Mention Albuquerque, New Mexico and what immediately comes to mind is their famous International Balloon Fiesta, held every October. Drawing thousands of balloonists and tens of thousands of tourists from around the world, the festival is a New Mexico icon. It’s a fun, colorful, high-energy, week-long celebration pairing ballooning with myriad venues and activities generated by local entrepreneurs.
But, I’m here to tell you that there is more to Albuquerque than ballooning. Far more. I’ve been to Albuquerque before, but I recently spent 8 days there, intensely exploring its hotels and restaurants, museums and adventure opportunities for a travel article. I came away impressed. So impressed, in fact, I am going to split my review into three parts, simply because there was so much to do and such terrific eats. Here I’ll discuss Things to See and Do; in Part 2 I’ll discuss Museums and other Cultural Attractions; in Part 3 I’ll discuss my choices for Eats and Retreats. Throughout, I’ll be using the airport abbreviation for Albuquerque (ABQ).
WeatherThe weather in ABQ is relatively mild. I say relatively, because winter can be cold, with temps dipping into the twenties. On the other end of the thermometer, temps can top out at 100F. But temperatures usually fluctuate between the upper forties and lower nineties. That’s pretty mild in my book. However, please keep in mind that when I visited in May for this series of blogs and magazine articles, the temperatures were an ideal 55-80, with bright, sunny skies and little humidity… except when it rained. Mind you, I’m talking in and around the city proper. Once you get into the high desert environment, temps can be brutal in summer.
CameraI find that a point-and-shoot or a DSLR with a general purpose lens works best for touring around. In the case of these images, for example, I took most with my Nikon D700 and 24-70mm lens.
HIGH ADVENTUREThe ABQ Trolley: This is one delightful, sit-back-and-enjoy experience as the two friends (and former tourism officials) who started it continue to run it. The running narration is very funny, as well as informative. By time you disembark, you’ll have a real sense of the city. The tour includes travel along historic Route 66, Old Town, Nob Hill and Downtown. http://www.abqtrolley.com
Sandia Peak Tramway: this is the world’s longest tramway and is a must-experience venue that soars over the Cibola National Forest. Terminating at 10,378 feet, the peak boasts a restaurant and commanding views. It also brings riders to the ski lodge during the winter season. The ride to the top is enjoyable, with expansive views of the landscape. At twilight, if the sun is right, the Sandia mountains blaze with their namesake watermelon color. www.sandiapeak.com
Hot Air Ballooning: Is there any sport in Albuquerque more iconic than hot air ballooning? Balloon rides are an inexpensive (relatively) and unique way to view Albuquerque and its environs. Rainbow Ryders is the largest balloon company in ABQ, attesting to the skill and business acumen of Scott Apelman, its founder. With more than 4500 balloon flights, Apelman is considered the dean of ballooning in Duke City (another name for ABQ, having nothing to do with John Wayne… stay tuned). www.rainbowryders.com
Jeep Tours: Try New Mexico Jeep Tours. Run by former Albuquerque police detective Roch Hart, be prepared for a jeep tour like no other. This is not about high-speed buggy rides. This is a thoughtful exploration of the high desert environment, including its wildlife, geology and native culture, run by a passionate professional. www.nmjeeptours.com
Old Town Walking Tour: sign up for an informative tour of Old Town and learn about its history from 1706 to the present. Enjoy stops at San Felipe de Neri church (the oldest building in the city) and the more than 100 shops, art galleries and restaurants. Consult the website for days and times. http://www.cabq.gov/museum/oldtowntour.html or www.albuquerqueoldtown.com
Canoeing/Kayaking: Although I didn’t personally kayak or canoe on my recent visit, I do know that several tour operators run guided tours in and around Albuquerque. The Albuquerque Convention and Visitors Bureau is a great resource: www.itsatrip.org
Golf: Even though I’m a duffer, I’d hardly call golf an adventure, but in and around Albuquerque you’ll find dozens of courses for every handicap and budget. www.itsatrip.org
PARKS , HIKES & TRAILSPetroglyph National Monument: right in Albuquerque and easy to get to, the monument allows one to amble through paths that showcase prehistoric Native American art carved into rock. There are more than 20,000 carvings of people, insects, birds, mammals, and even symbols and geometric designs that we still do not understand (Area 51, anyone?). (www.nps.gov/petr
Sandia Mountain Trails: Albuquerque is an outdoor town, with mild year-round temperatures that encourage its residents to stay active. The trail system through and surrounding ABQ is second to none and offers easy to difficult trekking levels. Hike, bike, horseback ride, run, photograph. www.sandiahiking.com
For more hiking suggestions near ABQ, see these blogs:
Some Outdoor Precautions
Here are a few things to keep in mind when visiting New Mexico in general. ABQ, in particular, is at 5,000+ feet, so sunlight issues are magnified.
1. Slather on sunscreen whenever you go outside, especially in summer. The sun and altitude are unforgiving. Bring it with you on hikes and reapply as needed.
2. Bring twice as much water as you think you’ll need.
3. If you are hiking, know the terrain. Better yet, hire a guide.
4. Know your physical limitations and respect them.
5. Let people know where you’ll be hiking and when you expect to return.
6. Be snake aware. Wearing snake gaitors may look dorky, but they work, since most snake strikes are below the knee. However, it would be unusual to find snakes on established paths. Still, watch your step.
7. Carry snack food with you.