asee 2001 conference special  

city of many places

You'll have lots to see and do in Albuquerque, whether it's trekking around historic Old Town, taking the tram through the spectacular Sandia Mountains, or washing down spicy-hot enchiladas with icy-cold margaritas.

By Michelle Pentz

Endless blue skies. Stunning sunsets. Towering pink mountains. Rounded brown adobes. Route 66 cruising. Hot air ballooning. The Rio Grande valley and sagebrush-dotted desert. Friendly folk and hot chile. Albuquerque is still very much an undiscovered, low-key city that has yet to hit metropolis speed. And that's just fine with the metro area's nearly 700,000 residents, who combine to make the "Duke City" New Mexico's largest.

Unlike its glitzy neighbor to the north, world-renowned Santa Fe, Albuquerque is a proudly middle-class city, formed by its large population of scientists, defense workers, high-tech employees, and university staff and students. It is also a community of three cultures: Native American, Hispanic and Anglo. On any given day, visitors may catch a conversation snippet in Spanish, Spanglish (a slang mix of Spanish and English) or Diné, the language of the Navajo people.

Searching for the Seven Cities of Gold in the mid 14th century, Spanish explorer Coronado ventured into the Albuquerque area in 1540. Later in 1706, the Spanish Duke of Albuquerque granted Don Francisco Cuervo y Valdés the right to settle the RoyalVilla de Albuquerque, an outpost of 30 families. Today's City of Albuquerque grew from its Old Town core that cropped up around the plaza; it was incorporated in 1891. New Mexico joined the U.S. as state No. 47 in 1912.

The heart of Duke City beats in two places: in its Historic Old Town marked by a central plaza with gazebo and 300-year-old church surrounded by earth-toned buildings—and in its portion of the fabled Route 66, which runs along the colorful Central Avenue. Part ratty, part trendy, this buzzing strip is always interesting, flanked with neon signs, 50s-era motor courts and kitsch, boutiques, cafés, bars, art galleries, book stores and the University of New Mexico campus.

The Rio Grande divides the city into an east and west side. The city's two small freeways run north/south (Interstate 25) and east/west (Interstate 40). It's easy to orient yourself in Albuquerque: the imposing Sandía mountain range lines the east. The green-and-black-dotted Sandías ("watermelon" in Spanish) glow pink in the late afternoon just before the sun sets. Watch them light up as the sun sinks below the West Side's Sleeping Sisters, a row of five inactive volcanic cones, and a gigantic harvest moon creeps over the crest.

Treat yourself by dining atop the 10,600-foot peak at High Finance, a primo view restaurant reachable by a 20 minute tram ride nearly 4,000 feet to the top (or a steep 9-mile hike on the scenic and varied La Luz trail; bring water and allow four hours).

Albuquerque's swank Northeast Heights neighborhood offers wonderful hiking and mountain biking trails, and picnicking venues. Starting west of the river and moving east along Central Avenue, the traveler hits Old Town, the revitalizing Downtown entertainment district (home to the city's few skyscrapers), the university area and then Nob Hill, the city's trendy shopping neighborhood, also a good place to park and stroll.

Like many Western cities, Albuquerque suffers under urban sprawl —though it still only takes about 20 minutes to zoom from one side of town to the other. The best way to meet the Duke City is by getting to know its unique neighborhoods. Fortunately, locals are friendly and helpful. A good source for getting started is the Albuquerque Convention & Visitors Bureau: (505) 842-9918 or (800) 284-2282, fax (505) 247-9101, or see An essential tool is the bureau's (free) Official Visitors Guide. For statewide information, call the New Mexico Department of Tourism, (505) 827-7400 or (800) 545-2040; or see

Aside from the perennial, “red or green?” (red or green chile, that is, on your taco/enchilada/breakfast burrito/burger), the most important question at hand is, What's your pleasure? An Albuquerque experience can translate into many different things to different people, depending on taste and preference. Here are some ways to get acquainted.

