New Mexico Recap: The City of Albuquerque

Two main highways create a cross section of Albuquerque’s four quadrants. It oddly mirrors New Mexico’s state flag–a red circle with four groups of four rays that represent the four cardinal directions, four seasons, stages of the day, and stages of life itself.

However, the 25, North and South, and the 40, East and West, divide the city’s flattened expanse in unequal sections. Some people suggest that Central Avenue (part of Route 66), which is a southern parallel to the 40, and the Rio Grande, which is the western parallel to the 25, are the true dividing lines. Consensus and clarity are not among the city’s strengths though, nor is equal distribution.

Albuquerque is not known for attracting large businesses or job industries, yet strip malls are prevalent and extensive across the city. More than anything, the restaurant and food industry seems to be largely successful. The city boasts 12 breweries, four wineries, and a vast array of restaurants boasting classic New Mexican red or green chile sauces. One of my favorite Albuquerque chains is the Satellite Coffee and Flying Star Cafe group, which offer great locally sourced food and a more unique alternative to the Starbucks chain.
Satellite Coffee on Central Ave.
Satellite Coffee on Central Ave.

Eccentric attractions are a trademark of Albuquerque in general. The Southwest has an affinity for liberally minded people, those who reflect the desert’s ability to adapt to an arid landscape of poor resources and create a strangely innovative way of living. In a place where you can find hundreds of varieties of cacti and too many types of cockroaches to count, you also find a range of people that might be typical American suburbanites, hippie professors, avid cyclists, or disadvantaged minorities common in any large city.

Thus the city has everything from a thriving hot air balloon community and the international hot air balloon museum, to a historic Old Town, to Native American museums and cultural centers, to the National Museum of Nuclear Science and History. They also embrace their local sports teams, the minor league baseball Isotopes and the University of New Mexico Lobos, as much as any big-city team.

Hidden behind all these unique attractions, there is an unfortunate dark side. A hint to these problems is a peculiar pattern I’ve noticed on the highways: almost every time I drive on one I see a car abandoned on the shoulder. What does it say about a city when there are constantly cars breaking down, and not just that, but that their owners often abandon them? Perhaps the tow truck industry is lacking, or maybe something else creates such a conundrum.

The ills popularized by the hit show Breaking Bad–poor educational resources, meth labs, and heavy crime–are all too real. Although the city has brought in considerable tourism thanks to the show (my favorite spin off I’ve seen is the dog grooming company “Barking Bad”) it hasn’t been able to solve any of those problems.

Albuquerque’s mixture of people, places, and problems is certainly unique.  In some areas it is just as hip as a California beach town, with Saturday farmers markets and organic eateries, but in other areas it suffers from the social  consequences of urban inequality, with a large homeless population and gang violence. It is a city mashed between mountains and desert, colliding between a world of harsh realities and high-altitude dreams. But just as high compression and temperatures can eventually spurn out diamonds, the mash-ups in Albuquerque can certainly yield surprising results.
Sunday Farmers Market at the old Albuquerque Railyards - a unique gem of local color and small businesses
Sunday Farmers Market at the old Albuquerque Railyards – a unique gem of local color and small businesses

Check back tomorrow for more on the specific landscape and outdoor opportunities in and around the city.

Have you ever visited Albuquerque? What impression did you have?

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