Albuquerque is a high desert destination Coloradoans should check out

Trails at the top of Sandia Peak are a highlight of the area. Photo by Aaron Bible
Trails at the top of Sandia Peak are a highlight of the area. Photo by Aaron Bible

Slowly coming onto travelers’ radar for good reason, Albuquerque is a destination that will definitely appeal to Coloradoan’s sensibilities. Albuquerque – just a six hour drive from Denver — entices with history, climate, and under the radar culture and cuisine.

With an elevation higher than Denver and a latitude just higher than Phoenix, Albuquerque has, in some ways, the perfect climate with four mild seasons. There’s  more water and shade than one might expect with cool nights and moderate seasonal temps. Several ski areas are within easy driving distance, there’s endless desert to explore, paved trails, foot hills hiking opportunities, technical rock climbing and more. And, all of this in an up-and-coming, not yet tragically hip, friendly medium sized town. It’s cheap to fly but makes more sense to drive…and on the way swing through Taos for some skiing (in the winter, some of the steepest in-bounds skiing in the country nestled in a small, authentic family-owned ski area) and some serious southwest culture year-round. A stop in Santa Fe is also warranted. Driving will allow you to bring all of your bikes and climbing gear. And you’ll definitely want to bring your good camera on this trip.

Photo courtesy Ron Behrmann
Photo courtesy Ron Behrmann

On almost any morning, enjoy an early morning ride with one of many local hot air balloon outfitters. Get a literal overview of the city followed by the traditional post-ride Champagne toast. Albuquerque is known as the Hot Air Balloon Capital of the World, so you might as well check this one off your list and get a glimpse into ballooning culture. It’s also an awesome way to view the Rio Grande river canyon. For a post-ride brunch, consider the local favorite, Flying Star Cafe.

Call: Rainbow Ryders Hot Air Balloon Company

After breakfast, to burn off the calories — and the “Rio Grande Champaigne” (also called a “muddy,” orange juice and cranberry juice mixed with bubbly) — enjoy a hike or trail run at Petroglyph National Monument, one of the largest petroglyph sites in North America. It’s run by the National Park Service with a variety of high-desert trails winding through the hundreds-year-old rock engravings of Native American tribes that still inhabit the area.

That said, a trip with Roch (pronounced Rock), owner of New Mexico Jeep Tours is truly a must-do for the area, and will provide you with up-close, and literally hands-on experiences with petroglyphs and other Native American and Spanish Colonial ruins. Believe me when I tell you it’s not your typical jeep tour. It can really be whatever you want it to be, as pretty much every trip is private and typically takes place on the 22,000 acre private ranch Roch has access to and patrols.

Photo by Aaron Bible
Photo by Aaron Bible

Another must-do in Albuquerque is the Los Poblanos Historic Inn & Organic Farm. American architect John Gaw Meem worked on the inn and is largely responsible for the exquisite Southwestern colonial style buildings. The former dairy farm specializes in soothing Lavender grown on site. The Inn recently added about 19 guest cabins for a total of 25 rooms, perfect for small weddings or family reunions.

La Merienda is the on-site restaurant at Los Poblanos with a rotating menu of locally sourced, expertly prepared dishes inspired by the region.

 

Photo by Jasmine Bible
The incredible gift shop at Los Poblanos Historic Inn & Organic Farm. Photo by Jasmine Bible

Coloradoans will also appreciate the up-and-coming Nob Hill neighborhood. Bistronomy B2B is a burger joint focused on being local. Local ingredients and more than 30 local craft brews — including its own “nano-brewery,” where they turn out very small batches of specialty brews pushing the limits of fermented flavor. Their burgers are all made with New Mexico farm fresh Angus beef. Owner Sham Naik is a former Denver restauranteur so be sure to introduce yourself.

New Mexican food has grown into its own culinary specialty in the last several years, specializing in farm-to-table mentality due to the proximity to local agriculture in the area. The region was also the first wine growing region in the country and still boasts several award-winning wineries. The number of good, local restaurants is staggering; and wine bars have found a receptive audience in the area as well. Breweries are of course on the rise with new openings all the time — The Marble Brewery is a five minute bike cruise from downtown and is definitely the place to be seen and have a great local beer.

