Trip update part 3

This update has been a while coming, but going from two weeks of solitude to more than a week of straight hanging out with people threw off my work game. So this is a little out of date, but here is what has been going on since I left off arriving in Roswell:

Roswell Mural

Mural in UFO Center library

My last couple of hours in Roswell were spent interviewing Mark Briscoe, the director of the International UFO Museum and Research Center. He used to be a college professor but took the executive director position a few years ago. He told me that he loves the job and the people who visit the museum are always a pleasure to talk to, but one thing he doesn’t like is reality TV. As can be imagined, there have been a number of “America is weird”-type shows filmed at the Research Center, and more recently the Center was the focus of an episode of Shipping Wars. According to Mr. Briscoe, he will never do reality TV again after dealing with the contract-breaking, disrespectful, unprofessional idiots that are the Shipping Wars crew. And moreover the whole show is a sham – the object being shipped to the Center in the show wasn’t actually for the Center; the thing the Center actually needed to have shipped was deemed too unexciting for TV and so a monument was commissioned by the show’s producers that they pretended to ship to the museum. ‘They made us look like idiots,’ Mr. Briscoe complained. ‘Don’t believe anything you see on that show! They recut dialogue! They didn’t portray the museum correctly! Some little punk called me up, yelling at me, and I said ‘Wait – who do you think you are? I don’t fucking work for you!’ Shipping Wars is trash, and we’ll never do reality TV again!’

Acrimonious relationship with reality TV aside, the museum is a great resource on the 1947 Roswell incident. In fact, it is so document-heavy that a woman at the Roswell visitor’s center said that the museum might not be what I was expecting, hesitating for a moment before telling me that it might not be that much fun at all. It is a lot of text, she said, with not many interactive exhibits or models. There are some animatronic aliens but not enough to sustain the interest of kids. But I liked this aspect because walking through the museum was like reading a top secret file instead of being walked through a ride at an amusement park.

Just outside of Roswell is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen, a state park called Bottomless Lakes. The picture below barely does it justice. I went swimming and then ran to the top of one of these rims in only shorts and shoes – the sun, the solitude, the expansive view, the incredible cliffs right below made me literally gasp in appreciation. Being up there in the quiet felt like the sensation that I understand is conveyed by poetry; this sudden insight made me realize my lifelong scoff at poetry might have to be reevaluated, if only for poetry about nature.

Bottomless Lakes

Inside one of the many lakes at Bottomless Lakes

Heat Can

Heat-induced swelling. The bottom done blowed out too!

After the longest drive so far (nine hours), I was in Phoenix and staying with an old friend. The heat exploded a can of seltzer water in my car, but at least it dried quickly. We did a bit of sight-seeing but were also free to lounge around for a couple days. My appointment in Phoenix was a tour of the PHX6 Amazon Distribution Center, one of five in the city. A handful of Amazon warehouses across the country have opened their doors to bimonthly public tours, and m y tour consisted of a group of paunchy middle-management types and a coterie of state representatives. We were walked around and shown the various stations – the picking station, the packing station, the return-to-vendor station, etc. There are conveyor belts running all through the warehouse, which is 1.5 million square feet. For people like me who don’t understand what figures like that mean in real life, it is equivalent to 28 football fields, all of it under one roof. The tour guide said Amazon’s goal is to have one of everything on earth. The PHX6 facility ships only small and medium-size objects. They have over a million individual items in the warehouse, on three stories of shelves that take up what looked like a few city blocks. We were able to reap the benefits of this incredible stockpile of stuff, as we had the choice of a pair of binoculars or a car phone charger as a parting gift at the end of the tour.


Parking lot of the Amazon PHX6 facility. No photos were allowed to be taken inside.

Driving from Phoenix to San Diego took me through some landscapes that I imagine are similar to those on Venus. Some of the mountains looked like enormous piles of boulders while others angled out of the ground and showed their many layers, making me appreciate anew the earth’s geological history. The temperature rose to 119, and signs advised that your car AC be turned off lest it overheat in the middle of these strange mountains. Feeling heat like that is unusual and even good – I drove through the desert with my windows down and my shirt off and felt hugged by it. I saw one person changing a tire and gripped my wheel in hopes that it wouldn’t be me next, but I cruised safely through the desert to San Diego (and then through the infinitely more unpleasant and aggravating traffic to LA).