Get Outside

June is an ideal month for Duke City fun outdoors: not too hot (high 89 degrees, low 59 degrees), sunny skies, and an occasional brief afternoon electrical storm to cool things off. But be aware: skin burns easily in the thin, high desert air (about 5,600 feet). The best defense against the altitude is to slather on heavy-duty sun screen, wear a hat, and drink plenty of water.

The Sandia Tram is a popular way to see the city from a bird's eye view (in winter, skiers shoot down the back side of the peak). Ambitious hikers will enjoy the La Luz trail, which winds up through the Sandías to the top, morphing scenery every mile or so. Vistas are stunning, though the long, switch-back trail is strenuous.

Hot air ballooning is another picture perfect way to spend the day in Albuquerque, which hosts the Kodak Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta. Rides begin in the cool early morning hours. River rafting on the Rio Grande is a fun way to beat the heat. For golfers, the Duke City sports 13 courses. And just up the interstate about 16 miles north (in Bernalillo), the brand new Hyatt Regency Tamaya Resort & Spa has two champion golf courses including the nearby Santa Ana Pueblo's scenic course, plus horseback riding and a huge day spa. Also on the property: four-star dining at Santa Ana Golf Club's Prairie Star and Hyatt's The Corn Maiden.

Have Some Fun

Summer Fest is a big Albuquerque street party with music, food and live entertainment in Downtown's Civic Plaza on Saturday nights. Or catch local and national talent in evening shows at the university's Popejoy Hall. Another performing arts venue, Downtown's KiMo Theatre and Art Gallery, presents theater, dance and music. The KiMo has just emerged from an extensive renovation and is a dazzling example of 1920s Pueblo-Deco style. Check the Albuquerque Journal's Friday Venue section for listings ( or call the Visitors Bureau events line at (800) 284-2282.

If you'd like to tie food into your travel, sample New Mexico wines: Casa Rondeña Winery and Gruet Winery offer regular tastings. Albuquerque also boasts several cooking schools, including Jane Butel's Southwest Cooking School, which is credited with starting the Tex-Mex mania.

One-Day Santa Fe

You've got one day to take in the City Different, home to the country's third largest art market and the oldest U.S. capital city (founded in 1610). Where to start? Begin with a light breakfast of heavenly scones and feather-light croissants fresh out of the oven at tiny Sage Bakehouse (535-C Cerrillos Road, north of Paseo de Peralta, (505) 820-SAGE). Parking can be a hassle in Santa Fe; best to leave the car for the day at the Sandoval Municipal Garage on West San Francisco (maximum $6; closes at 10 p.m.). Then proceed on foot a few blocks to the La Fonda hotel (100 E. San Francisco, (505) 982-5511 ): Historic Walks of Santa Fe leads "Historic Walks" departing daily at 9:45 a.m. and 1:15 p.m. from the lobby. The $10 per person, two-hour leisurely downtown walk hits all the highlight's of Santa Fe, including its famous and infamous residents, melting pot of Hispanic, Native American and Anglo cultures, the famed Loretto chapel and San Miguel Mission (the country's oldest church in continuous use).

If history is not your bag, Historic Walks also offers two-hour art tours, Ghost Walker (an adventurous look at Santa Fe's other worldly residents) and a half-day Prestige Shopping Tour—meet boutique and gallery proprietors to the rich and famous. Call (505) 986-8388 or see

Get into the art mode with lunch at the Georgia O'Keeffe Café; follow that with a visit to the adjacent Georgia O'Keeffe Museum (200 W. Marcy, (505) 989-1124) to see the works of New Mexico's best-known painter. After that, just let your feet wander undirected to explore the nooks and crannies of the town. If it's in your path, make a pass by the Native American vendors lining the plaza and stop in at the many galleries both near the plaza and on the famed Canyon Road. One nice walk twists up Acequia Madre ending at Canyon. You can double back for a double latte at Downtown Subscription (376 Garcia, (505) 983-3085).