Another Denverite-friendly option for breakfast and lunch is The Grove, located in east downtown and convenient to locals and tourists alike. Again the idea here is flavor with an interest in locally curated ingredients, good coffee, and the usual friendly Albuquerque vibe.

Classic New Mexican food at Taos Ski Valley. Photo by Aaron Bible
Classic New Mexican food at Taos Ski Valley. Photo by Aaron Bible

The Artichoke Café is also one of the best fine dining spots in the east downtown (“EDO”) area, including bespoke cocktails and inventive menu items; and next door Farina Pizzeria also focuses on fresh ingredients and purist recipes.

A New Mexican staple, El Pinto has been a family owned restaurant for more than 50 years. It’s currently owned by brothers Jim and John (the twin sons of the original owners) and guests will find tableside guacamole, fireplaces, the largest tequila collection in the state and – during chile season – fire roasted green chiles made in to a sauce right in front of them. El Pinto also has a retail/wholesale salsa business that is delicious and authentic to go.

The Annual National Fiery Foods & Barbeque Show, which celebrated it’s  26th year this year, begins at Sandia Resort & Casino. It’s something that foodies visiting the area will definitely want to experience if the timing is right. It takes place at the end of February each year.

Culture

Founded in 1706, the area is rife with history and preserved culture. Museums dot the area and historic Old Town, ranging from the New Mexico Museum of Natural History, to the Rattlesnake Museum, the Albuquerque Balloon Museum, and the National Hispanic Cultural Center.

On one of your days, be sure to take in a unique breakfast at the Pueblo Harvest Café at the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center. The cultural center is owned and operated by the 19 Pueblos of New Mexico and serves as the gateway to these Pueblos. After a culinary spin through the Native Fusion breakfast menu, take time to explore the museum — they also offer traditional Native American dance celebrations, Indian Pueblo art, jewelry and food as part of their mission is to preserve and perpetuate Pueblo culture.

Albuquerque is on the original Route 66 – it goes right through town and is one of the highlights in the Nob Hill area. It maintains the neon lights and roadster vibe of Route 66, but with small, funky music venues, breweries, taco stands and some of the best restaurants in the city.

There’s an incredible amount of art the area, not just trickling down from neighboring Santa Fe. Those in the know often say, “shop in Santa Fe, buy in Albuquerque,” because many of the artists who sell their wares in Santa Fe actually live in Albuquerque.

Outdoors

Cyclists will find a heavenly respite in this often misunderstood town. From cruisers and low riders to mountain bikes and road bikes, it’s a great town to ride in. One of the most unique parts of Albuquerque is the fact it’s surrounded on nearly all sides by undeveloped areas, and bikers, hikers and runners have seemingly endless options. The Bosque Trail system (think Platte River bike path) is beautiful and well maintained running throughout the city, perfect for cycling, running or just walking.

Photo by Kip Malone
Photo by Kip Malone

The Sandia Peak Tramway is a pretty incredible joy ride. In about 10 minutes it delivers riders to 10,378- foot Sandia Peak – in the winter months you can ski right off the back side of the tram at the great little local ski area. Or hike around the top of the mountains and back down the front side to your vehicle. The views from the top are unmistakable and provide a sense of place you won’t soon forget.

Stay: Bottger Mansion of Old Town B&B. Steve and Kathy Hiatt will be your gracious and knowledgeable hosts for however long you care to hang your hat. You’ll get regionally inspired B&B style breakfast served daily with comforts of home available 24 hours. It’s safe and quiet while still being located smack in the middle of historic old town. (110 San Felipe Street NW, Albuquerque, New Mexico, 87104; 505.243.3639)

Photo by Aaron Bible
Photo by Aaron Bible
Sandia Peak Tramway. Photo by Jasmine Bible
Sandia Peak Tramway. Photo by Jasmine Bible

Visit itsatrip.org for a comprehensive guide to the city, including an events calendar.

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