Albuquerque - Cultural Crossroads of the Southwest

Albuquerque is "home." It is the stuff of my childhood memories and it will always have special sentimental claims to my loyalties. It is a fascinating city in which the cultural traditions of the Southwest converge to honor the best of the past and create new possibilities for the future.

Albuquerque - Cultural Crossroads of the Southwest

Member Rating 0 out of 5 by BawBaw on February 16, 2004

Albuquerque isn't for everyone. If your perfect environment includes lush landscapes and abundant water recreation, you'll find Albuquerque wanting. But if your tastes run to mountains looming majestically above the high desert, magnificent sunsets, or the stark splendor of dramatic landscapes, then you’ll love Albuquerque. Toss in hot-air balloons drifting in a brilliant blue sky, and you have an irresistible formula for attracting you to one of America's most underrated cities.

Appreciating Albuquerque means valuing cultural diversity. "Anglos" are newcomers in the historical sense. Hispanic families proudly trace their roots to forebears who arrived long before the Pilgrims ventured onto Plymouth Rock. Native American tradition influences everything from the city’s predominant architecture (adobe style), to personal adornment (turquoise-and-silver jewelry) and foodstuffs (corn, beans, and tortillas), and to a growing sense of reverence for the land and its resources. Relics of the Old West include cowboy hats, rodeos, and a fundamental respect for both self-reliance and cooperation between neighbors.

Visitors may choose from a wide variety of pastimes. Petroglyph National Monument offers intriguing glimpses into the prehistoric past. Old Town preserves the Spanish colonial era, provides the setting for an open-air Indian market, and offers numerous galleries and restaurants. Modern malls and shops throughout the city cater to every possible requirement. The politically sovereign Sandia Pueblo on the city’s northern edge welcomes visitors to its festivals and trading post, and encourages them to try their luck at the tribally owned casino.

Depending on the season and personal inclination, visitors may choose golf, hiking, horseback riding, hunting, or mountain biking--plus such spectator sports as minor league baseball, horse racing, or Lobo basketball at UNM. The world's longest jigback tramway provides transportation to ski runs in the Sandia Mountains, and the International Balloon Fiesta in October attracts thousands of balloonists.

Albuquerque’s museums include the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center, featuring the history and culture of the pueblos through native crafts, dances, and educational exhibits. The National Atomic Museum traces the history of atomic science and warfare. And the Maxwell Museum of Anthropology houses excellent exhibits on New Mexico's multicultural heritage.

Taken as a whole, Albuquerque appreciates and benefits from the challenges of the 21st century, just as it values of a good siesta. Albuquerque encourages residents and visitors to understand that a well-rounded person needs to leave some things to "mañana"--thereby providing time for a happier, healthier present. ${QuickSuggestions} In the spring and fall, take clothing that is suitable for hot days and cool (or even cold) evenings.

New Mexico Magazine offers terrific information on local activities and attractions. Pick up a copy or two at your local newsstand before making your trip.

Check out the website for the Albuquerque Convention and Visitors Bureau. ${BestWay} To enjoy the best of this city, rent a car. You'll want the flexibility to drive up to the Crest, explore the petroglyphs on the West Mesa, or try your luck at the Sandia Pueblo casino north of the city. Albuquerque does have a bus system that will facilitate exploring various locations within the city, but to enjoy the Albuquerque's many and diverse attractions, you'll probably want the convenience of a personal vehicle.

Garduño's of Mexico

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by BawBaw on February 25, 2004

Garduño’s is a small chain of restaurants limited to a handful of Southwestern cities and specializing in New Mexican cuisine. With locations throughout the city, Garduño’s is popular for lunch or an evening out. Reservations are not taken, and Friday and Saturday evenings are particularly busy, so plan on experiencing a wait for service.

The Garduño’s menu offers little for those who do not enjoy the regional dishes of the Southwest. But for those who do, it’s a place where one can expect reasonable authenticity and consistent quality. As a "restaurant and cantina," guests can expect to find their favorite cocktails as well as dinner or lunch. I favor margaritas and Mexican beer at Garduño’s. A margarita on the rocks with salt and Cuervo Gold is my "usual."

