There are very few rules for what I’ve started to call my Great Southwest Adventure. But the one I try to stick to is this: as long as it’s within four hours’ drive, go check it out. Of course if I had unlimited funds for motel rooms, I wouldn’t have this rule. But it’s a good radius to keep, since as my uncle informed me, “Nothing in New Mexico is close together.”

I allowed myself a couple of overnight stays, and decided that a Roswell-Carlsbad combo was at the top of the list. Now I know what you’re thinking: staying overnight in Roswell? Is she crazy? And I’ll admit three things:

1) I was an X-Files junkie back in the day. Big time. I was with Mulder 100%. The truth was out there. And boy, was it out there.

2) I outgrew this phase a little and started to think maybe all this alien stuff was a little far-fetched after all, seeing as how the most convincing evidence of interplanetary life was a bacteria picked up on Mars. I became a Scully.

3) One day at the internationally-known UFO Museum in Roswell has officially transformed me back into a Mulder.

The collection of witnesses’ statements and affidavits was overwhelming. Now I’ll admit there was some crazy kitschy stuff in there, like the life-size alien diorama that springs to life every thirty minutes or so, complete with a spinning saucer, flashing lights, and fog. Or the “alien autopsy booth” that was apparently constructed for use in a host of movies and TV shows filmed on location there. But there were also countless interviews with folks from this sleepy little town who claim to have seen the crash, worked in the lab where the “craft” was taken for study, and assisted with the recovery of bodies from the crash. It might be easy to brush these accounts aside, but after learning about how these people were threatened or ostracized at the time, and came forward years later when employers had died, when they had retired from the Army, or when the release of certain files meant they were no longer threatened, it makes you wonder what exactly happened on that night back in 1947.

Something happened here, though it may never be fully explained. What remains is a town shrouded in mystery–but one whose livelihood in part depends on that mystery. The UFO museum is housed in what used to be the Plains Theater–though the inside has been renovated, the facade looks much as is did in the 1940s. In fact, when you look at old photographs, you see that the whole downtown really hasn’t changed all that much–but the historic facades are peppered with little green men. The town seems to have a sense of humor about this chapter in its history, but there is also an underlying effort to share the truths that the people here have experienced.

So is it any wonder that one of the most interesting features of the town is a sculpture called the Tree of Knowledge? Installed at the public library in 2008, it was designed by artist Sue Wink, who set up workshops that allowed the public to create clay tiles that would become the bark of the tree. The tree stands 17 feet tall and is made of over 2,800 of these custom tiles. Inside the metal limbs are words that relate to the library’s function in inspiring creativity.

Being immersed in this cloud of intrigue, I can’t help thinking that Roswell is a testament to our curiosity–whether it’s to know what really happened on that infamous night, our quest to uncover knowledge that remains just out of reach, or simply our longing to find out what lies beyond what we know to be true. I might never look at stars in the same way again.