Two big green aliens greet customers at the Dunkin Donuts drive-though, and down the street, silver E.T. sculptures sit outside a flying saucer-shaped McDonald's. Welcome to Roswell, N.M., the "UFO capital of the world" — site of a 1947 mysterious aircraft rash and alleged government cover-up.
Sci-fi enthusiasts, ufologists and conspiracy theorists have been eagerly awaiting a government report, due this month, detailing a Department of Defense investigation into Unexplained Aerial Phenomena.
Any hopes that the report would confirm alien visitors to our atmosphere have been dashed, according to reporting by The New York Times and confirmed by NPR through a U.S. senior official. Even so, ET-centric businesses in Roswell hope interest in the new report will lead to a boost in tourism.
At the International UFO Museum and Research Center, visits are already up 20% from 2019. Some of that is because of last year's closures due to COVID-19, but belief in UFOs has skyrocketed in recent years.
"If you go back in time and if you brought up the idea of UFOs or aliens, people didn't want to talk about it. They thought you were looney, but these days it has changed," says Frank Kimbler, who excavated some of the artifacts on display from the 1947 crash site. He had hoped the new report would admit the existence of ETs and lead to an era of positive exploration — as outlined in the TV series Star Trek.
Museum visitor and UFO enthusiast Ethan Anderson first got interested in aliens after attending Roswell's annual UFO Festival, and would love to know more about our cosmic neighbors. Still, he doesn't trust the government to share what information it may have with the public.
"If you really have technology that's so great, you shouldn't hide it from people," he says, convinced of a government cover-up of alien tech.
"The government can't admit that there are extraterrestrials, because if they do, that'll open up a whole keg of worms," says Dennis Balthaser, a longtime Roswell UFO tour guide who has spent 35 years researching UFOs. "If they've been lying about this, what else have they been lying about? I just want to know the truth, but this will just be more more excuses."
Balthaser, who turns 80 this year, doesn't believe the truth about aliens will come out in his lifetime, but says at least the report "might generate money for the city."
Tourist Vita Gartung hadn't heard of the report, but has her mind made up no matter what's in it. "I have an alien tattoo," explains Gartung, who is visiting from Kansas. She figures the U.S. government already knows there is other life in our universe — and that life might already be watching us with curiosity.
"If they wanted to take us out they could, but I think we're doing a good job ourselves, so they probably will leave us alone," Gartung says.
Or, just maybe, they'll join human tourists and visit Roswell this summer, too.