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8 Quirky Locations Dedicated to UFO Sightings

There's no evidence that little green men have ever come to Earth, but with insistent conspiracy theories, frequent UFO sightings, and alien jerky for sale, it makes one think. If you find yourself fascinated by UFO sightings and want to immerse yourself in the culture, there are plenty of places to visit. 

1. LITTLE A'LE'INN // RACHEL, NEVADA

If you’re going alien hunting, the very first place to hit is the region around Nevada's Area 51. Among other things, conspiracy theorists believe that alien craft, most notably from the supposed 1947 Roswell crash, is being studied and reverse engineered at the "secret" military installation, which, until 2013, the U.S. government refused to acknowledge even existed. Even today, most mentions of Area 51 are redacted from government documents—even the declassified ones. Thanks to the veil of secrecy, flocks of extraterrestrial enthusiasts visit the site each year: Tourists can take guided tours, check the skies for unexplainable activity, and snap photos next to the sign dubbing the local stretch of Highway 375 the "Extraterrestrial Highway."

When they're finished exploring, they can take a load off at the Little A'Le'Inn (little alien) in Rachel, Nevada. The kitschy motel has a bar, restaurant, and gift shop, all decked out in celebration of the little green men. There are plenty of alien-themed murals, decorations, and knick-knacks to make UFOlogists feel right at home. 

2. INTERNATIONAL UFO MUSEUM // ROSWELL, NEW MEXICO

In 1947, a mysterious aircraft crashed in the desert near Roswell, New Mexico. Though the government explained it was a weather balloon (later confirmed to be a surveillance balloon), many of the locals suspected something a little more otherworldly. While the claims of aliens have been largely debunked, the site is still the epicenter for UFO fanatics; Roswell even has an alien on their town logo. In the town, you can find a UFO-themed McDonalds and Dominos as well as alien streetlights.

One of the bigger UFO-related places to visit is the Roswell International UFO Museum, which is a “non-profit educational organization with the mission of educating the general public on all aspects of the UFO phenomena.” Within its walls, you can find a plethora of alien-related artifacts like dirt from the crash site and a replica of the space roadster. 

3. AREA 51 MUSEUM, ALIEN ZONE // ROSWELL, NEW MEXICO

iris, Flickr // CC BY-ND 2.0

If the International UFO museum is a little too serious for you, you can also try the Area 51 Museum, which tries to make alien invasion more exciting. "Families with kids were coming to town and they were bored with the UFO Museum," said Elsie Reeves, the founder’s wife, told Roadside America. "We decided we'd become like the Hollywood part, where they can become part of the story." 

The museum, which is part of the Alien Zone cafe and gift shop, was built by artist and pastor Randy Reeves in the late ‘90s. Guests are treated to 20 life-size dioramas filled with props and backdrops. The museum is rife with photo-ops, including a crashed UFO that you can climb in, and an alien autopsy room with bloody knives you can pick up.  

4. THE DREAMY DRAW DAM // PIESTEWA PEAK, ARIZONA

According to some, Roswell isn't the only UFO crash site. In 1947, an alien spacecraft crashed in Piestewa Peak, outside Phoenix. The Dreamy Draw Dam was apparently built to cover the wreckage. The dam has a lot of “Keep Out” signs and a suspicious lack of water to dam. Some say that if you get close enough to the infrastructure, you can hear a distinct humming. The dam, which was built in 1973, is pretty close to an airport, which might explain the noise—but don’t let those facts get in the way of a good story.

5. THE UFO WATCHTOWER // HOOPER, COLORADO

San Luis Valley, Colorado has very little light pollution, making it a great spot for stargazing—or UFO-gazing: It's a hotspot for UFO sighting and other strange activity. The town of Hooper is home to the UFO Watchtower, a viewing platform with a connected gift shop. Although only 10 feet tall, the “tower” promises to give tourists the chance to catch a glimpse of something otherworldly. Visitors of the tower are provided with information about previous sightings and possible theories. Even if guests don’t see any UFOs, at least the sky will have plenty of stars to enjoy. You can check out their website here, complete with a Geocities-esque set-up and dancing alien gifs. 

6. THE WYCLIFFE WELL HOLIDAY PARK // WYCLIFFE WELL, AUSTRALIA

The United States isn’t the only location for UFO gazing. Wycliffe Well is the self-declared UFO capital of Australia. The oasis has a holiday park that gives a nod to the UFOlogists that might be passing through with several alien murals scattered around the facility. According to their brochure, “UFO sightings are so common, that if you stayed up all night looking, you would be considered unlucky not to see anything, rather than lucky to see something.” Even if you don’t manage to see something strange, you can also check out the Devil’s Marbles, two large boulders found a short drive away from the park. 

7. UFO TRAIL // SAN CLEMENTE, CHILE

San Clemente, Chile has had so many UFO sightings that in 2008 the town had no choice but to open a UFO trail. The 19-mile path cuts through the Andes mountains and passes by reported spots of alien activity. Tourists walking the trail can also stop by local restaurants, camp sites, and hotels. There’s no guarantee you’ll spot a UFO, but you can at least enjoy the view. 

