It was pretty surreal to ride around in a car again. Yeah, yeah, we had gotten rides before but this felt a little different. We packed into Clint’s roommate’s Explorer and headed back to Saguache for breakfast at the diner, but this time the journey to cover the distance from the hot springs to the town only took 20 minutes instead of two hours. Which was great because Travis and I ordered half the menu, which included homefries with eggs smothered in green chili, a large blueberry pancake, french toast, fried eggs, bacon, and coffee. Sometimes diners are the best.

We had stop along the way before we got to the sand dunes, a little spot recommended to us by a few people— the UFO Watchtower in Hooper.

Apparently there has been a lot of extraterrestrial activity in the San Luis Valley, and in order to alert the internet about these sitings you have to hire a web designer who thinks 1996 was the best year of the internet. We knew we were on right path to the Watchtower when we saw handmade painted roadsigns that read, “You’re on the Cosmic Highway”, held by a wooden cutout bugeye alien. After paying our $5 to enter, we were greeted by this impossible little creature named Vi, who offered me a rock sandwich with ketchup and ranch. It was delicious.

This place is just pathetic enough and just genius enough to leave me torn. Pathetic because the Watchtower is the height of a second story hotel balcony, made of fencing material and equipped with sun-weathered lawn chairs for those who want to do some serious alien hunting. Pathetic because someone was hired to build a little dome-shaped structure for the gift shop, but they apparently lacked engineering skills because the building is cracking apart. Pathetic because Vi’s mother sits all day in said cracking building in wretched desert silence, selling terribly-printed Watchtower t-shirts, Chinese-made bugeye alien keychains, alien abduction memoirs, and a dwindling supply of Fritos.

Genius because the woman who started this thing, Judy Messoline, is turning lemons into alien lemonade in this shithole little town of Hooper, CO. Travis read a part of her self-published memoir and learned that she bought the land in the valley to try her hand at ranching, but it wasn’t working out and she was going broke. So she took a (GIANT) risk and built this Watchtower, based on rumors that people had seen UFOs in the area. Judy herself has never seen one. Now she has this silly gift shop, tent and RV camping, and people coming from all over the world to visit a tourist trap that she made up in order to not go broke.

Apparently she only has to make $100 a day to stay in business, and from looking back at her guestbook, she has between 20-30 visitors to pay the entrance fee that provide’s Vi’s mom with what looks like one of maybe three jobs available in Hooper. So, pretty genius.

We looked for some aliens.

We visited the rock garden (20 psychics visited the spot and told Judy she needed a spiritual rock garden, though she didn’t know the first thing about rock gardening).

We wished there were better graphic designers/screen printers in Hooper who could print better Watchtower t-shirts. We chatted with Vi a little more, and peaced out.