Carlsbad Caverns, Living Desert State Park, Sitting Bull Falls, "Billy the Kid" country of Lincoln, and Smokey the Bear country of Capitan. Roswell is the gateway to the Sacramento Mountains, to Ski Apache in the winter and to Ruidoso Downs for horse racing in the summer.

About Phyllis Eileen Banks