Albuquerque – The Good, The Bad, The Ugly

I love getting out of the New York area because there is so much truth in the cliche, “familiarity breeds contempt”, and there are few things I have more contempt for than the bland green landscapes along our highways, and the soullessness of our over-developed suburbs and under-nourished cities. Southwestern landscapes have always fascinated me, though; from the rugged brown mountains dotted with bright green succulents, to the simple architectural style of adobe architecture.
Albuquerque has offered us a bizarre mix of both the good and bad, with some wonderful examples of Pueblo Deco and Revival style architecture, and some horrible examples of bland cookie cutter developments that could be dropped into the middle of Long Island without any trouble at all.
We arrived in the late afternoon on Friday, and after being nickel-and-dimed by Thrifty over our rental car, headed into the city via Central venue/Route 66 to find our bed-and-breakfast, the amazing and adorable “urban oasis”, Adobe Nido, located about 5 minutes north of Old Town. Our hosts, Rol and Sarah, are the rare kind of personalities that can make a B&B work — personable without being intrusive, helpful without being over-bearing — and their guest house is beautiful and perfect. After settling in, we headed out to explore Old Town and the neighborhood to its west, and were surprised by the randomness of older, smaller houses and empty lots, mixed in with huge new construction and one big lot full of horses, cows and a donkey.
After an excellent dinner at Los Cuates — some of the best salsa I’ve ever had, and delicious sopapillas w/honey — we turned in early, still two hours ahead on East Coast time.
The next morning, following a delicious and informative breakfast with Rol and Sarah — the real advantage of a B&B over a hotel is getting the local angle on everything from politics to places to eat — we headed over to the Downtown Market at Robinson Park, an impressive affair the puts the faux-progressive Montclair Farmer’s Market to shame. I was surprised by the variety of vegetables that grow in this area, assuming the heat and lack of rain would be more limiting. We’d just eaten breakfast, so we didn’t sample any of the foods, but we did buy the most amazing fruit juice I’ve ever had, a blend of watermelon, papaya and crenshaw, a fruit I’d never even heard of. Besides edibles, there was also some great artwork, jewelry and crafts on display.
After the Market, we walked east on Central/66 into downtown to check out some of the stores, and while taking a picture in front of the KiMo, got invited in for a quick tour of the place. “Pueblo Deco” is a combination of two of my favorite architectural styles, and the KiMo is an impressive work of art. It takes a while to soak in every detail, and pictures don’t fully do it justice, but Salome got some great shots that I’ll post on Flickr when we get back. I can only imagine what seeing a concert or play there must be like!
Heading back to the car, we stopped in at Downtown Books, possibly the most depressing bookstore I’ve ever been in that didn’t sell comic books. More book mortuary than store or a community gathering place, every available nook and cranny had an organized but completely random selection of books stuffed into them; a casual browser’s dream, but presumably a business owner’s nightmare unless it’s purely a labor of love.
Heading east on 66, we went to check out the flea market at the racetrack, only to realize it was a typical mix of garage sale items, designer knock-offs, and overpriced food, so we headed back to Old Town for the Salsa Fiesta which was a lot fun. 38 different homemade salsas competing, all prepared on-site prior to the start of the tasting. Most were pretty good, a few were outstanding (we split our two votes between our co-favorites), and by the time we were done, our mouths were burning, our stomachs were full, and we were ready to get off of our feet for a bit.
Hopping back in the car, we headed east on 66 again, out of Albuquerque towards Tijeras, wandered around an expensive-looking neighborhood with some impressive houses, circled back and drove up along the eastern border of the city, all the way around the northern border, across the Rio Grande and back to the western edge of 66 where we spotted the El Vado Motel, one of the more prominent of way too many sad reminders of Route 66’s long-gone heyday.
The disparity between the haves and have-nots isn’t quite as bad as it is in NYC, but it’s pretty close, and learning that teachers’ starting salary is only $22k makes Albuquerque an unlikely next home.

After a delicious dinner at Monroe’s — the Green Chile Cheeseburger w/ sweet potato fries is a little bit of heaven — we headed back to Adobe Nido to shower and settle in “early” because tomorrow we have a long day of driving, broken up primarily by a stop in Gallup for Ceremonial.

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