Boulder Mtn

Desert mountains on the way to California from Arizona





Report from Roswell, NM

I wasn’t sure how Roswell would feel about it’s UFO legacy – is it an annoying rumor that just won’t die? Does it distract from the other cool things Roswell has to offer? A sign in front of a Valero as you enter the city answered my question: “Official UFO stop!” Roswell is totally UFO’d out, from the more than a dozen kitschy alien-themed shops to the furniture store that has aliens in bridal gear in the window to the offices of the visitor’s center, which have UFOs on them. (That the courthouse has a big stone Ten Commandments out front indicates a different presence as well.) It’s not like I’m opposed to the UFO worship, as I’m here in Roswell in a crusty motel waiting to visit the International UFO Museum and Research Center, possibly the world’s foremost ufology library. I got there too late yesterday to warrant a visit but I was able to check out its impressive library. After that I wandered around and looked in a handful of the aforementioned alien shops, since the only places that are open past five or six are alien places. Later I found myself at a cemetery on the edge of town, where I got covered in flies. Covered in cemetery flies – yikes.


May or may not have eaten at this buffet, somewhere on 40W in Oklahoma

The drive out of Oklahoma a few days ago took me past the birthplaces of Troy Aikman, Carrie Underwood, and Woodie Guthrie. My next destination was in the northern part of Texas. And for hundreds and hundreds of miles it was one of the most desolate areas I’ve ever encountered. You truly do have an unbroken view all the way to the horizon. There are small towns here and there, but most of the evidence of habitation is in the form of oil refineries or large-scale cattle operations, or at the very least, a field full of oil derricks that look like horse skeletons bobbing in the breeze. The miles of piping and tanks and outbuildings of the oil refineries coupled with the general desolation makes these outposts seem like the first attempts at colonization on a new planet. Indeed, a historical marker on the side of the road (of which there are many) explained that a town used to be settled there but after a while the entire town picked up and left, including loading the buildings and houses wholesale onto trains.



Skellytown, TX

I visited Skellytown and Borger in Texas. I had an address for something in Skellytown, but I don’t really know what it was for – it led me to one of the many possibly abandoned houses that make up the town. The Christian bookstore in Borger was kind of a bust (depending on how you look at it), since the bookstore was in fact some shelves in the corner of a beauty salon. I was hoping to at least talk to somebody, but I was totally ignored. There were books for sale like The Bait of Satan, Nuclear Prayers for the Secret Place, and a book by the “ordained prophetess” who wrote Breaking the Threefold Demonic Code. (They also had the “autobiography” of one of those clowns from Duck Dynasty.) There was nowhere to stay in Borger, so I decided to take my chances in nearby Amarillo. As it happened, there was a death metal show going on that night, and I made my way to the far outskirts of town to check it out. I stopped at a restaurant to get something to eat first – when I peeked my head in the door, I saw upturned tables covered in dust and two women sitting on the ground talking, totally surprised when I looked in. The show was nearby, so I went there instead. A little while in, I suddenly get punched in the stomach. I look down and see a little mohawk running away from me – an eight year old was trying to start a mosh pit.

Texas Horizon

Unending north Texas isolation!

The next morning I stopped for breakfast in Texico, NM at a diner in a building that looked like it used to be a municipal building from the 70s. A few groups of people came in for breakfast wearing sweat-stained hats, deeply tanned, and covered in mud/dirt/shit. You could tell they could work. One group had a little kid with them who himself was wearing muddy clothes and boots. He was sitting between two older guys in a miniature imitation of their posture, devouring his meal like the adults were theirs. He answered the waitress with his version of the older guys’ “Yu-up,” though a similar kid behind me was still a kid, ordering as he did a corndog and baked beans.

Speaking of food, that is where I’m headed now. Every day has been totally different from the one that preceded it, and that variety is amazing. I don’t know what I’ll find myself doing, but I like that a lot. Another update in a few days!

Blackwater Draw

Blackwater Draw archaeological site – found this site by chance in NM. It is of inestimable importance for the study of early humans in North America. You are free to walk around the site, though there weren’t any active excavations when I was there. This is a preserved (and covered) site so visitors can see the different layers of soil and their respective artifacts and bones.

Trip Update, part 1

Report from hotel room, Sallisaw, OK:

Despite being glared at really hard by some elderly couples at the continental breakfast, the trip so far has been a resounding success. Every day has brought so many new opportunities to learn and observe. Today will be my visit to Sequoyah’s Cabin, the home of the man responsible for developing the written Cherokee language despite being functionally illiterate. Sallisaw is kind of a bleak environment (already saw one guy being arrested and heard the N word repeatedly yelled by a gang of teens) but it could be the weather that colors my perception, as it has been grey and rainy the whole time I’ve been here. But my host did take me out to the middle of the woods to look at this dam at night; the weather made the sky a little lighter (and scarier), and I was glad to be somewhere so quiet and eerie.

