The Edmond Sun

Arts & Entertainment

April 4, 2014

Float over to Albuquerque for fun

ALBUQUERQUE — Nobody ever accused Don Francisco Cuervo y Valdes of being reticent.  

When he founded a city on the Camino Real — the Royal Road — which ran from Mexico City to Santa Fe, he didn’t go through the proper channels. He had no mandate from either the King of Spain or the Viceroy of New Spain. His presumption was overlooked perhaps because he assured the king that starting the new city had been done at no expense to the crown — and he named the city after the viceroy, who was the 10th Duke of Alburquerque.

Alburquerque was founded in 1706. In the 1880s, the spelling was changed to “Albuquerque,” probably because that was how people pronounced it.

Now Albuquerque is New Mexico’s largest city, sprawling over 189.5 square miles. But the heart of the city, known as “Old Town” covers only about 10 blocks surrounding the historic plaza.

On the north side of the plaza is the church of San Felipe de Neri. Built in 1793, it is one of the oldest buildings in Albuquerque. On the other three sides are low adobe buildings housing and interesting shops carrying everything from Mexican jumping beans to artwork worth thousands of dollars.

Behind the church is another one of the city’s oldest structures. There are no documents certifying the date of construction but based on the type of adobe and the thickness of the walls, it predates 1820, possibly by several decades. This was the home of the Ruiz family, generation after generation. The last family member to live here was Rufina Ruiz who died in 1991 at the age of 91.

Today it is one of my favorite Albuquerque eateries, the Church Street Café. Oh, you can get sandwiches and “hamburguesas” here, but I consider it a sacrilege to order anything other than their Mexican dishes. I don’t know how traditional it is — but I like a margarita with my Mexican food and Church Street’s agave margarita is a real winner.

Close to the historic heart are two of the city’s most interesting museums. The Albuquerque Museum of Art and History covers both subjects. The art collection focuses on regional art with Native American jewelry and ceramics, religious art and more contemporary works including paintings by members of the Taos Society and Georgia O’Keeffe.

The history section is extraordinary, covering four centuries of regional history.  Artifacts reflect the three important cultural strains — Native American, Hispanic and Anglo. The collection of Colonial Period European armor is ranked in the top five collections in the U.S. One of the most beautiful items is a 17th century tapestry donated to the museum by the 18th Duke of Alburquerque. The ducal crest is pictured on a carmine background with gold thread embroidery.

The Albuquerque Museum of Natural History and Science is a stunner. Their timetracks areas take visitors from the “big bang” through the age of dinosaurs (my favorite), the coastal period, the time of volcanic activity which shaped so much of the state’s landscape, cave formation and New Mexico’s Ice Age.  

Of course I love the huge dinos — saurophaganax and seismosaurus — but I’m also fascinated by a big chunk of rock known as the “Coelophysis Block.” Coelophysis was a small, early (Triassic) dinosaur whose fossils have only been found in New Mexico.  The Block is full of coelophysis skeletons.

Other permanent exhibits explore the origins of life and the evolution of the microcomputer. Lots of interactive elements make all the exhibits more interesting and accessible.      

North of downtown are three more of my favorite places. For more history, visit Petroglyph National Monument. Here on the side of a mesa, ancient people drew a variety of symbols. Archaeologists believe that they were made between 400 and 700 years ago although it is possible that some date back several thousand years.  Drawings include birds, snakes, lizards and geometric figures.

Spanish colonists also left marks on the mesa side — crosses, horses, etc. These are more easily interpreted. The Native American marks remain a mystery.  

Take a cable car trip up Sandia Peak. The 2.7-mile ride takes you to the top — 10,378 feet — where you’ll get a spectacular view of the valley below. This is a wonderful place to watch the sunset and have dinner at the High Finance Restaurant.

Another great attraction is the Anderson-Abruzzo International Balloon Museum.  Exhibits feature the history of ballooning, balloons, the science behind the balloons and so much more. There’s even a simulator where visitors can try to fly a balloon.  What I learned: you do not want me to pilot a balloon!

But here’s who can — RainbowRyders. Albuquerque is known all over the world as a great place for ballooning. Due to a combination of upper and lower level winds created by the Rio Grande Valley and Sandia Mountains, the area is known as “the box,” making it possible for balloonists to take off, travel at one level then change elevation to travel back to the launch area to land. If the weather is just right, you may be able to skim the surface of the Rio Grande River on your flight.

A balloon flight is the perfect way to cap a memorable visit to Albuquerque. The city may be old — but there’s always something new to see.

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Arts & Entertainment
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