I was born in Albuquerque, New Mexico in 1970. I only lived there for the first four years of my life, so I have few memories of the place. It wasn’t until I met my wife eight years ago that I returned to the state for any memorable travel. Her dad lives in Taos, so that has always provided the initial excuse, but the state has a wide array of natural and cultural areas worth exploring.
(For example) On our way back from a week-long vacation in Arizona in 2005 we visited Chaco Culture National Historic Park. This remote site contains the densest and most exceptional concentration of pueblos in the American Southwest. Between AD 900 and 1150, Chaco Canyon was a major center of culture for the ancient Pueblo people (often inaccurately referred to as the Anasazi). I have always been attracted to this place, and visiting these grand ruins was a special, spiritual experience for me.
Still, that experience barely scraped the surface for what New Mexico has to offer, and now that my mom has moved back to Albuquerque recently, I intend on taking in the rest of what this great state has to offer. First up was my re-acquaintance with the place of my birth.
Albuquerque is the largest city in New Mexico, with a metropolitan population of 887,077 as of 2010. The city was founded in 1706 as a Spanish colonial outpost. It is believed that the growing village was named by the provincial governor Don Francisco Cuervo y Valdes in honor of Don Francisco Fernandez de la Cueva, viceroy of New Spain from 1653 to 1660. One of de la Cueva’s aristocratic titles was Duke of Alburquerque, referring to the Spanish town of Albuquerque.
Being a single, senior citizen, my mother has been a little intimidated by Albuquerque’s larger city atmosphere than what she has been used to (no doubt the city has changed a lot in almost 40 years), and really looked forward to my wife and I coming down to help her explore and share some of what the city has to offer.
We only had two full days in Albuquerque, so we left most of the planning to my mother. Whatever we did would be new to us. After an amazing visit to the Turquoise Museum and an interesting walk through the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center, we headed to Old Town Albuquerque. This historic area has been heart of the city since it was founded. Today it is the cultural center of Albuquerque with over 150 shops, galleries, museums, and restaurants. We had a wonderful lunch at the Church Street Cafe and followed it up by indulging our collective sweet tooth at The Candy Lady. This isn’t the kind of place I would usually go to (just too addictive and not healthy enough), but the place has been around for decades and for a candy store it’s as good as it gets. Featuring over 20 flavors of fudge, A wall of black licorice, fresh dipped and glazed fruits, we settled for some dark chocolate-dipped pineapple and orange rinds, some anise bears, and some mint-dipped Oreos. And no, we didn’t eat it all in one sitting.
When my wife and I travel we usually buy a souvenir in the form of a bear. Usually these turn out to be carved, stone bears. We are building quite a collection and added to it while visiting New Mexico Bead and Fetish. This place was amazing, and a majority of the carved animal figurines were done by Native American artists (unlike the typical crap mass-produced in China). We picked a bear carved out of green serpentine by talented Zuni artist Brian Yatsattie.
After our relaxing time in Old Town we visited Petroglyph National Monument just west of the metro area. We arrived a little late and only had an hour to explore, but made the best of it. Established by Congress in 1990, this young monument contains over 20,000 images carved into black basalt laid down by lava flows about 150,000 years ago. Archaeologists estimate that most of the images were made 400 to 700 years ago by ancestors of today’s Native people, though some may be as old as 2,000 to 3,000 years. With our time limited we picked a short trail up to the top of a volcanic mesa at Boca Negra Canyon.
There are a few more trails in the monument that we will have to explore next time, including visits to two of the area’s five extinct volcanoes.
That finished day one. The weather the next day would not be nearly as nice, as high winds kicked up the area sand and pretty much turned Albuquerque into a giant dust bowl. We stayed indoors as much as possible. First we visited Debbie, a neighbor from our old neighborhood back in the early ’70s that my mother has kept in touch with all these years. We had not seen each other in 36 years!
Another travel tradition we have is to sample locally-brewed beers at area brewery-restaurants. So, for lunch we stopped at Turtle Mountain Brewing Company. Each of us ordered a different brew and they all were very tasty… as were their wood-fired pizzas. Portion sizes were huge, which is always a plus in my book. Pleasant atmosphere and good service, too.
We bought my mom a couple of house plants for her new apartment and relaxed there for the rest of the night. We left for Taos the next morning. We had a nice time in Albuquerque, and mom certainly spoiled us with incredible breakfasts and dinners. More great food than we probably should have consumed, but we were on vacation, right?
Our stay in Taos was short, but we made good use of our time. After checking in with my father-in-law, we met an old college friend of Rhiannon’s for lunch at The Alley Cantina. Located in the Taos Plaza in the oldest building in town, it had an old bar atmosphere, but with a large skylight in the middle of the dinning area, which we sat under. The sunlight added positively to the darkness of the mid-day bar. Overall the experience was nice enough, but I could have done without the giant mound of entirely too many over-cooked French fries.
Afterwards we hiked around on some trails in the foothills just to get a little exercise. And then it was back to the father- in-law’s for more drinking and stuffing our faces with incredible food! Bloated and relaxed we headed back home the next day.