On my way from Bowling Green, KY to Little Rock, AR, I encountered more rain than I’ve ever driven through or have possibly ever seen. A lightning blast stuck no more than two hundred feet away, hitting the middle of a muddy field and illuminating a pack of running cows. The scene was primal and quite terrifying, for it’s not often you see cows prompted to run. Later on, a half a mile of powerlines were downed alongside the highway. (And not just downed; pulled in half.) Traffic was brought to a standstill and I saw an accident happen as drivers couldn’t help but look at the surreal, disaster-caliber damage.

Threatening Skies

THREAT-NING SKIES! I always hear that Obituary song when I see intense stormclouds

Little Rock was action-packed. Mount Holly Cemetery is apparently the “Westminster Abbey of Arkansas” because a lot of statesmen and writers and Arkansans generally of note are buried there. It was a remarkably beautiful and calm place, even more so than the normal cemetery whose peace and quiet I didn’t fully appreciate/respect until recently. The visit was prompted by the guy I was researching, Charles Fenton Mercer Noland, who is buried there. The caretaker told me that the fence around Noland’s grave is as old as the grave itself, designed to keep out cows and wild pigs since the cemetery was fairly rural when Noland was buried in 1858. Noland was a Southern humorist, politician, and duelist who was also tasked with riding the Arkansas Constitution to Washington (though upon arrival he found out it had already arrived via other means.) He wrote a series of humorous letters for a magazine in New York detailing the exploits of his alter-ego Pete Whetstone, and some say he probably would have been canonized in Southern literature had he not died so early.

Mount Holly Cemetery

Mount Holly Cemetery, Little Rock, AR

I visited two bookstores in Little Rock, one very neat and the other boasting bags and bags of books on the ground between rows. In the latter, a place simply called The Book Store, the owner told me that she takes but immediately recycles any books about “witchcraft.” But I was able to get a trashy book about the Unabomber there, so that’s good. I ambled around downtown for a while and later went to the Bill Clinton Presidential Center (and giftshop). It is a fascinating place, and not only for its replica of the Oval Office. My hosts were all involved in the sustainable agriculture community; their house smelled earthy and full of vegetables and slow cooking, a smell I appreciate because it’s one of the smells of the left-wing. A few of them went to a town hall meeting, where one guy called for nothing less than the mayor’s resignation because the city wasn’t doing anything to stop the creosote factory the guy’s neighbor had going in his backyard.

The Book Store

The Book Store, on JFK Blvd. in Little Rock. Don’t worry, no books on witchcraft.

Clinton Demin

Denim jacket for sale in the Clinton Center giftshop – the letters and image are raised.

Anyway, off to the cabin now!

Onwards and Upwards and Across the USA

Well, my dream has come true: the chance to write a book about traveling across the USA will be seized starting tomorrow! I will be driving to California and back for the next month, visiting the country’s used book stores and sites of literary interest. This means I will be seeing Roswell’s ufology library, I will try to talk my way into a visit of an Amazon warehouse, and I will see what a Presidential library is actually all about. It will be a month filled with authors’ childhood homes, a bookstore dedicated strictly to gambling, and an extensive visit with a Kafka researcher and real life literary treasure hunter!

I will be updating this blog with photos and stranger-than-fiction news from the depths of America – stay tuned for these ridiculous developments and the tome that will eventually result!

Below is a photo of me staring pensively off into the sunset as I drive – picture this when you send me well-wishes!


Su           7/13       Bowling Green, KY
M            7/14       Black Oak/Little Rock, AR
T              7/15       Little Rock, AR
W            7/16       Sallisaw, OK
R             7/17       Sallisaw, OK
F              7/18       Drive
S              7/19       Dumas/Skellytown/Borger, TX
Su           7/20       Roswell, NM
M            7/21       Roswell, NM
T              7/22      Phoenix, AZ
W            7/23       Phoenix, AZ
R             7/24       San Diego, CA
F              7/25       San Diego, CA
S              7/26       Los Angeles, CA
Su           7/27       Los Angeles, CA
M            7/28       Los Angeles, CA
T              7/29       LA/Las Vegas, NV
W            7/30       Las Vegas, NV
R             7/31       Southern Utah/Northern AZ
F              8/1         Durango, CO
S              8/2         Lamar, CO
Su           8/3         Abilene, KS
M            8/4         Abilene, KS
T              8/5         Hanibal, MO
W            8/6         Hanibal, MO/Ft. Wayne, IN
R             8/7         Fort Wayne, IN
F              8/8         Mansfield, OH