Meals are served with piping hot sopapillas (a fried puffy bread for which I have a particularly fondness), and guests can select from all the traditional Southwestern dishes, including tacos, enchiladas, tamales, burritos, chimichangas, taquitos, pasole, etc. Be sure to try the guacamole; it’s about the best I’ve eaten anywhere. Chile rellenos and stuffed sopapillas represent my favorite entrées. Most main dishes are served with a red or green chile sauce—or Christmas if you’d like a bit of both.

If you’re a newcomer unaccustomed to a chile-based diet, tell your server. These dishes are often spicy hot, and if you don’t enjoy that sort of food, get some guidance that will allow you to have a meal more to your taste.

Lunchtime features a buffet that includes most items on the regular menu, and often a few items that are not. For the novice at local cuisine, Garduño’s luncheon buffet is a good place for sampling, allowing you to an opportunity to discover what works and what doesn’t for your pallet. In my experience, the buffet is geared toward the lowest common denominator on the hot-and-spicy scale, so these dishes are less likely to blow out your spice meter than would offerings taken from the regular menu.

For dessert, if you have room left, try the flan. It’s another traditional regional dish. As a custard, it’s both a relatively light sweet and an effective counterpotion to the spicy entrées.
Gardunos of Mexico
10551 Montgomery Boulevard N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico, 87111
(505) 298-5000

Hot Air Ballooning

Member Rating 5 out of 5 by BawBaw on February 16, 2004

Who among us can glimpse a hot air balloon drifting silently and weightlessly against an early morning sky without feeling a rush of excitement? Almost by definition--and certainly by association--ballooning is a sport characterized by a sense of romance, adventure, and daring. No doubt much of the thrill evoked by the sight of a solitary balloon framed against the heavens has to do with the knowledge that within a fragile wicker gondola suspended from a envelope filled with hot air, men and women ascend from the relative safety and security of the earth to experience the elation of flight.

Now imagine glimpsing not one glorious balloon but hundreds--balloons of all colors and many shapes flown by balloonists from around the globe. Imagine ranks of hot air balloons rising above their launch sites like so many giant mushrooms after a spring rain. Imagine walking in the shadow of dozens of balloons standing upright and ready for flight. Imagine craning your neck and turning your head to watch wave upon wave of balloons float past. And imagine hundreds of tethered balloons glowing softly against a night sky.

Chances are, if your imagination does not fail against such a list of challenges, you’ve visited Albuquerque during the International Balloon Fiesta, a 9-day event that occurs annually during early October.
The center of operations for this high drama above the New Mexican desert is Balloon Fiesta Park, located near I-25 along the northwestern fringes of Albuquerque. From launch sites located at the park, fiesta balloonists participate in such events as:

Dawn Patrol--conducted daily throughout the fiesta, starting about 5:45 A.M.

Mass Ascension--conducted daily throughout the fiesta, starting about 7:00 A.M.

The America's Challenge Gas Balloon Race--an annual competition in which two-person crews race gas balloons cross-country.

Competitive Flying Events--in which hot air balloon pilots compete for cash and prizes.

Balloon Glows--conducted several evenings during the fiesta, featuring tethered balloons set aglow by bursts of flame from their propane burners.

The Flight of Nations--featuring balloons and pilots from abroad.

Special Shape Events--featuring an array of balloons assuming an ever-growing variety of unusual forms, from pigs, to champagne bottles and soft drink cans, to an oversized Jesus rising from a cloud.

Fireworks Shows--scheduled to follow each of the fiesta’s nighttime glows.

Admission to the 2002 Balloon Fiesta Park was only $5, and there was a parking fee.

For fiesta-goers wanting to do more than merely watch the pageantry around them, the best way to move from observer to participant, short of buying a balloon of your own, is to join a balloon chase crew.

