albuquerque, new mexico

As we head north from White Sands on Hwy 70, we don’t really have any set plans. New Mexico has been on my go-see list for a long, long time – I’m not sure why, but it has something to do with the turquoise jewelry and adobe architecture. I’d like to see what it is that drew D.H. Lawrence to the area, to find out if there is indeed some magic in the New Mexico air. It’s March 25 and we’re aiming to be in San Diego, California, somewhere around the beginning of April, but we can push that forward by a week if we want to. Santa Fe draws us like a magnet, but first there’s Albuquerque. Many years ago, my grandmother flew to Albuquerque to visit a cousin (or maybe it was a friend). My grandmother rarely left her farm in the Eastern Townships of Quebec, and trips outside of car range were unheard of, so venturing so far afield must have been a very big deal for her. A few years later, when I was helping her downsize in preparation for her move in with her younger sister, my Great Aunt Bea, we spent an afternoon going through the many treasures of her life, dividing them into piles to be passed on to her children and grandchildren. One of those treasures was a copper bracelet she’d bought in Albuquerque. That bracelet is part of why I want to to be in New Mexico – to breathe in D.H. Lawrence, Georgia O’Keeffe and my grammie. After that, who knows. But vaguely, Plan A is to head up to Albuquerque, then Santa Fe and Taos, then on to Four Corners, Grand Canyon, maybe Vegas if we have time, and down to San Diego. We’ll see what happens – all will become clear.

Hwy 70 takes us into the town of Alamogordo, and after stopping in for morning lattes, we take 54 up to 380, which takes us into Albuquerque, but it’s sort of a quick wave at the city, because our GPS lady has us turn east on I-40, and with the city diminishing in the distance behind us, the GPS lady is taking us to the outskirts of town, fah fah away. In the pile of literature the fellow at the New Mexico visitor center handed us was a booklet full of discount coupons for hotels in New Mexico, Colorada, Utah and Arizona … apparently a $29.99 room in Albuquerque gets you a room a long way from downtown. The Deluxe Inn is out on hotel row, at the eastern edge of the city limits on Route 66, renamed Central Avenue here in ABQ. A Route 66 sign on the side of the road makes me break out into song “Get your kicks on Route 66.” Actually, it’s the only line I know from the song of the same name, and to my credit, after a few days, I resist the urge to sing it every time I spot another Route 66 sign, not that there isn’t lots of opportunity. When we reach our hotel, I pull up a THEM version of it on YouTube and let Van do the singing. It winds from Chicago to LA, more than two thousand miles all the way.

It’s Saturday night, and I’m glad to take it off and do a bit of blogging while Bridget heads into town to scope it out. Next morning I’m raring to go, but first we’ve got to change hotels. It turns out the deep discount coupon works for one night only, so we move ourselves down a block and spend another coupon, this time at the EconoLodge. We could do this all week, couldn’t we, jumping from hotel to hotel; but no, we’ve given ourselves just one full day in ABQ before heading up to Santa Fe. We jump in the car and head west on Central Avenue, taking us through the Nob Hill area of town, a chic district of restaurants, bars and boutiques set amid streets named Tulane and Bryn Mawr and home to the University of New Mexico. We’re scoping out places where Bridget could busk, and although this looks like it could be the right area to give it a shot, there aren’t too many souls out this Sunday morning, so we continue along into downtown. Again, not too many people about, but there are a few people wandering through a small plaza at 4th and Central, so we slide Dexy into a parking spot and out we hop – Bridget to ply her music and me off to take in the architecture downtown.

Any way you stretch it, though, there’s not a lot going on downtown today, so we’re soon off to the old town, further west along Route 66, where city streets meet the Rio Grande. I want to stick my feet into the river somewhere and ABQ looks to be our best shot. We skirt along the western edge of Old Town and head down Mountain Road, which ultimately dead ends into an impregnable fence yards from the river, but not before we get our first spotting of Elvis in weeks …

Surprised and delighted as we are to find Elvis, we’re even more delighted with the speed limit on Mountain Road and wonder just how it is they come up with these numbers …

… slow enough to see Elvis but fast enough so the Beatles fly by …

Retracing our path back to Old Town, we find a spot to park Dexy and head out on foot to the plaza that sits in the shadow of San Felipe de Neri Church, which dates back to 1793. We’re drawn to the plaza, where a crowd has formed to watch various ritual dances performed by a Native American troupe that has center stage for the day. I’m dazzled by the costumes as they swirl by …

When the troupe takes a break, so do we, heading over to Casa de Fiesta on the south side of the plaza to dine Mexican style, a habit we have been force-feeding since we hit Austin and have no plans to quit, at least not yet. After lunch, we head out into the streets surrounding the plaza, wandering into alleys and courtyards between the adobe buildings full of jewelry and clothing shops that line the streets.

We’re ready to give the Rio Grande another shot, and we’re going to let Route 66 take us there. We’re in luck! As we approach the eastern edge of the river, up ahead on the right is a small parking lot, complete with statue, that leads to walking paths down to the river.

Success! I get my feet wet in the Rio Grande – admittedly more cold than it is magical – but it is my moment, and I’m glad for it.

We retrace our tracks back along Central Avenue, past Old Town into downtown, with Spanish pop songs blasting from the radio. We begin to think there must be an old-car convention in town this weekend. I wouldn’t know a Buick from a Ford or anything in between, but the town is full of cars, cars, cars, heading in every direction.

As we headed through Nob Hill on the way to the hotel, we had every intention of coming back later to explore the area and check out who might be playing in town. Maybe just grab a little siesta and freshen up a bit first.

There’s nothing like a little siesta to turn into full-blown inertia. We traded a night on the town for an EconoLodge sunset and called it our day in Albuquerque.

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