Tag Archives: New Mexico

Stuck on Sandia Peak

My parents and I rode the Sandia Peak Aerial Tram back in 2007, but I must have experienced Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder because I totally forgot how freakin’ scary it was! I convinced Tony to take the tram up to the top of the 10,378-foot mountain on June 21 for a little hike followed by dinner at High Finance Restaurant.

The 2.7-mile tram ride took 14 minutes at a speed of about 20 feet per second. High winds shook the trees below and rocked the gondola a bit. Soaring above the rocky slopes, I tried not to hold my breath.

Tony, pretending he’s not scared.

At the top, we hiked in and out of the woods for about an hour in cool temperatures, fresh crisp air and achingly bright sunshine.

The other side of the mountain gets all the rain, so it’s lush and wooded and apparently a hot-spot for winter skiiers.

Can’t. Open. My. Eyes.

I took about a thousand pictures of trees. Oh, nature, how I’ve missed you!


Tony was a big chicken about standing near the edge. Probably a good thing.

The tram heads down the mountain.

Little did we know it wasn’t coming back any time soon.

We enjoyed a nice dinner while watching a storm brewing in the distance. Dark clouds rolled in, lightning slashed across the sky, and we could see a curtain of rain at the horizon.


Unfortunately, the storm moved toward the mountain and ultimately cut power to the tram. Quite a few people were stranded, including several with young children. Finally, the tram got moving again and several relieved passengers started downhill to Albuquerque. About halfway, the tram stopped and swayed for 30 minutes. Unable to finish its journey down, it somehow managed to travel back up. Discouraged and worried, the people disembarked and joined the rest of us in the waiting area of the tower.

Around 9:30 p.m., the power was restored and we watched the tram operator receive a call and signal thumbs-up to a co-worker. A tentative cheer went up from the crowd. We piled into the tram, some muttering prayers, some cracking anxious jokes, some silently staring out at the glittering city lights in the otherwise inky valley. At the bottom, we all laughed and shared a moment of genuine relief.

Road trip to the Salinas Pueblo Missions

I have a lot of catching up to do on this blog. I never finished writing about our experiences in Albuquerque, and I never even STARTED writing about events since we returned to Michigan or the Fourth of July festivities or my trip to Washington, D.C., and now we’re heading to Canada tomorrow for a few days, which will generate even MORE blog-worthy news. Time to get crackin’.

So … back to Albuquerque.

Walking through the red sandstone ruins of the Salinas Pueblo Missions on June 22, I kept picturing the Native Americans of the Salinas Valley and the anxiety they must have felt at the arrival of Spanish missionaries more than 300 years ago. Here’s some background, from a National Park Service brochure:

Before they left the area in the 1670s, Pueblo Indians forged a stable agricultural society whose members lived in apartment-like complexes and participated, through rule and ritual, in the cycles of nature. … The Salinas Valley became a major trade center and one of the most populous parts of the Pueblo world, with perhaps 10,000 or more inhabitants in the 1600s. Located along major trade routes, the villagers were both producers and middlemen between the Rio Grande villages and the plains tribes to the east. They traded maize, piñon nuts, beans, squash, salt, and cotton goods for dried buffalo meat, hides, flints and shells. … In the 1670s the Salinas villages were abandoned and their people dispersed.

Although Spanish explorers (traveling from Mexico) failed to discover the mythical riches of the north, Spain accepted its charge from the Pope to Christianize the natives of the New World.

Tony and I explored two of the three Salinas Pueblo Missions, southeast of ABQ. At the suggestion of Sarah, innkeeper at the Adobe Nido B&B, we took the scenic route through the mountains. Totally worth it! We stopped first at Quarai, which was a thriving pueblo when Juan de Oñate arrived in 1598 to demand allegiance to Spain. We walked the shady path that passed by unexcavated mounds, ultimately arriving at the red-walled church ruins. After checking out the site, we enjoyed a peaceful trek through the surrounding piñon trees.



From there, we drove to Abó, where Franciscans started converting residents in 1622. Two churches were built here, including one with an unusually sophisticated buttressing system.