8. AURORA CEMETERY // AURORA, TEXAS 

On April 17, 1897, a strange cigar shaped object crashed into a windmill in Aurora, Texas. According to legend, there was an alien inside who died in the crash. The good people of Aurora did the only thing they could think of and gave the extraterrestrial a Christian burial. In the ‘70s, the International UFO Bureau discovered the story, and asked to exhume the body. The town refused. People from all over came to the small town to get a piece of the action and the locals responded defensively, even bringing out some guns. Today, the only thing to see is a small plaque noting the occurrence.

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Screenshot via Mount Vernon/Vimeo
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The Funky History of George Washington's Fake Teeth
Screenshot via Mount Vernon/Vimeo
Screenshot via Mount Vernon/Vimeo

George Washington may have the most famous teeth—or lack thereof—in American history. But counter to what you may have heard about the Founding Father's ill-fitting dentures, they weren't made of wood. In fact, he had several sets of dentures throughout his life, none of which were originally trees. And some of them are still around. The historic Mount Vernon estate holds the only complete set of dentures that has survived the centuries, and the museum features a video that walks through old George's dental history.

Likely due to genetics, poor diet, and dental disease, Washington began losing his original teeth when he was still a young man. By the time he became president in 1789, he only had one left in his mouth. The dentures he purchased to replace his teeth were the most scientifically advanced of the time, but in the late 18th century, that didn't mean much.

They didn't fit well, which caused him pain, and made it difficult to eat and talk. The dentures also changed the way Washington looked. They disfigured his face, causing his lips to noticeably stick out. But that doesn't mean Washington wasn't grateful for them. When he finally lost his last surviving tooth, he sent it to his dentist, John Greenwood, who had made him dentures of hippo ivory, gold, and brass that accommodated the remaining tooth while it still lived. (The lower denture of that particular pair is now held at the New York Academy of Medicine.)

A set of historic dentures
George Washington's Mount Vernon

These days, no one would want to wear dentures like the ones currently held at Mount Vernon (above). They're made of materials that would definitely leave a bad taste in your mouth. The base that fit the fake teeth into the jaw was made of lead. The top teeth were sourced from horses or donkeys, and the bottom were from cows and—wait for it—people.

These teeth actually deteriorated themselves, revealing the wire that held them together. The dentures open and shut thanks to metal springs, but because they were controlled by springs, if he wanted to keep his mouth shut, Washington had to permanently clench his jaw. You can get a better idea of how the contraption worked in the video from Mount Vernon below.

Washington's Dentures from Mount Vernon on Vimeo.

There are plenty of lessons we can learn from the life of George Washington, but perhaps the most salient is this: You should definitely, definitely floss.

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Brazen Heads: The Curious Legend Behind Fortune-Telling Automata
A woodblock illustration from Friar Bacon and Friar Bungay
A woodblock illustration from Friar Bacon and Friar Bungay
Wikimedia // Public Domain

Fortune-telling automata—think Zoltar—were a fixture of penny arcades and amusement parks for generations of schoolchildren. But these creations owe their origin in part to the literary legend of the brazen head, an imaginary all-knowing mechanical device supposedly endowed with the ability to answer any question and predict the future. Called brazen because they were made of brass, their popularity peaked in the Renaissance, when plays and romances featured them and thinkers pondered the supposed mysteries of their making.

"A NATURAL MAN'S HEAD"

The most frequently referenced brazen head is the one allegedly made by 13th century Franciscan friar and philosopher Roger Bacon, although stories of its creation don't appear until centuries after his death. The anonymous 16th century prose romance The famous historie of Fryer Bacon describes the magical object as a precise brass replica of a “natural man’s head,” including “the inward parts,” and tells how Bacon, struggling to give it speech, summoned the Devil to ask him for advice. Satan announced that the head would speak after a few weeks, as long as it was powered by “the continuall fume of the six hottest simples,” a selection of plants used in alchemical medicine.

The tale formed part of the plot of the popular play Friar Bacon and Friar Bungay, written by English dramatist and pamphleteer Robert Greene and first performed around 1589. In both accounts, Bacon’s ultimate purpose was to build a magical wall of brass around Britain to protect it against any invasions; the all-knowing head would have assisted him in the task. There is, however, a crucial difference: In the play, the “monstrous head” isn’t built by alchemy nor by natural magic, but by “necromantic charms." In both sources, when the magical creation finally speaks, Bacon is fast asleep and misses its words—“Time is,” “Time was,” and “Time is past.” The opportunity to question his creation about the secrets of the universe is gone, and the head explodes, destroying itself.

