Take a Left at Albuquerque

I’ve been to New Mexico a couple of times and always enjoyed those visits, but we’d never spent any time in her largest city. Earlier this week Jackie and I had a chance to explore Albuquerque.

We flew on Express Jet, now offering non-stop service from Tulsa. I didn’t realize this until searching flights on Orbitz. We were very happy with their service- they actually offered us food. It wasn’t a full dinner, but much more substantial than a bag of peanuts. The plane was a Embraer ERJ, which is a small jet but pretty comfortable. They also have XM radio piped into every seat and provide free earbuds.

Our visit was actually for business but left us time to explore. The weather was the first surprise, and not a pleasant one! When our flight left Tulsa the temperature in both cities was exactly the same. Cold.

I always think of New Mexico and “desert” is the next word that comes to mind. But this area is high desert, in fact Albuquerque is at a higher elevation than Denver. For most of our visit the temperature hovered in the twenties and thirties and one night saw wind gusts of 60 mph. Youch.

The flight was great, had a fun time in Albuquerque and saw some neat sites- here’s a few highlights…

  • When we arrived on Sunday a large portion of downtown was blocked off for a film crew. A local told us the film was called The Game. Crunched cars lined the street so maybe it’s a post-apocalyptic thriller? Turns out Albuquerque is becoming quite a hot spot for motion pictures.
  • A free bus called the D-Ride makes a loop around downtown and is a great way to get around. In fact, their city bus service in general was remarkably easy to use.
  • We found a top notch local chain of eateries called Flying Star Cafe. Their downtown location is in the former headquarters of an oil and gas company- it’s worth a visit even if you’re not hungry. If you are- I highly recommend the mac-and-cheese dish, Mama Mac, and Jackie had high praise for their Veggie Burger.
  • The area known as Nob Hill has some of the coolest roadside architecture I’ve ever seen in one place. Lots of streamline Deco and modern buildings from the Forties and Fifties. We also noticed a great deal of operational neon signs!
  • Model Pharmacy is also well worth a visit. In addition to salves and tinctures you’ll find toothpastes from around the world. And you can have lunch too! Their malts kick ass.
  • We dropped by Sandia BMW to see their collection of vintage BMW motorcycles. The dealership is quite impressive with BMW cars, bikes and Minis all on one site.BMW motorcycle museum
  • Albuquerque initiated a rebirth of their central business district a few years ago. One of their mandates in the targeted area was “no chains” and all the businesses are locally owned. They expect 100% occupancy by 2009.
  • The ABQ airport seems tiny for a city this size. I was amazed to see a small display with a model of an unusual Italian flying boat, the Savoia Marchetti S.55. Turns out the Italians stopped in New Mexico during an ill-fated attempt at circling the globe in 1927. The high altitude thwarted their takeoff and required them to ditch anything that wasn’t bolted down- including a spare wooden propeller. It now hangs in the Albuquerque airport terminal.
  • The balloon museum was much more fun than either of us expected. The building itself is worth examining. They also have a great airship display with beautiful models of German, American and British zeppelins.
  • If you were confused about the spelling you’re not alone. It was name after some Spanish guy and originally spelled Alburquerque. But the first “R” was dropped (as the legend goes) because it wouldn’t fit on the sign at the train station. Sounds a little fishy to me.

And here’s a little New Mexican architecture…

The church in the Old Town area.


A wacky house near the Model Pharmacy.

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