That circle in front of the church ruins was an underground kiva, a sacred chamber for special ceremonies. The kiva reflects the co-existence of Pueblo religious rituals and Christian traditions at the missions. That co-existence was doomed, obviously. Pueblo priests began to doubt the Christian god was powerful enough to meet their communal needs (summer rain and bountiful harvests), and Franciscans destroyed Kachina masks and kivas to discourage native religions.

For tons more information (567 pages, to be exact!) about the history and culture of the Salinas Pueblo Missions, check out “In the Midst of a Loneliness,” a PDF on the National Park Service website.

A third site, Gran Quivira, is located about 25 miles off the main road. As we were getting a bit peckish, we decided to skip it and head back to the city for lunch.

Returning to Albuquerque, we crested a hill and emerged in the plains. This was our view for most of the trip.

Oh, another great resource is the book, Salinas Pueblo Missions – Abó, Quarai & Gran Quivira by Dan Murphy. I just realized I lifted this book from the B&B by accident, so I’ll go pop it in the mail!

Wine tasting with the Voges

As a Third Culture Kid with no real roots in the United States, I spent a lot of time researching housing markets before buying our rental property back in 2007. I narrowed my search to the Southwest but ultimately picked Albuquerque based on conversations with our friends Dean and Elaine Voge, who worked with us in Shanghai. Dean taught in ABQ before they headed abroad, so they were back last week to visit friends and family. Spending an afternoon with them was the highlight of our trip!

We talked about hiking or going to a museum, but Elaine proposed the perfect activity for us: wine tasting! It was perfect because Elaine, Heidi (Dean’s daughter) and I could pound the wine, secure in the knowledge that Dean (not a wine lover) would be sober to drive. Tony (also not a wine lover) enjoyed the company and Tuscany-esque setting, so everyone was happy.

Here are the wines we tried at the Casa Rondeña Winery Tasting Room:
Viognier – A dry white wine with dense flavors of pineapple and honey, Viognier is the perfect expression of the Southwestern high desert growing region showing its rich mouth-feel and crispy acidity.
Meritage – This classic Bordeaux-style wine is a blend of 48% Merlot, 30% Cabernet Franc, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon and 2% Petit Verdot. Complex with a lingering finish, the Meritage Red shows flavors of vanilla, currant, blackberry and chocolate.
Cabernet Franc – The original red wine of the Loire Valley in France, Cabernet Franc grows well here in New Mexico. It exhibits fruit-forward flavors of blackberries, dark cherry and earthiness while being medium bodied and soft on the finish.
1629– A true Casa original: spicy Tempranillo; deep, dark Syrah; dense, soft tannins of Cabernet Sauvignon – blended and named in honor of the first vinifera plantings in North America, right here in New Mexico!
Rosé – A luscious off-dry Cabernet Franc based wine with crisp hints of strawberry and plum (and cool guys like Rich & Vince say cherries and watermelon). This wine has 1.75% residual sugar.
Serenade – With its floral bouquet and lively fruitiness, the blend of 87% Riesling and 13% Gewurztraminer give a perfect balance of sweetness and acidity. This wine has 2.25% residual sugar.
Animante (Port) – A deep, elegant and rich port with very soft tannins, made from Cabernet Sauvignon and a touch of Cabernet Franc. (18% alcohol)

Following the tasting, we took a bottle out to the garden and enjoyed a little picnic. Uninvited to the wedding that was scheduled later in the afternoon, we drove to Albertson’s supermarket to buy cheaper wine and food for a cookout at Heidi’s house. We met the rest of her family, lounged in their lovely garden, and lingered in the drowsy comfort of happy tummies and special friends.

Tipsy and happy.

Oh! As we sampled the wines, Tony looked out the window and asked, “Isn’t that Andi?” Sure enough, it was one of our colleagues from New Delhi with two of her friends. So out of about 10 people in the tasting room, 50 percent were international teachers!

Petroglyphs, Volcanoes and the Bosque – playing outside in Albuquerque

Looking for something to do outside in Albuquerque? There’s no end to the options! How about a trek through a boulder-strewn canyon decorated 400-700 years ago by American Indians and Spanish settlers? Or consider strolling around the Three Sisters, a collection of volcanoes on the West Mesa. Both sites are part of the Petroglyph National Monument, a wonderful collection of trails managed by the National Park Service. Bike enthusiasts will find a 16-mile trail through the “bosque” (pronounced BOSS-key), a cottonwood forest along the Rio Grande River.