As the shadows lengthen and the day fades into evening, take a twilight walk up to Ft. Marcy Park to watch the sunset from this ideal vantage point atop a hill—also great for picnics. (The paved trail with stairs winds up from the east side of Paseo de Peralta just after Hillside Avenue, or you can drive up the back on Artist Road, which becomes Hyde Park Road.) With its massive white cross, the park's monument commemorates the Franciscan padres killed in the 1680 Pueblo Revolt. If that sounds too strenuous, catch the sunset from the popular rooftop patio at Coyote Café (132 West Water Street; (505) 983-1615).

For tasty New Mexican fare in a traditional and festive setting, head to La Choza Restaurant (905 Alarid Street; (505) 982-0909). Or try a massage and hot tub soak at Japanese spa Ten Thousand Waves, nestled in the piñon-dotted hills above Santa Fe; take the highway out of town toward the ski basin; the sign is on the left ((505) 982-9304; To get started, contact the Santa Fe Convention & Visitors Bureau: (800) 777-CITY or (505) 955-6200; or see


Good Eats

And speaking of food, the Duke City has more than the average number of restaurants per resident. Albuquerqueans love to eat out, and they love it hot. Staples are enchiladas, beans and rice and posole (hominy stew), all topped with spicy red or green chile. In fact, you'll discover homegrown Chile (Hatch, N.M. is the Chile-growing capital) on anything or everything. Proceed with caution.

New Mexican: There are zillions, but favorites include El Pinto (sprawling outdoor patio, in the South Valley), Barelas Coffee House (only locals here, in historic Hispanic neighborhood), Maria Teresa (an Old Town haunt) and Los Cuates (authentic, no frills). Upper crust: Scalo Northern Italian Grill in Nob Hill (THE hot spot for a decade running), Seasons Rotisserie & Grill (sophisticated dining in Old Town), Le Café Mich (scrumptious French), Café Bodega (creative contemporary cuisine from celebrated local chefs) and Gold Street Caffé (upscale breakfast and lunches, Downtown). Watering hole: There's nothing like slurping a frosty brew and watching Central Avenue in action from an outside table at Kelly's Brewing patio.

Another focal point is Nob Hill's funky coffee house Flying Star Café (formerly Double Rainbow), best for people watching and fabulous pies, cakes and homemade ice cream. High Noon Restaurant and Saloon is an Old Town staple. Or try high tea at the lovely St. James Tearoom near Old Town—indoor in the romantic parlor or in the garden under the gazebo.

Local flavor: Where do Albuquerqueans head for a bite? To Central Avenue's Il Vicino, home to woodburning oven-baked gourmet pizzas and house-brewed beer; Model Pharmacy (Carlisle at Lomas) for an old-fashioned egg cream shake and sandwich in a quaint drugstore setting; the Frontier, a budget institution across from the university (open 'round the clock), for a cross-section of the Duke City and the best huevos rancheros, homemade tortillas and gargantuan cinnamon rolls around; The Range in Bernalillo (15 minutes northwest of Albuquerque), in a typical small-town setting with big hearted New Mexican hospitality and homemade dishes (try the Taos Cow ice cream, a local secret).

Old Town is a favorite, with its 300-year-old adobe buildings, charming central plaza and beautifully restored San Felipe De Neri Catholic church, the city's first. Jewelry, local arts and crafts, clothing, housewares, food and Native American rugs abound. Try The Christmas Shop, The Candy Lady, Casa de Avila (jewelry, gifts, furniture, decor), Aceves Old Town Basket & Rug Shop, Nizhoni Moses Ltd. (Indian arts) and Weems Gallery.

Nearby Downtown's Central strip has a few fun and quirky shops. But the trendy district is Nob Hill, which runs along Central east from Girard to Washington. Highlights include Hey Jhonny (Asian/Italian collectibles and antiques), Mariposa Gallery, Papers!, silver jewelry at Ooh! Aah!, women's apparel at Morning Bird and Wear It!, whimsical housewares at The A Store and artist-designed jewelry at IMEC. East is the emerging Upper Nob Hill, a real find for antique hunters—try Antique Emporium, Linda's Sweets & Antiques, Morningside Antiques and Albuquerque Tea & Trading Co., where local writers sip tea and type their next novel. Other hits: Two Serious Ladies (antiques from Asia and the Islamic world) and bath/garden haven Lavender Blue.

