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A DAY AWAY: Day trips north, south, east and west of Albuquerque

Sandhill cranes eye the sky at Bosque del Apache. (Journal)
Sandhill cranes eye the sky at Bosque del Apache. (Journal)
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Albuquerque’s location in the center of the state makes it an ideal starting point for fascinating day trips that explore the land and cultural traditions in the area. Whether you travel north, south, east or west, there’s a lot to discover.

North: Santa Fe

Many Balloon Fiesta guests make a trek to Santa Fe during their visit to the Duke City. Now that train service between the two communities is available (nmrailrunner.com), getting to Santa Fe is as simple as finding the nearest New Mexico Rail Runner stop in the Albuquerque area and hopping aboard the comfortable commuter train.

The Rail Runner’s final northern destination is the Santa Fe Depot at the Railyard district, which is a 10-minute walk to the downtown plaza. Before heading downtown on foot or via the city’s free shuttle service (nmrailrunner.com/ bus_santafe_depot.asp), check out some galleries that are within walking distance of the depot.

Among them are Tai Gallery (1601B Paseo de Peralta), which displays contemporary Japanese art and traditional textiles; Charlotte Jackson Fine Art (554 S. Guadalupe St.), where American and European minimalist and modern art is featured; and LewAllen Galleries (1613 Paseo de Peralta), which specializes in contemporary and modern art.

When hunger strikes, Tomasita’s (500 S. Guadalupe) is only a stone’s throw from the Santa Fe Depot. This mainstay offers a selection of burritos and enchiladas as well as a bird’s eye view of the train. Close by is The Flying Star Cafe (500 Market St.), which serves up an American-style breakfast throughout the day as well as burgers. There’s Memphis-style barbecue at Whole Hog Cafe (320 S. Guadalupe St.), and Texas-style barbecue across the street at Cowgirl Santa Fe (319 S. Guadalupe St.)

The free city shuttles leave the Santa Fe Depot every 15 minutes during daytime hours, Monday through Saturday, and drop visitors off at a central downtown location. Three museums that are part of the Museums of New Mexico are within walking distance. The New Mexico Museum of Art (107 W. Palace Ave.) presents historic and contemporary art from New Mexico and the Southwest. The New Mexico History Museum (113 Lincoln Ave.) tells New Mexico’s story from prehistoric times to the present.

The collection at the Palace of the Governors (105 W. Palace Ave.) reflects the various periods of New Mexico history. In front of the museum is where Native American vendors who are part of the Palace of the Governor’s Native American Vendors Program are allowed to sell handmade goods. This informal, openair market draws thousands of shoppers annually.

Downtown restaurants offer a wide range of culinary delights. For traditional New Mexican fare, try The Plaza Cafe (54 Lincoln Ave.), which has been in operation for 100 years.

Don’t think about counting calories if you stop by the Five & Dime General Store (58 E. San Franciso St.) and decide to eat at the lunch counter in the back. Many locals crave their famous Frito Pie, which is a bowl of corn chips smothered with cheese and chile.

The city’s free shuttle also operates from the Santa Fe Depot to Canyon Road, where visitors can leisurely saunter in and out of the many art galleries that line the narrow historic road.

East: Turquoise Trail

Turquoise is one of many valuable commodities that have been mined along the Turquoise Trail, a 50-mile road called Highway 14 that links the Albuquerque area with Santa Fe. The southern end of the Turquoise Trail is 17 miles east of Albuquerque where the community of Tijeras meets 1-40.

Driving along the Turquoise Trail means passing through the wooded communities of Cedar Crest and Sandia Park toward the old mining town of Golden. In the 1820s Golden became the site of the first gold rush west of the Mississippi. When gold supplies diminished, mining started fizzling out in the 1890s. Crumbling ruins along Highway 14 are a testament to Golden’s years as a mining center.

Eleven miles north of Golden is the former coal mining town of Madrid. Today, Madrid is a thriving community of artists and entrepreneurs who have fixed up old mining shacks and converted them into homes and businesses. There’s plenty of free parking along the main street that is lined with quaint shops such as Heaven Boutique (2853 Highway 14), which offers clothing, cards and gifts, and Indigo Gallery (2854 Highway 14), which has paintings, sculpture and jewelry.

The Mine Shaft Tavern (2846 Highway 14) is a gathering spot for locals and visitors that has an old roadhouse feel and ambience. The restaurant serves up green chile hamburgers, 12 beers on tap and live music on the weekends.

Dessert is a specialty at Jezebel Soda Fountain (2860 Highway 14), which has an original soda fountain from the 1920s that is packed with ice cream treats.

While the gold, silver, lead and zinc mines shut down around the village of Cerrillos many decades ago, there are a few turquoise miners still working in the area. Cerrillos, which is four miles north of Madrid, is now a quiet residential community. In the center of the village is the Casa Grande Trading Post, Cerrillos Turquoise Mining Museum and Petting Zoo (all one business at 17 Waldo St.), where visitors can learn about turquoise mining and purchase gifts, rocks, collectibles and bottles.

West: Acoma Pueblo

Located 70 miles west of Albuquerque off 1-40, Acoma Pueblo has been continuously inhabited since A.D. 1150. The pueblo lies on a 367-foot-high mesa at an altitude of 6,460 feet.

Visitors are invited to explore the Sky City Cultural Center and Haak’u Museum, which preserve Acoma traditions and provide insight into the history of Acoma Pueblo. Open yearround, the Sky City Cultural Center offers guided tours and sells Acoma pottery and Native American crafts created by local artisans.

Because spiritual leaders live on the mesa year-round, Acoma Pueblo asks visitors not to wear revealing clothing, out of respect for them. A complete guide to visitor etiquette is on the website sccc.acomaskycity. org/guidelines.

To experience a taste of Acoma culture, enjoy a meal at the Y’aak’a Café in the Sky City Cultural Center. Y’aak’a means “corn” in Keres, the language of Acoma. The café specializes in traditional Acoma foods such as lamb stew, blue corn pancakes and corn pudding.

The Gaits’i Indian Art Gallery in the Haak’u Museum displays Native American turquoise jewelry, Acoma Pueblo pottery and other fine art objects by artisans from New Mexico and Arizona.

Permits for cameras must be purchased at the Sky City Cultural Center prior to photographing on Acoma lands.

South: Bosque del Apache

Spanish for “woods of the Apache,” Bosque del Apache (fws.gov/southwest/refuges/ newmex/bosque/) is 57,331 acres of land located 110 miles south of Albuquerque along the Rio Grande. This wildlife refuge in San Antonio and close to 1-25 is managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and protects migratory birds and endangered species. Thousands of ducks, geese and sandhill cranes winter here. Half of the refuge is constituted of wetlands; the other half is dotted with arid hills and mesas. Most of these desert lands are preserved as wilderness areas.

The Bosque del Apache Visitor Center posts information about recent wildlife sightings and contains a bookstore. The center is open year round from 7:30 a.m.-4 p.m. Monday through Friday and from 8 a.m.-4:30 p.m. weekends.

The refuge’s 15-mile auto tour loop is a relaxing drive with plenty of opportunities to view wildlife and take photographs. The refuge tour route is open from one hour before sunrise to one hour after sunset, 365 days a year. There is a $5 per private vehicle charge to enter the refuge.

On the way back to Albuquerque, take time to enjoy a meal in Socorro, which is 20 miles north of Bosque del Apache. You can find huge Angus beef burgers at Bodega Burger Co. (606 N. California St.), or steak grilled on a pecan wood-fired grill at Socorro Springs Brewing Co. (1012 N. California St.).

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