Tony and I started each day in Albuquerque with a hike or bike ride (after eating a ridiculously indulgent breakfast at our B&B, that is), and we truly loved being outdoors under that vast blue sky.

Rinconada Canyon
For our first outing, we headed to Rinconada Canyon. This description comes from the National Park Service website:

Rinconada Canyon offers an insight into the geologic, cultural, and natural resources of this region. From the parking lot a sandy path follows the northern escarpment, carrying you over sand dunes. As you walk into the canyon, the sounds and sights of the city fade away and may be replaced with the coo of a mourning dove or a collared lizard sunning itself on a basalt boulder. Here you see prehistoric and historic petroglyphs, rock wall alignments and shelters, and wildlife living in the vegetation growing throughout the canyon.
The geology of the area shows the remnants of volcanic eruptions of 200,000 years ago. The basalt from these flows caps the sandstone of the Santa Fe Formation. As the softer sandstone erodes away, the basalt breaks off and tumbles down the hillside. This action provided the escarpment where the petroglyphs were carved.

Archeologists believe most of the 1,200 petroglyphs in this canyon were pecked into the basalt boulders using a hammerstone to remove the dark color on the surface and reveal a lighter color underneath. Pueblo Indians use the images to pass on stories about history, culture and spiritual beliefs.

Checking out some petroglyphs.


Unfortunately, some relatively modern visitors felt compelled to carve their own petroglyphs. This guy visited Rinconada Canyon on my birthday in 1919!

Some petroglyphs and rock formations hint at what life was like for the Spanish explorers and Mexicans who arrived here in 1540. We saw petroglyphs of Catholic crosses and what archeologists think could be livestock brands.

We had just started out on this trail, when a snake crossed the path. He took his sweet time, but Tony and I were too slow getting out our cameras, so we missed his face. Beautiful!

The canyon is ringed with boulders, but the center is sandy with clumps of scrubby plants and lots of scrambling lizards.

The Volcanoes
Here’s the scoop from NPS:

Known locally as the Albuquerque Volcanoes or the Three Sisters, they are a classic and rare example of a fissure eruption. In fissure eruptions magma rises along thin cracks in the Earth’s crust unlike most volcanoes in which magma rises through a vertical central vent. Here the fissure is over 5 miles (8km) long. Very long cracks like these may result in a row of aligned eruption craters—all active at the same time. Such eruptions create “curtains of fire” like those that occur today at Kilauea in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.

According the the New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology, all volcanoes in the state are “probably” extinct, meaning they are “unlikely” to erupt again. I guess I prefer a little more certainty about such things. Still, it was fun to walk around the volcanoes. We climbed up two of them, only to learn later that doing so was insensitive to the Pueblo Indians, who “believe the volcanoes and the petroglyphs pecked into the volcanic boulders provide a direct spiritual connection both to their ancestors and to the Spirit World, the place where time began,” according to NPS literature. Brochures urge visitors not to hike to the peaks. Dang.

Tony with the JA Volcano in the background.

On the top, overlooking ABQ.

Too late to pretend we were culturally sensitive at the volcanoes. The big rocks are light because they’re filled with air! Tony looks so virile, eh?

On top of the Vulcan Volcano, you can see forever.

Walking back to the car. I love this landscape!

Tiny cactus flowers.

Biking the Bosque
Albuquerque’s Paseo del Bosque recently made Sunset magazine’s list of the 20 best bike paths in the West. We concur. It’s pretty fantastic.

We rented high-quality mountain bikes from Routes Rentals & Tours. The bikes were a bit small for us, but they did the trick. We picked up the trail very close to our wonderful B&B and rode north to the Alameda trail head (for a roundtrip total of about 17 miles). Paved, flat and quiet, the trail never crosses roads or encounters motorized vehicles. We saw about 20 hot-air balloons rising into the early morning sky. Stunning!

Here’s more info on the Paseo del Bosque, aka Riverside Trail. This article describes a fire that broke out while we were there, and we’ve heard they since closed the trail until the “fire season” ends.

There is WAY more to do in Albuquerque if you love being outdoors. We look forward to exploring other trails on our next visit.