Tech Town

With one of the highest per capita concentrations of engineers and scientists in the US, Albuquerque is emerging as a high-tech hub, with a slew of innovative start-ups spinning off after incubation at Sandia National Labs. Both Wired magazine and the Milken Institute recently listed the Duke City as a national leader in high-tech growth. Albuquerque also ranks fourth in R&D spending. Hot areas include electronic components, communications equipment, medical instruments and research/testing devices. Local players are Intel Corp. with its huge Rio Rancho lab, Sennheiser Electronic GmbH, Philips Semiconductors, Eclipse Aviation and Honeywell Power Systems Inc. Intel's on-site Visitors Center charts the development of the semiconductor (4100 Sara Road; 505/893-7000). The Albuquerque Convention & Visitors Bureau outlines a five-hour "Science & Technology Tour" in its 9 Self-Guided Tours brochure (free).

Center of Knowledge

Seeking to strengthen that fountain of knowledge while having fun? The Duke City has much to offer. The National Atomic Museum, currently housed on the Kirtland Air Force Base, is a collection of nuclear science and history exhibits including B-52 and B-29 aircraft, rockets, weapons and other artifacts from World War II and the Cold War. Old Town boasts its own unique museums: the American International Rattlesnake Museum (world's largest collection) and Turquoise Museum, home to rare specimens of the blue stone. Part of the interactive New Mexico Museum of Natural History & Science near Old Town, the LodeStar Astronomy Center includes a planetarium, observatory and virtual voyages for kids. Just across the street is the Albuquerque Museum of Art, History and Science. For tots, !Explora! Science Center and Children's Museum is a hands-on learning center in Uptown's Winrock Center shopping mall.

To delve into the Duke City's cultural heritage, head to the new National Hispanic Cultural Center or the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center with traditional dances and exhibits—this is a great way to gather background before motoring off to visit one of the pueblos. Northwest of I-40, Petroglyph National Monument shows Native American history in ancient pictures chipped into its lava bluffs, documented in about 17,000 petroglyphs dating back to 8000 B.C.

While the Route 66 75th birthday bash doesn't kick off 'til July, you can still get in on the freewheelin' fun. History tours of the "Mother Road" highlight some of Central's relic Route motels: for example, Upper Nob Hill's Aztec Motel, covered with hundreds of paintings and figurines, or the pastel-hued University Lodge. Call 505/222-4342 for information.

Michelle Pentz is a freelance writer living in Sante Fe, New Mexico.


Modeled after Old Town, !Traditions! A Festival Marketplace is an upscale indoor/outdoor shopping center—featuring solely New Mexico artists and products, plus cultural events center—halfway between Albuquerque and Santa Fe off I-25. Check the center's calendar for special events: artist demos, music festivals, fun for kids.

For a wonderfully scenic drive to Santa Fe, take the Turquoise Trail (N.M. 14); visit old mining town-cum artist colony Madrid (pronounced "má-drid") along the way. The country's oldest continuously occupied Pueblo community at 1,000-plus years, Acoma Pueblo, is a huddling of adobe dwellings perched atop a 376-foot vertical rock; about an hour west of Albuquerque. It is also is a great living example of pueblo life. Because the town is still occupied, tours are guided (call ahead). You can purchase discount-priced pottery from the artists along the one-hour walk. Acoma's San Estevan Church is one of the state's most stunning illustrations of mission churches.

While the "secret city" of Los Alamos National Laboratories, home to The Manhattan Project, doesn't offer tours of the facilities, you can learn about the labs and this unusual mountain top town of 19,000 by visiting its Bradbury Science Museum. Los Alamos is a 1 ½- to 2-hour drive from Albuquerque.

Staying longer in the Land of Enchantment? Visit Taos Pueblo, Jemez Pueblo and hot springs, Abiqui and its Georgia O'Keeffe House, aliens and UFOs in Roswell.


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