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Albuquerque - New Mexico

Balloon Festival Photo
Balloon Festival

This is a city made for drivers. Spread out over a wide area in the upper Rio Grande Valley, its attractions are numerous but require a car to fully explore. From the Sandia Peak Scenic Byway to the Coronado Monument, the region is defined first by the river and then by the nearby mountains.

Named after the Viceroy of New Spain, the Duke of Alburquerque -- the first "r" was dropped in later years -- the community sat beside a busy crossroads during the days of American settlement. In 1880, the Santa Fe Railroad pulled into what then was a small town and the city quickly took shape. It was the destination of cattle drivers from as far away as Texas.

Today, Albuquerque is home to 500,000 people but the cultural heart of the city is still Old Town and the Plaza, where the first Spanish mission was established. The human history of the area is much older than the Spanish conquests. Several pueblos are found in the area, most to the north of town, and the Pueblo Indian culture has been a continuing influence on life in the Rio Grande Valley, as well as providing destinations for tourists.

Old Town Albuquerque

Close to the city's newer "downtown," the Old Town area is bordered by Rio Grande Blvd. (on the west), Central Avenue (to the south), and Mountain Road (north). More than 100 restaurants and shops&emdash;many in historic adobe buildings&emdash;are located in the area. The centerpiece of Old Town is the Spanish Plaza, across from the Church of San Felipe de Neri. The church has been considerably rebuilt and enlarged since its founding in the 1700s, but the original thick walls are still intact within the structure. While homes were originally built around the Plaza, offering community security, these have given way to jewelry and crafts shops, galleries, and restaurants. The Albuquerque Museum, located at the northern edge of Old Town, has a multimedia show on the history of the city since 1875 as well as displays of artifacts and exhibits on the Spanish/American periods titled "Four Centuries -- A History of Albuquerque." Across from this museum is the New Mexico Museum of Natural History, which opened in 1986 with displays on the development of the state's natural resources. The Dynamax Theater is part of the complex.

On Christmas eve, the Plaza is gently lit by thousands of "luminarias," candles set in paper bags with beds of sand, which have replaced the lighted pinyon pine logs carried by early Spanish settlers on their way to the church.

International Balloon Fiesta

During ten days in early October, the Albuquerque sky becomes filled with dozens of colorful hot-air balloons. Inaugurated in 1972, this festival has grown to the point that now, almost 1,000 balloons take part over the duration of the festival. Mass flights take place during morning hours and a highlight of each festival is the Balloon Glow when hundreds of balloons are inflated after sundown. The best source of information about the upcoming Kodak International Balloon Fiesta is the Albuquerque Convention and Visitors Bureau, at 1-800-284-2282 or (505) 243-3696.

Indian Pueblo Cultural Center

Before visiting one or more of the 19 existing Indian pueblos in this part of New Mexico, a trip to this horseshoe-shaped complex is recommended. The center is located one block north of Interstate 40 at 2401 Twelfth Street and features historical displays on the development of the Pueblo villages&emdash;now occupied by more than 40,000 people. The building has been designed as an homage to the landmark Bonito Pueblo in Chaco Canyon. During spring and summer, demonstrations in the performance area include retelling Indian rites with spectacular dances, in addition to potterymaking and silver crafts. There's a restaurant that serves traditional Indian foods, plus modern American dishes. The gift shop has kachina dolls and jewelry from the Zuni, Hopi, and Navajo peoples, as well as sand paintings. An admission fee is charged and the center is open daily from mid-April through early January and daily except Sunday during the winter months. For information, call (505) 843-7270.

University of New Mexico

Located in the middle of the city, this is the state's largest university and it showcases pueblo architecture in several of its buildings. Free to visitors are the Maxwell Museum of Anthropology, which specializes in exhibits on the native cultures of the Southwest, the Museum of Geology and Meteorites, containing a multitude of old rocks in addition to exhibits on the flora and fauna of New Mexico, and the Fine Arts Center in the New Mexico Union Building. The latter includes a theater complex and is home to the New Mexico Symphony and the University Art Museum. A campus map and an updated calendar of university events are available at the Visitors Bureau in the Fine Arts Center. For information on university happenings, call (505) 277-3729.

Sandia Peak Aerial Tramway

Drive 19 miles north of the city on Interstate 25 (the direct route to Santa Fe) and turn east onto Tramway Blvd. The cable gondola will take you to the top of Sandia Peak, at the top of the Sandia Mountain range. The trip takes about 18 minutes, climbing from an elevation of 6,599 feet to the crest at 10,378 feet. There is a cactus garden and a restaurant at the base, with a Forest Service information station, hiking trails, and another restaurant at the top of the tram ride.


New Mexico Destinations




Bandelier National Monument

Carlsbad Caverns National Park

Chaco Culture National Historic Park



Los Alamos



Santa Fe

Silver City





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