Never mind that Bacon was an expert in geometry and mathematics and one of the pioneers of the scientific method; rumors that he had built a brazen head “by the hand of the Devil” persisted well into 17th century. The extent of Bacon's magical doings during his lifetime is a subject of much debate, but his association with the demonic may come in part from his experiments in optics, which resulted in impressive tricks of perspective judged to have been done “by power of evyll spirites,” in the words of the 16th century mathematician Robert Recorde. And while there is no record of Bacon ever creating an actual brazen head, he was fascinated by early astronomical clocks—also made of brass, and also offering information about the cosmos.

Oil painting of Roger Bacon in his observatory by Ernest Board
Ernest Board, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY 4.0

Bacon was a disciple of bishop Robert Grosseteste, another polymath alleged by literary legend to have made a brazen head, in his case by using “astral science” with the purpose of predicting the future. There are many similarities between the stories—particularly the fact that Grosseteste was also asleep when the brazen head delivered its cryptic words—so it’s likely that the two tales may have influenced one another over the years. And like Bacon, Grosseteste wasn’t exactly a sorcerer: Centuries after his death, he remains an influential figure in mathematical physics, still remembered as a crucial name in the development of Oxford University, where he lectured.

Even a saint was said to have made a brazen head. Renaissance sources tell us that 13th century Saint Albertus Magnus spent 30 years building a man of brass able to correctly answer any question, but according to one version of the story, the automaton was so loquacious that a disciple of Saint Albertus—the famed Thomas Aquinas—knocked it to pieces to stop its constant chattering.

Yet the earliest known written reference to something like a brazen head predates the Renaissance, and appears in the 12th century Chronicle of the Kings of England by William of Malmesbury. The historian attributes the creation of this head to Gerbert of Aurillac, who would become Pope Sylvester II in 999. We’re told that Gerbert traveled to Spain to “learn astrology and other sciences of that description from the Saracens,” and that he stole a book of spells from a Saracen philosopher before making a pact with the devil, who was responsible for his rise to the papal throne. “By a certain inspection of stars,” Gerbert built a head that accurately answered “yes” or “no” to any question—including one about its creator’s death. (Gerbert may have been clever enough to create an omniscient figure, but he failed to ask it the right questions: Told that he would only die after singing mass in Jerusalem, death nevertheless caught him by surprise days after having sung mass not in the city of Jerusalem, but in Jerusalem Church in Rome.)

William’s account is key to how the legend of the brazen head was received and interpreted. As a Christian monk, he regarded Islam as unholy. When Gerbert meddled with Saracens (a term medieval Europeans commonly used for Arabs and later Muslims) he was understood to have opened a door to the occult, introducing a “demonic” object to the Western world. William also perhaps strengthened the connection to paganism in the text by mentioning Daedalus, the cunning craftsman of Greek mythology, who fathered Icarus—and an impressive number of ancient automata.

INGENIOUS DEVICES

There was, indeed, some truth behind these stories. Ancient automata were not a mere mythical creation, but a real product of the inventiveness of some very early engineers. In the 4th century BCE, Archytas of Tarentum created a steam or compressed-air-powered dove; 3rd century BCE Philon of Byzantium designed a wine-pouring maid; and 1st century CE Hero of Alexandria produced a series of mechanical devices that included coin-operated machines, puppets, singing birds, and even a miniature theater able to stage a tragedy. This Greco-Alexandrian tradition was carried forward by Arab-Islamic engineers, such as the Banū Mūsā brothers in 9th century Baghdad, whose Book of Ingenious Devices contains designs for several different automata.

If many Christians regarded these inventions as devilry, it wasn’t just for their seemingly unnatural qualities, but also for their pagan origins.

Back in early modern England, Protestants used the brazen head motif for their own political purposes. In Friar Bacon and Friar Bungay, Bacon—who like Gerbert, Grosseteste, and Albertus Magnus was an intellectual working on advanced ideas of philosophy and nature—is presented as a necromancer. The influential play is an example of Reformation propaganda: The Middle Ages are depicted as a breeding ground for magic and the occult, and Catholics are portrayed as credulous and superstitious, as opposed to Protestants, who are praised as advocates of progress.

MAGICAL RELICS

A wizard at Musée Mécanique, San Francisco
Musée Mécanique, San Francisco
Allison Meier, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

The fascination with fortune-telling heads didn’t end with the Renaissance, however. Centuries later, the legend of Bacon’s brazen head still breathed in the works of Daniel Defoe, Lord Byron, and Nathaniel Hawthorne. In A Journal of the Plague Year (1722), Defoe describes how brazen heads were “the usual sign” that marked the dwellings of fortune-tellers and astrologers in 1665 London. What may have been false advertising in the 17th century became reasonably accurate in the penny arcades of the 20th century, where the fortune-telling business was actually performed by machines.

Many of these more recent fortune-telling creations still trade on tropes of the exotic—elderly gypsy women, Central European magicians, or Eastern mystics. While such automata are increasingly rare, several now live in museums, such as the Musée Mécanique in San Francisco or the Tibidabo Automata Museum in Barcelona. Although not the brazen heads of legend, they’re still functioning, ready to tell us our future—as long as we don't fall asleep.

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