Albuquerque, New Mexico – A Melting Pot
Albuquerque, New Mexico
As I mentioned in the last post, I was retracing, in part, the route I had taken so many times into New Mexico for hunting trips…so, time to get back on I-40 for the drive to Albuquerque, NM…another waypoint on those trips.
And, sadly for too many years, ABQ ( in the parlance of airport speak) was simply a waypoint on my drives; or, a gateway for trips via airline to Santa Fe on vacation and holidays.
I had originally planned on spending a lot of time exploring New Mexico given it’s reputation as the “Land of Enchantment” – I had seen so little of what the visitors guide describes…
“…a land of color and art, music and dance, breathtaking landscapes…a heritage of Indian, Anglo, and Hispanic cultures that cannot be found in any other state in the union…From prehistoric times until the present, cultures and tribes have journeyed through New Mexico’s land…various native American tribes have wandered in…people from Mexico…Spaniards as well…Europeans have added to the mix. Pueblo, Apache, Navajo and others are all part of the incredible diversity that marks the vibrant culture of New Mexico….”
However, given the delayed start to this journey of discovery, I would be unable to do that wandering through the state—I could, however, make up for bypassing ABQ so many times and see what ABQ had to offer.
Albuquerque is the crossroads of New Mexico…the I-40 stop it seems for every trucker crossing the country…the largest city in the state…and like the visitor guide notes above suggest – a southwest melting pot…a little bit of everything in New Mexico all wrapped up in one.
With that in mind, first stop had to be Albuquerque’s Historic Old Town. For almost three centuries, Old Town has been the crossroads of the Southwest and Old Town today still looks much like it did when it was built centuries ago. Old Town encompasses about ten blocks of historic adobe buildings and some are incredibly important historic sites including the San Felipe de Neri Church, the oldest building in the city, which was built in 1793. Surrounding the church, the old buildings have since been converted into the restaurants, art galleries and shops that comprise Old Town today. It was a lot of fun wandering in and out of the galleries and shops on a beautiful Spring day.
My stop in ABQ would also be a nice opportunity to catch up with an old photography buddy –- J — an ABQ vet doc and really fine photographer…and, like me, a real foodie…I would be able to get his picks for some ABQ culinary treats. J also was a virtual chamber of commerce expert with lots of ideas for other stops in and around ABQ.
Two spots were on my bucket list for ABQ – Sandia Peak and Petroglyph National Monument.
Sandia Peak is a “must do” for virtually everyone that visits Albuquerque – it’s a mile above the surrounding countryside and 2 miles above sea level. Usually folks find their way to the top via the Sandia Peak Tramway-reportedly the worlds longest aerial tramway — a distance of 2.7 miles –and, they ride above deep canyons while overlooking ABQ and some very breathtaking terrain –or, perhaps it’s the altitude ☺
I opted instead to find my way to the top at nearly 11,000 feet by way of the Sandia Crest Scenic Byway. The highway climbs for miles along ever changing terrain – winding through too many switchbacks to count – and is an absolutely incredible drive.
The views from the ride and from the top are amazing… west across the Rio Grande and a volcano field, Mount Taylor rises more than 100 miles away…to the north is Cabezon, a stump of an eroded volcano…to the north and west, Redondo Peak, in the Jemez Mountains, rises from a caldera known as the Valle Grande, a volcanic crater reported to be the largest in the world…to the east the heavily wooded backside of the Sandias and, on the far horizon, the Sangre de Cristo Mountains and the capital city of Santa Fe….all in all a “wow” trip!
On the way back home, I stopped in a roadside museum of folk art and other bits of history at TinkerTown Museum. Created by an (eccentric?) folk artist, Ross Ward, the museum is made from 50,000 glass bottles and its rambling walls surround a 22-room museum. Wagon wheels, old fashioned store fronts, and wacky western memorabilia make Tinkertown’s exterior as much as a museum as his creations within.
It took Ross Ward over 40 years to carve, collect, and lovingly construct what is now Tinkertown Museum. His miniature wood-carved figures were first part of a traveling exhibit, driven to county fairs and carnivals in the 1960s and ’70s and today the carvings, in part a raucous little western town, are part of a bigger sampling of eccentric collections of Americana (wedding cake couples, antique tools, bullet pencils, Otto the one-man-band and Esmerelda, the Fortune Teller, a 35′ antique wooden sailboat that braved a 10 year voyage around the world and much, much more). What a find – thanks J for the tip!
One of the true highlights of the ABQ visit was my hike through Petroglyh National Monument. The National Monument occupies 11 square miles on 3 sites west of the Rio Grande and is within the actual city of Albuquerque…in some cases the urban sprawl comes right to its doorstep…good thing the NM was created to protect these lands from the voracious appetites of KB Homes, Lennar, and DR Horton whose signs seemed to be everywhere ☺
Today the Petroglyph National Monument protects one of the largest petroglyph sites in North America and features designs and symbols carved onto volcanic rocks by Native Americans and Spanish settlers 400 to 700 years ago.
The Petroglyphs, the majority of which were created by ancient Puebloans, are rock carvings made by pecking directly on the rock surface using a stone chisel and a “hammerstone”. When the “desert varnish” on the surface of the rock was pecked off, the lighter rock underneath was exposed, creating the petroglyph. They depict geometric designs, animals and shamans and are also found with the marks of the Spanish and later settlers.
It was a treasure hunt of sorts scrambling among the lava boulders looking for and photographing these amazing and ancient symbols. While on the hike I fell in with Roger – a NPS Volunteer – who schooled me on many things about the petroglyphs and the geology and plant life of the region –thanks Roger!
Now all that hiking builds up an appetite and J put me on to some great ABQ offerings. One evening, he joined me at his favorite Chinese spot –yup, outstanding Chinese in the land of chiles!
I absolutely assure you, this isn’t your mother’s Panda Express 🙂 Hsia Fang, the chef and co-owner of Budai and has over 30 years of culinary experience under his belt. Prior to opening Budai, Hsia worked in kitchens in Taiwan, Washington D.C. and New York City – yup, might as well have been back in NYC in China Town. J insisted we order a number of the fav’s on the “secret menu”…meant a some leftovers for lunch the next day…absolutely outstanding…!
He also pointed me in the direction of Mary and Tito’s – the 2010 recipient of the James Beard Award’s “America’s Classic” honor — an award I read that “… signifies the pinnacle of achievement in the culinary world, the country’s most coveted and prestigious culinary award … while the “Americas Classic Award” honors restaurants with timeless appeal, beloved for quality food that reflects the character of their community, and that have carved out a special place in the American culinary landscape.”
That fellow James (by the way, the medal hangs right behind the cash register!!) was right – it’s about the food – it’s not about the décor – let’s just say that it is minimally decorated (the tables are covered with plastic tablecloths ) but M & T serves up the best carne adovada, best red chile, and best New Mexican food in the state.
Of course I had to have the carne adovade and what arrived was an enormous sopapilla with meat slathered with the café’s famous green chiles – and while the hottest green chile I have had anywhere, it was also the tastiest — moderately thick with large chunks of roasted green chile. It was the kind of chile about which one simultaneously thinks “this is really hot… I can’t wait to eat some more.” ☺
Well, sadly it was a case of too many things to see and too little time…
But, simply a reason to return one day…
Time to move on…
See you down the road…