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A Southwestern USA Expedition: Albuquerque's Outer Limits


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There was a lot to keep us occupied in Old Town, Central Avenue, and other parts of central Albuquerque but we also found some interesting places to explore in the outskirts of the city. One of the most unique activities in Albuquerque is the cable car to the top of Sandia Peak at the northeastern corner of the city. I had come across numerous horror stories about long lines and closures due to high winds so I was careful to check the weather forecast and reserve an early time slot online. The weather was very calm and we only had to wait about twenty minutes before we were on the tram. The ride to the top provided awesome views of the cracked and weathered limestone cliffs that jutted from the face of the mountain. In some places the ebb and flow of glaciers had stacked enormous boulders into natural cairns.
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One element that had eluded me in my research was the altitude we would be dealing with when we exited from the cable car at the top. Albuquerque already sits at a lofty five thousand foot elevation, and the tram ascends for another five thousand to the peak. Ten thousand feet is a little much for folks like us who normally exist at sea level. The only other time we'd experienced altitude was driving between Denver and Steamboat in Colorado and all three of the kids had felt some symptoms at one point or another. I decided our best bet was to get a look around and then try and get back on the tramway within an hour rather than mess around on any of the trails. We had too much on our list to get done to be dealing with any sick kids. There were some good viewing platforms close to the station from which we could look back down at the mountainside and the flat expanse that Albuquerque occupied. On the other side of the ridge were the chairlifts for the ski area and beyond them the Cibola National Forest. Mei Ling was the only one who experienced any effect from the altitude for the hour we were up there. She was dizzy from the moment we got off the tram until we were safely back on ground level.
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The morning of our last day in Albuquerque we returned to Central Avenue, this time to a separate stretch of funky businesses across from the University of New Mexico campus. The Frontier Restaurant has been an Albuquerque institution for fifty years, especially renowned for their sweet rolls and green chile. It was a huge restaurant spread over several rooms filled with art and atmospheric Southwestern decor. The food was spicy and delicious and the portions were huge, the perfect way to fuel up for another busy day of travel.
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We had seen plenty of beautiful adobe houses since arriving in Albuquerque but they were mostly on the smaller end, like our Airbnb. We were curious to see if there were any breathtaking adobe mansions to marvel at so we broke out Zillow and entered an exorbitant sum as a minimum. There weren't many hits and most of them were in a neighborhood in the far northeast of the city, not far from the Sandia Tramway. It was a long detour from our planned route but once we'd had the idea we wanted to follow through on it. The neighborhood was very different from the central parts of the city we'd spent most of our time in. The ranch houses were widely separated from each other on large plots, there was little vegetation, and hardly any businesses. There were a fair number of large, beautifully-designed adobe houses but the barrenness was a sharp contrast to the lush landscaping we're used to in the prosperous areas of Miami. I wasn't sure if the desert atmosphere was considered a desirable aspect of the Southwestern aesthetic or if it was just an unavoidable consequence of outward expansion to accommodate neighborhoods with larger homes.
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We aren't that big on museums but I thought The National Museum of Nuclear Science & History would be unique enough to be a worthwhile stop on our way out of Albuquerque. They had some interesting displays about the development of the first atomic bomb and the Cold War which provided a good opportunity to give the kids a couple of interactive lessons about science and history.
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Instead of the straight shot up I25 to Santa Fe, we took State Road 14 which is also known as the Turquoise Trail. There are several old mining towns on this road but the one with most to offer visitors is called Madrid, about halfway to Santa Fe. As we left Albuquerque we were greeted with the sight of the juniper-covered foothills of the Sandias.
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Madrid is the kind of town most people would either love or have no interest in whatsoever. Aside from the businesses catering to tourists along the state road, there's just a couple of dirt roads lined with ramshackle houses. It's a ghost town that's been taken over by art galleries but the town itself never grew back which gives the place an aura of artificiality. The bright paint jobs on everything from storefronts to mailboxes seem designed to draw daytrippers from Albuquerque and Santa Fe.
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I haven't painted a very positive picture of Madrid but the truth is that the galleries are quite enjoyable, filled with innovative art and creative oddities. One boutique was largely devoted to steampunk, which Mei Ling had never heard of before and instantly fell in love with. My favorite were the sculptures welded from discarded hardware and pieces of machinery.
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The Madrid restaurant we'd hoped to eat at was Mama Lisa’s Ghost Town Kitchen, renowned for eclectic Southwestern cuisine, but after searching for it fruitlessly we learned it had been closed for years. The most viable alternative seemed to be The Hollar, a barbecue restaurant with a spacious patio. After a reasonably satisfying lunch we got back on the road to the second vertex of our triangular itinerary, Santa Fe.
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Posted by zzlangerhans 08:20 Archived in USA Tagged family_travel travel_blog tony_friedman family_travel_blog sandia_tramway madrid_new_mexico Comments (0)

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