© DAnneC/BawBaw, updated 2004 for IgoUgo

Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta
Balloon Fiesta Park
Albuquerque, New Mexico, 87113
(505) 821-1000

Utility Shack

Member Rating 5 out of 5 by BawBaw on June 29, 2004

If you’re thinking that a business dubbed the "Utility Shack" might specialize in generators, cell phones, or gardening supplies, you’d be wrong—very wrong. At least, you would be wrong if you happen to be in Albuquerque. In fact, the Utility Shack is arguably the best place in town to purchase Native American jewelry and crafts. For that reason, it’s a business patronized by this misplaced New Mexican during each visit back home.

Located along old Route 66 on the way to Tijeras Canyon, the Utility Shack is well off the beaten tourist track. Part gallery, part jewelry showroom, and part trading post, the shop serves as a trustworthy outlet for high-quality merchandise that is reasonably priced. With years of experience behind them, proprietors Linda and David Stout have developed a network of outstanding Native American artisans whose work is offered at prices that are far below the prices typically found in Old Town or Santa Fe.

Patrons visiting the Shack will find a stunning array of Southwestern jewelry. Pride of place goes to traditional Pueblo and Navajo pieces that feature coral, shell, and semiprecious stones—particularly turquoise—set in silver. An increasingly prominent collection of modern jewelry designs are more likely to combine traditional motifs with precious stones set in gold. The jewelry collection also includes Southwestern beadwork–for example, silver "Navajo pearls," heshi (small beads carved from shell, coral, or semiprecious stones), and pulled silver—and a small but enticing collection of "pawn" (antique traditional jewelry created for personal use rather than for sale to non-tribal members).

The Shack’s pottery collection is less extensive than its jewelry collection, but each piece is a prize. Most pots on display at any given time are crafted by potters from New Mexico’s various Pueblo tribes, including Acoma, Santa Clara, San Ildefonso, and Cochiti. Pottery from tribes in Arizona and northern Mexico are also typically available. On request, Linda or David will provide customers with the pedigree of each pot—including the potter’s name, tribe, and reputation, as well as the techniques used to create the pot. Visit often enough and you are apt to see the Stouts inspecting the offerings of potters who arrive in hopes of adding their wares to the Shack’s inventory. The Shack’s standards are exacting, and such unsolicited offerings are more apt to be rejected than accepted.

Other Native American crafts available from the Utility Shack include fetish carvings (small stone animal figures), kachinas (ceremonial figures made of painted wood and feathers), rugs, and sculptures and paintings based on traditional themes.

The staff is always available to field questions, but the Utility Shack follows a low-pressure approach to sales, permitting the merchandise to speak for itself. Customers are free to browse at will. Any pressure I've felt to buy has been fueled by my own desires.

Prices follow the trading post pattern: Most items are half the marked price, though a few items (designated "retail") are priced as marked.

Utility Shack Inc
11035 Central Avenue Northeast
Albuquerque, New Mexico, 87123
(505) 292-0174

Sandia Peak Tram

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by BawBaw on June 29, 2004

It may surprise many to learn that the world's longest aerial tramway is located in Albuquerque. From its base on the desert floor at the foot of Sandia Peak to the mountain's 10,378-ft summit, the tram travels a 2.7-mi round trip above some of New Mexico's most magnificent terrain. Inside the large tramcars, passengers enjoy a succession of extraordinary views encompassing roughly 11,000 square miles of mountains, deserts, and mesas—including vast expanses of the Cibola National Forest, the Rio Grande Valley, remnants of extinct and dormant volcanoes along the western horizon, and a series of spectacular canyons on the western face of the Sandias.

Tickets for the tram are purchased at the base station and are generally for a specified departure time. Once on the summit, visitors are free to explore the Peak's attractions, returning down the mountain on the first available tramcar. The tram’s Peak complex houses the High Finance Restaurant and Tavern, a gift shop, and a nature center—all linked by railed platforms and walkways taking full advantage of the panoramic views.

Activities on the Peak include hiking, biking, skiing, and fine or casual dining. Chair and surface lifts on the eastern face of the Peak offer scenic tours year-round and access to 25 miles of slopes during the ski season. Evening diners can reserve their tables, take discounted tram fares to the Peak, and enjoy spectacular desert sunsets as a memorable mealtime entertainment.

