11 Close Encounters With Aliens and Explosions in New Mexico: 50 States of Wonder - Atlas Obscura

50 States of Wonder
11 Close Encounters With Aliens and Explosions in New Mexico

In the arid and remote expanses of New Mexico's landscape, booms and zooms abound. From the volatile effects of the Manhattan Project to the otherworldly possibilities of Roswell's UFO, the Land of Enchantment has never shied away from the controversial or far-reaching. Here are several places to encounter those legacies across this southwestern state.

As the pandemic continues, we hope this virtual trip helps you explore America’s wonders. If you do choose to venture out, please follow all guidelines, maintain social distance, and wear a mask.

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Research Facility

1. The Z Machine

Inside the Sandia National Laboratories research facility sits a machine of mind-boggling capacity: the Z Machine, the most powerful and efficient laboratory radiation source in the world. Capable of creating conditions found nowhere else on Earth, the machine can produce the same dense plasma found in white dwarf stars.

When the switch is flipped, 20 million amps zap a target at the heart of the machine, striking it with more than 1,000 times the electricity of a lightning bolt—and at 20,000 times the speed. (Read more.)

515 Eubank Blvd SE, Albuquerque, NM 87123

A giant meteorite made its mark. Ikluft/CC BY-SA 3.0
Impact Site

2. Santa Fe Shatter Cones

About 1.5 billion years ago, a giant meteorite slammed into what is now Santa Fe. The impact melted some of the rocks below the impact site. The pressure formed rock features known as shatter cones—a spray of little fracture lines in the shape of a fan. (Read more.

208-250 NM-475, Santa Fe, NM

The Very Large Array, a national radiotelescope facility located about 50 miles west of Socorro. John Fowler/CC BY 2.0
Telescopes

3. The Very Large Array

In western New Mexico, there are no trees and few towns—and that leaves plenty of room for the Very Large Array, 27 huge, white radio antennae arranged in a massive Y off U.S. Route 60. Each dish is 230 tons and 82 feet in diameter. Walking through the array is a unique, surreal, and humbling experience, especially at dawn or dusk, when the dishes cast mile-long shadows across the plains. Since its construction in the late 1970s, research has been conducted here on supernovae, black holes, dark energy and of course, SETI, the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Life. (Read more.)

Old Hwy 60, Magdalena, NM 87825

They're here...at the International UFO Museum. kristykountz (Atlas Obscura User)
Museum

4. International UFO Museum and Research Center

Prior to the opening of the International UFO Museum and Research Center in Roswell, New Mexico, in 1992, the city didn't really show any signs of being home to the famous “incident.” After being sought after by various UFO researchers, Lt. Walter Haut (who worked for the military in Roswell in 1947) had the idea of building the museum as an educational center for the public. The museum features tons of information regarding the “Roswell Incident” as well as alleged crop circles and abductions. It also holds purported autopsy reports, models of aliens and UFOs, and more. (Read more.)

124-168 N Main St, Roswell, NM 88203

The double arches at Roswell. Peter K./CC BY-SA 3.0
Fast Food

5. Roswell McDonald's

Roswell is world-famous for rumors about its extraterrestrial visitors, and the local McDonald’s gets in on the act with a UFO-shaped location. In a city where everything is inspired by aliens—even street lamps and mailboxes—the McDonald’s fits right in. (Read more.)

720 N Main St, Roswell, NM 88201

Red Herring

6. 109 East Palace Santa Fe

When you need to be dropped off at a top-secret research facility that does not exist, what address do you give the driver? For two decades, the answer was 109 East Palace in Santa Fe.

Located a few blocks from the city center, the unremarkable building served as the first stop for scientists working on the top-secret Manhattan Project in nearby Los Alamos. Dozens of scientists, technicians, and other workers would arrive each day to be ferried up to “the Hill,” where work on the atomic bomb (and possibly other secret science projects) actually took place. (Read more.)

