New Mexico's largest city has been described as having one foot in the past and one in the present, with its eyes firmly set on the future. This certainly sums up this multicultural city, spread across the desert plains beside the Rio Grande.
It is known for its high-tech research facilities and sentimental pride towards its historic Old Town, and offers a mix of museums, galleries, spicy restaurants, and great shopping centres to satisfy the appetite of every kind of visitor. Albuquerque has an ultra-relaxed attitude, with shorts and t-shirts the unofficial uniform and locals cracking jokes about living in a 'dusty hick town'. But the city's numerous attractions are on-hand to prove them wrong.
Albuquerque was born back in 1706 when a group of Spanish colonists decided that the point on the Rio Grande where the river made a sweeping curve, backed by the wooded slopes of the nearby Sandia Mountains, would be a useful place to start a settlement. Water for irrigation and wood for building was plentiful, and the local Indian pueblos were available for trading.
The new town, at first just a cluster of mud houses around a small adobe church, was named for Spain's 10th Duke of Albuquerque. Today the original church, San Felipe de Neri, stands enshrined in the centre of the historic heart of the city, the hub of various special holidays and feast days, drawing visitors and locals alike.
One of the most splendid sights Albuquerque has to offer happens only once a year: each October the International Balloon Fiesta has all eyes focussed on New Mexico's blue skies as hundreds of hot air balloons sail past.
Every day of the year, though, the city offers up its attractions such as the zoo, aquarium, museums, and vineyards, as well as an array of activities like skiing, golfing, mountain biking, hiking, or dancing. If all else fails, you can always eat - mild or with chilli, there is nothing to beat New Mexican cuisine to really add spice to life.
The awe-inspiring view of Albuquerque can be had from nearly one mile (2km) above the city on top of Sandia Crest, the windy mountaintop where the view extends for over 1,000 miles (1,609km). Simply follow Tramway Boulevard for a few miles north of the city to board the Sandia Peak Aerial Tramway, the world's longest continuous jigback passenger tramway, which makes the ascent from the foothills to the summit in about 20 minutes.
In winter, skiers make use of the more than 30 trails descending from the mountain crest, while in summer hikers and mountain bikers can take the tramway up and enjoy nature on their way down. Pleasure seekers simply ride to the top to enjoy the view, which is particularly spectacular at sunset, and enjoy a meal at the High Finance Restaurant with its picture windows.
The Indian Pueblo Cultural Center is designed to give an introduction to New Mexico's rich Native American cultural heritage and the 19 individual pueblo communities of the State. The centre is situated on 12th Street, about a mile northeast of the Old Town in Albuquerque. It is a recreation of Pueblo Bonito, a ruined Indian village in the Chaco Culture National Historic Park dating from the 9th century.
The centre also features a museum displaying early photographs, artefacts, and artworks. A restaurant serves traditional fare, and traditional dances are performed by different tribal groups. Those interested in seeing the real thing can make an excursion to Pueblo Acoma, 60 miles (96km) west of Albuquerque, the oldest inhabited village in the United States, situated on a 367-foot (112m) high sandstone rock.
One of Alquerque's best attractions is the 17-mile-long (27km) stretch of escarpment of the West Mesa, that is a treasure-trove of more than 25,000 prehistoric and historic rock carvings or petroglyphs, some dating as far back as 2,000 years.
Maps and information about the geology and history of the area are available from the Las Imágenes Visitor Center. Hikers can follow various trails to explore the Boca Negra Canyon, or join rangers on scheduled walks during the summer months. Picnic areas, drinking water, and restroom facilities are provided.
Albuquerque's Rattlesnake Museum is an exciting and educational experience. Billed as an animal conservation museum, the establishment is dedicated to displaying how rattlesnakes influence our lives. Exhibits include artefacts, memorabilia, and the largest collection of live rattlesnakes in the world. The snakes, gathered from North, Central and South America, are kept in specially recreated habitats.
The exciting Museum of Natural History takes visitors on a trip through 12 billion years, from the formation of the universe up to the present day. From the earth's beginnings exhibits, displays, and recreated scenes take you through an erupting volcano, an ice-age cave, an aquarium, the dinosaur age, and a fossil centre, giant-screen theatre, planetarium and a naturalist centre, to name just a few of the educational entertainments offered.
The Albuquerque Museum, on the edge of the city's Old Town, explores New Mexico's history and heritage. With the largest collection of Spanish colonial artefacts in the United States, the museum also pays homage to the Vaqueros, the original cowboys who rode the range in New Mexico in the 16th century.
Exhibits like Spanish armour and swords mingle with a recreated 18th-century adobe house compound. There are also hands-on experiences to try like spinning wool, and a theatre where films about the city are shown regularly. The museum provides a walking tour of the Old Town area departing at 11am each day except Monday during spring, summer and fall.
