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Relax with lunch in one of Albuquerque area’s beautiful parks

These reptilian sculptures are climbable at W.L. Jackson County Park in far northeast Albuquerque. (Journal)
These reptilian sculptures are climbable at W.L. Jackson County Park in far northeast Albuquerque. (Journal)
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By the time lunch rolls around on Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta days, tired fans may want nothing more than to find a picnic bench, rest their feet and experience some of Albuquerque’s charming parks.

Whether you’re looking for a place to let the kids blow off some energy in a playground or hoping to find a panoramic view of the city, a picnic lunch during the week of Balloon Fiesta might prove to be a relaxing interlude. Experience a mountain setting or check out a few of Albuquerque’s little-visited historical attractions at parks or open spaces.

Food can be found at the city’s grocery store delicatessens and sandwich shops.

While many fiesta visitors hail from the flatlands and are tempted to peer at the balloons from atop Sandia Crest, be advised that the hot-air balloons from that distance will look more like pinheads than the colorful masterpieces they are.

The Sandia Crest Highway Scenic Byway (paved N.M. 536 to the top of the Crest) experiences its busiest traffic of the year during the week of the Balloon Fiesta, and the picnic spots along the way can be quite crowded, warns Wade Tigelaar, a visitor services information specialist with the U.S. Forest Service.

Forest Service picnic areas at Sulphur Canyon, Cienega, Pine Flat, Doc Long and others are all under trees and offer hiking opportunities, but can be crowded with limited picnic and parking spots.

However, two Forest Service picnic grounds on the less-popular west side of the Sandias — Juan Tabo and La Cueva — are tucked in among the foothills. They are accessible off the northern end of Tramway Boulevard at Forest Service Road 333 and still offer a forest setting with easy trails for kids to experience a short hike.

Also in the foothills on the city side of the mountains, a popular city Open Space is the Elena Gallegos Picnic Area at 7100 Tramway (north of Academy, then take Simms Park Road). Covered picnic areas, hiking trails, a wildlife pond and a handicap accessible trail with interpretive stops make it interesting for visitors.

Also in the foothills, close to the base of the tram, is W.L. Jackson County Park, at Tramway and Cedar Hill Road NE. Highly recommended by the Bernalillo County Parks Department for its reptilian, climbable art, the park also has a bocce ball court.

If the Rio Grande fascinates you, Valle del Bosque is one of the newest county parks in the South Valley at 480 Sunset Road SW (on the west side of the river; cross at the Central Bridge, then turn south on Sunset). It offers a new trail system under a canopy of cottonwood trees. A pedestrian bridge and boardwalk take visitors to the river’s edge.

Immediately across the river on the east side is Tingley Beach (across Central Avenue from the Rio Grande Botanic Garden), which has picnic tables, fishing ponds and a small cafe, as well as opportunities to feed wild ducks and take a walk into a wetlands area.

Nearby (just a few blocks east) is tree-canopied Kit Carson Park at 1744 Kit Carson SE. Cottonwood trees shade the park much of the day and the playground equipment is popular.

Some of the best panoramic views of the city can be found at Pat Hurley Park at 400 Yucca NW.

Farther north but also close to the river is the city’s relatively new Open Space Visitor Center at 6500 Coors NW (also on the west side of the river). Take a blanket or chair along for this visit to watch birds.

If you like to combine eating with a history lesson, the historic Gutierrez-Hubbell House, 6029 Isleta SW in the South Valley along the west side of the river, is a restored 150-year-old adobe trading post that offers tours from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays.

Alongside the picnic areas, learn about the ditch irrigation systems that date back more than 200 years.

Shady spots

Other fantastic parks are spread throughout the city.

Tiguex Park at 18th and Mountain Road is in the heart of Old Town and a close walk to most of the city’s museums. There are picnic tables and playground and exercise circuit equipment. Mid-city, a good playground for younger children in an established neighborhood is Summit Park, Constitution NE at Richmond.

One of the city’s shadiest parks is also one of its oldest and most beautiful.

Roosevelt Park at 500 Spruce SE (Coal and Sycamore SE) is also one of the city’s hilliest parks and has recently been refurbished with new playground equipment.

If Fido needs a park break, too, keep in mind there are dog parks at a dozen locations within the city, found by visiting the “parks” part of the city’s website, cabq.gov, or by calling 311.

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