The best first thing to do in Albuquerque

It wasn’t exactly the first thing we did in Albuquerque, but the ABQ Trolley Co tour will surely be one of the highlights from our visit. Tony and I climbed aboard the open-air stucco-ed trolley Wednesday afternoon with owners Jesse (left) and Mike for an entertaining and interactive glimpse into Albuquerque’s history, growth and present-day attractions.

The guys said they take turns driving and narrating. This time, Mike was at the wheel, and Jesse led the tour. Although we came to Albuquerque with no real itinerary and feeling a bit uncertain that we could fill four whole days here, this tour made us realize we’ll have to come back (probably many times!) to see it all. We listened to fascinating anecdotes as we explored Old Town, Museum Row, Historic Route 66, downtown, East Downtown (aka EDO), Nob Hill, the University of New Mexico, sports stadiums, the historic Barelas neighborhood and railyards (which are now used extensively as movie sets), the zoo and several park areas.

I made Tony sit with me in the front seat of the trolley, and when Jesse offered Tootsie Pops as prizes for his trivia questions, our hands shot up so fast, those other passengers didn’t have a chance. Things we got right:
* Who called Route 66 “the Mother Road”? John Steinbeck in Grapes of Wrath (Tony)
* Who can spell Albuquerque? EASY! (me) Jesse said a lady once spelled it with three K’s. I really hope he’s joking.
* What is the official state question of New Mexico? We required a hint: it has to do with colors… oh yeah! Red or green? as in chile sauces, and yes, they spell it “chile” … weird. (Tony)
* Where was Don Knotts born? Albuquerque, duh. I didn’t really know this one, but I took a long shot.

They don’t call me the “Guide Hog” for nothin’! (by “they,” I mean myself…)

Jesse gave us three little homework assignments:
Check out the back of a tree next to the historic San Felipe de Neri Catholic Church, which we did right after the tour to discover this hidden gem.

Go to Frontier Restaurant and eat a butter-drenched sweet roll. Twist my arm!

And, finally, look up Bill Gates’ mug shot from when he lived here and got arrested for speeding and driving without a license. Done! (To be fair, Jesse showed us the picture before we got off the trolley.)

My favorite story from the tour related to the city’s baseball team, called the Isotopes. We naturally assumed the name stemmed from New Mexico’s connection to nuclear energy and atomic bombs. However, the story is much better and funnier. Here it is, as told by Sarah, the owner of the Adobe Nido Bed & Breakfast, on her blog:

Episode 15 of Season 12 of the Simpsons, was called Hungry, Hungry, Homer, and it first aired on March 4, 2001. The plot centered around Homer overhearing a conversation, seeing some incriminating evidence and discovering a secret – that Springfield’s beloved baseball team, the Isotopes, were leaving Springfield for Albuquerque, NM – but no one would believe him and the evidence disappeared.
Homer went on a hunger strike in hopes of exposing the plan, and he was chained to a pole in the baseball stadium getting thinner every day. Duff (BEER) Corporation, (their CEO is the team owner) is bored with Homer and decides to use him as an attraction and during a game. They unchain him and tempt him with hot dogs (now with a southwestern sauce!) Homer notices the sauce and that the hot dog wrappers have a new team name and logo – Albuquerque Isotopes. This was the evidence Homer had seen before, so the plot was finally revealed and Homer is the hero. As it turns out in the end, Albuquerque’s Mayor decides to acquire the Dallas Cowboys instead, and will make them play baseball. In the very last clip of the episode he declares his reason… “I AM THE MAYOR OF ALBUQUERQUE.”
This cracks me up because the Mayor of Albuquerque in 2001 was Martin Chavez, and he was thought of by many citizens of the Duke City to be a controlling egomaniac. I’m also amused that this episode ending was cut in all future reruns of the episode in America, but not in foreign countries.
Apparently, Burqueños love the Simpsons. Please come join us at the ballpark, but if you go to a game, and hear the call to cheer, don’t yell, “charge!” In Albuquerque we yell, “Marge!”

The trolley tour was perfectly organized with heaps of fun facts and quirky stories. I walked away with a greater appreciation for Albuquerque and the sense that this place doesn’t take itself too seriously. A sense of humor, spirit of historical preservation, lottery-funded free college education, ubiquitous public art, competitive food culture, ethnic diversity and sunshine 361 days a year … what’s not to like?