109 East Palace, Santa Fe, NM 87501

Statues of Robert J. Oppenheimer and General Leslie Groves at the Fuller Lodge Art Center. MikeWalker (Atlas Obscura User)
Community Center

7. Fuller Lodge Art Center

Fuller Lodge was constructed in 1928 for the Los Alamos Ranch School—a private school for boys, which emphasized outdoor skills. The federal government acquired the site in 1943, with the aim of using it for the Manhattan Project. During that time, Fuller Lodge was transformed into a dining hall for scientists, dozens of whom also stayed at the lodge during their tenure. (Read more.)

2132 Central Ave, Los Alamos, NM 87544

The detonation site is wide and flat. Obscurities (Atlas Obscura user)
Bomb Site

8. Trinity Atomic Bomb Site

"Trinity" was code for the first detonation of “The Gadget,” a nuclear device conceptually similar to its devastating cousin, “Fat Man.” The 600-foot-wide fireball obliterated trees, turned sand into glass, and blew out windows 120 miles away. (Read more.)

White Sands Missile Range, Socorro, NM

Landfill

9. Alamogordo Landfill

While there is some speculation as to whether or not the story is true, the Alamogordo Landfill is said to hold millions of unopened copies of E.T. the Extra Terrestrial, a 1982 video game that an embarrassed Atari Company was desperately trying to offload. (Despite the popularity of the film it was based on, the game adaptation is often referred to as one of the biggest busts ever.) According to local news sources, Atari rolled in between 10-20 truckloads of the game—among other systems and electronic junk—and had it crushed. Rumor has it they then buried all of the junk in the newly opened Alamogordo landfill. (Read more.)

4276 Highway 54 S, Alamogordo, NM 88310

A MK-17 thermonuclear bomb sits in the museum's Heritage Park. byteboy/CC BY 3.0
Museum

10. The National Museum of Nuclear Science & History

Through a series of exhibits, displays, artifacts, and hands-on models, the museum delves into the history of nuclear energy research, pioneers of the field, life in Los Alamos during the days of the Manhattan Project, the effects of the Atomic Age on society and pop culture, the moral quandaries nuclear weapons can create, and an array of other subjects ranging from nuclear waste disposal to the evolution of computers.

One of the most popular attractions of the museum is the five-acre outdoor Heritage Park, a sprawling exhibit of military aircraft, decommissioned rockets, missiles, cannons, and more. Heritage Park is the largest aircraft collection for public viewing in the state of New Mexico and includes an M65 Atomic Cannon (nicknamed "Atomic Annie," and one of only eight on display worldwide) and a Nike Hercules air-defense missile. (Read more.)

601 Eubank Blvd SE, Albuquerque, NM 87123

An orange laser at the Starfire Optical Range cuts through the night. U.S. Air Force/Public Domain
Military Base

11. Starfire Optical Range

The U.S. Air Force has one of the most advanced directed-energy research facilities in the world, and it's in the desert eight miles outside of Albuquerque. The Starfire Optical Range at Kirtland Air Force Base has the dual mission of pursuing cutting-edge astronomical research and developing anti-satellite laser weapons. (Read more.)

Kirtland Air Force Base, Tijeras, NM

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The boll weevil monument is a grand celebration of a tiny critter.

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A famous mountaineer.

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There are lots of big creatures at the Porter Sculpture Park.

7 Inexplicably Huge Animals in South Dakota

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Displays at the Weaver Dental Museum include a jumble of dentures.

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The <em>Cementiscope</em> is a jumble of color and light—inside a cement mixer.

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Waves crash against the rocks near Thor's Well in Oregon.

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The Avrocar hovered, but never really lifted off in a big way.

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A foggy view from Washington's Mount Rainier, the most glaciated peak in the continental United States.

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Flat ground, big skies, huge cows.

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An architectural pilgrimage.

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The Blythe Intaglios are as mysterious as they are massive.

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Honestly, the tallest building in the state is still a little dinky, compared to skyscrapers elsewhere.

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Forbidden Caverns, ready for its closeup.

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Watch out for any chimp-gator hybrids lurking in the tea-colored water of Honey Island Swamp.

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Diego Rivera's mural sprawls across a light-flooded room in the Detroit Institute of Arts.

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Who doesn't love an old tree?

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All aboard for a plate of pancakes.

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At Glacier Gardens, the tree canopies are flowers in bloom.

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Workers assess the exterior of the Washington Monument after an earthquake in 2011.

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