Himself and I found the hiking trails well kept, wide, and easy to follow—inviting even for aging lowlanders like ourselves. Nature offers marvelous views of both sides of the Sandias and provides plenty of resting places for catching one's breath—no small requirement at an elevation of over 10,000 feet. At one off-path location, we sat gazing in awe at a succession of ridges and outcrops extending west and south below us. We found it impossible to resist the lure of inching toward a glimpse over the edge of the world. And literally at our feet, we found the fossilized impressions of seashells. The same earth that now occupies a position high atop this geologically young mountain range was once part of a vast seabed.

A ride on the tram is, literally above all, a photographer's dream. On my last trip up, armed with my trusty digital, I took more than a 150 "keepers" within a space of about 4 hours. While on the gondola itself, the key challenges faced by photographers are (1) making sure they position themselves next to one of the large windows and (2) doing their best to compensate for the sun's glare through those windows. Once on the summit, the chief hazard involves curbing the photographer's mad urge to rush to the sharp edge of a long drop in order to capture a magnificent panorama. All these hazards can be managed to the safety and satisfaction of most photographers—even for not-so-surefooted grandmas.

Sandia Peak Ski Area
#10 Tramway Loop Northeast
Albuquerque, New Mexico, 87122
+1 505 242 9133

The National Hispanic Cultural Center

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by BawBaw on July 5, 2004

The National Hispanic Cultural Center (NHCC) is a new arrival on the Albuquerque scene. In keeping with its name, it's an ambitious project. Located on a 16-acre site in the city’s south valley, the center’s goal is to provide nothing less than a world-class cultural and research facility focused on the Western Hemisphere's substantial Hispanic community.

The NHCC strives to provide a core of resources for preserving, sharing, and developing Hispanic culture through the visual arts (including the widest possible spectrum of fine and folk arts), performing arts (including theater, dance, music, film), scholarly activity, literature, and genealogy. Inherently, its mission includes fostering education and self-discovery within the larger Hispanic community, as well as providing a base for cross-cultural appreciation and acceptance. Given the multicultural bases of Hispanic culture in the Americas, these goals are virtually inseparable.

The complex itself might be described as Southwestern Monumental—“Southwestern” in its use of adobe-style architecture with muted tones natural to the Southwestern landscapes, and “monumental” in its inclusion of a round tower, suggestions of Mesoamerican pyramids, and a grand paved plaza. On the whole, the approach succeeds—aesthetically and politically. It is a natural focus for the expression of pride in the Hispanic community, and it is both reflective and respectful of its physical environment.

NHCC includes handsome public meeting rooms in which the ongoing activities of a vibrant community can be conducted; a library, including a research center for genealogy and family/community history; galleries for the steadily growing permanent art collection and for special exhibits; a performing arts center that includes an auditorium, a film theater, and a stage for live performances (the stage is scheduled for completion this year); and a restaurant. Plans for the near future include a multimedia production and learning center and a “teaching kitchen” in which visitors will be have the opportunity to learn about the culinary mysteries of the far-flung Hispanic community.

My first visit to the NHCC was planned to view a special art exhibit, Cuentos y Encuentros: Paintings by Ray Martín Abeyta. The artist draws heavily on the iconography of Latin American art from the 16th through the 19th centuries, but he has infused his traditional techniques with themes that are thoroughly contemporary—a style that he calls “Mestizo-Baroque.” The result is a body of work that is both provocative and controversial. (When I visited this exhibit, my Hispanic sister-in-law declined to accompany me, stating that she’d seen those “dirty pictures” once, which was enough.)

Another visit led to an unexpected encounter with then-presidential hopeful Howard Dean and New Mexico governor Bill Richardson. Dean was holding a get-acquainted campaign session with leaders of New Mexico’s Hispanic community and afterwards conducted a press conference, with Governor Richardson at his side, in the NHCC Plaza.

On any visit to the NHCC, don’t fail to drop in at the onsite restaurant, La Fonda del Bosque. The food is excellent and authentically New Mexican. What better praises can be offered?

National Hispanic Cultural Center of New Mexico
1701 Fourth Street Southeast
Albuquerque, New Mexico, 87102
+1 505 766 9895; +1

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