Travellers who abandon the highway and opt for the scenic byways will be rewarded with the Turquoise Trail state-designated scenic and historic route, which runs from Albuquerque to Sante Fe through the majestic Sandia Mountains, passing through the revived 'ghost' towns of New Mexico's mining belt.
The route begins on NM14 about 16 miles (26km) east of central Albuquerque, covering about 61 miles (98km) before reaching Sante Fe. En route is the Cibola National Forest, mining towns of Madrid, Golden, and Cerrillos filled with art and craft practitioners, the Tinkertown Museum, Museum of Archaeology, Old Coal Mine Museum, and the Turquoise Mining Museum.
The town of Roswell in south-east New Mexico has become the focus of UFO and alien hunters from all over the world every. This is ever since the 'Roswell Incident' in 1947, when an alien craft purportedly crashed near the town leaving surviving extra-terrestrials. Conspiracy theorists believe government authorities deliberately covered up the crash.
The incident is highlighted at the International UFO Museum and Research Center in Main Street, along with a large collection of UFO memorabilia and artefacts. The museum also features a worldwide UFO sighting map and a comprehensive library. Roswell itself is just as UFO-crazy, and you can eat at UFO-themed cafes, and buy just about anything you can think of with an alien on it.
Carlsbad Caverns National Park is a popular attraction in New Mexico. Containing the Carlsbad Cavern, also known as the 'Big Cave', one of the largest underground chambers on earth. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the cave is one of 80 around the park, but is incredibly popular for tours due to its stunning stalagmite and stalactite formations.
Visitors enter the cave by descending over 600 feet (183m) in an elevator, and explore the chambers via paved trails that are mostly wheelchair accessible. There is also a natural entrance by the visitor centre, involving a longer and rougher walk.
Located in the middle of an arid desert that sees only eight inches (20cm) of rain per year, Las Cruces was an important waypoint on El Camino Royal, a trade route between Santa Fe and Mexico City.
The historic town acted as the backdrop for wild west dramas involving Billy the Kid and Pancho Villa, and has museums dedicated to farm and ranching history, natural history, and railroads in New Mexico. The New Mexico State University Museum has several exhibits on local history and archaeology. There is also an older settlement located in nearby Mesilla with a historic district of traditional adobe buildings.
The weather in Albuquerque is generally dry and sunny all year, although temperature variations between winter and summer are fairly extreme. During the summer months Albuquerque is extremely hot, with the mercury rising to well over 90ºF (32ºC) most days, particularly during June and July. By contrast, winters are cold and daytime temperatures can plummet to below freezing during December and January.
Back in 1972 Albuquerque won a bid to host the 1973 World Hot Air Ballooning Championships, and since then the floating colourful orbs have become a familiar sight in the skies over the city. Over 500 hot air balloons each year over the nine say event.
Albuquerque is now the official balloon capital of the world, and the weeklong International Balloon Fiesta held in the first week of October each year draws thousands of pilots, balloons and avid spectators from the four corners of the world. The city pulls out all the stops to ensure that the Fiesta is a memorable experience in all respects.
One of the greatest show in New Mexico, the State Fair is far more than just an agricultural show. Professional rodeo events and the showing of livestock are big drawcards, or course. But fair-goers also flock onto the 236-acre fairground in the heart of Albuquerque for everything from corn on the cob and cotton candy to carnival rides. The fair also includes arts and crafts, various animal events, concerts, and a variety of free entertainment.
A bus network operates around Albuquerque, but is not comprehensive enough to link all the major tourist sights, and most bus routes stop running at about 6pm. The sprawling city is difficult to get around without a car, while the simple layout makes driving easy, as long as rush hour is avoided. Most agencies require drivers to be at least 21 years of age. Metered taxis are also available and can easily be hired from outside main transport terminals and major hotels. Albuquerque also has an extensive bike route system.
Albuquerque can be described as a breath of fresh air, offering an array of choice attractions. Those in search of some relaxation will find it in its incredible golf courses and beautiful scenery. Visitors can take a hot air balloon trip over the Rio Grande Valley, go horseback riding on the river banks, enjoy the top class New Mexican cuisine, or simply stroll through the Old Town.
The Sandia Peak Aerial Tramway is a popular attraction, providing wonderful views as it climbs the 10,378-foot peak of the mountains. There are many tours on offer; trams, trolleys, and buses all provide great tours whatever the interest.
For those wishing to explore the depths of Albuquerque's cultural history, a visit to the National Hispanic Cultural Center will satisfy their curiosity as will the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center. With about 19 museums to explore, including the Albuquerque Museum and the New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science, there is lots to learn.
For serious outdoors action, people may enjoy the 17-mile-long (27km) stretch of escarpment that is the West Mesa and home to historic rock carvings or petroglyphs; it is here tourists will find the Petrogylph National Monument. Residents of New Mexico and visitors alike enjoy nature, making time for hikes, exploring the many trails, and taking in the scenery. The Carlsbad Caverns National Park is also where you will find lovers of the open air, making for another top spot for visitors.
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