It is cold, dark and silent in downtown Del Rio, even on a Friday night. The former Guarantee department store sits vacant on Main Street, as it has for decades. The hair salons that now occupy the old service stations are all closed for the day.
A few shadowy figures break the stillness, speaking in murmurs. Bundled against the January chill in knit hats and overcoats, they turn a corner and file into an old firehouse on Garfield Street. A party is just getting started, and they—some of the world’s leading UFO and alien researchers—are the guests of honor.
The 92-year-old firehouse building is now home to the Del Rio Council for the Arts, fronted by a gallery lined with abstract paintings. Flying saucers crafted from CDs hang on strings from the ceiling. Samples from the nearby Val Verde Winery help fuel the party, and volunteers circle the room carrying trays of “alien eyes”—deviled eggs with sliced olives set in bright-green yolks. A young guitarist on a stool in the corner sings Tom Petty’s “Free Fallin’” and Ryan Adams’ “When the Stars Go Blue.” The travelers set their coats aside and get to mingling.
Many of the faces are familiar to them from other UFO festivals in other cities, including Roswell, New Mexico, which hosts the nation’s biggest UFO festival each summer. But Roswell is far from alone, and since 2012 the alien circuit has expanded to cities along the Texas-Mexico border: Laredo, Presidio, Edinburg, and now, for the first time, Del Rio. To border-town tourism directors anxious for a reputation more savory than cartel crime, the alien invasion is welcome. Souvenir T-shirts skewer the political world’s obsession with immigration, legal and otherwise, with a slogan: “UFOs Have No Borders.”
The godfather of Texas’ Border UFO Series presides over a…