Like Mark Twain, I’ll never let the truth get in the way of a good story. … but once when we were leaving town on a road trip, Uncle Grandma got sick in the car. So we had to turn around and find fun things to do in Albuquerque. Stuff like that happens, so why bother packing a bunch of sandwiches when there’s plenty of stuff to do right nearby?
Let’s forget for a moment that Albuquerque plays host to thousands of stores, restaurants and nightclubs—many that advertise in the Alibi and richly deserve your generous patronage.
Did you know there’s a secret I-40 entrance from the Winrock parking lot? It’s true. From the lot on the western-most side of Burque’s soon-to-be-revamped ghost mall, there’s a lane that takes you through a tunnel under Louisiana and right onto westbound I-40. None of the surrounding traffic even knows where you came from—you just sort of appear in a lane.
Speaking of tunnels, there are only two rock tunnels you can drive through in New Mexico: One is down near Ruidoso and the other is right nearby in the Jemez Mountains. “Our” rock tunnel (as I affectionately refer to the one closer to Albuquerque) was featured in the remake of 3:10 to Yuma, starring Christian Bale.
Christian Bale, you may recall, also climbed up a weird, bumpy dam structure when he invaded the robot headquarters in Terminator: Salvation. That dam is a cool cement structure, and you can walk around on it. Well, okay, it’s cool for about two minutes, but what do you expect? You only have to drive a little ways north on Juan Tabo past Montgomery, and you might see a rock band posing for press kit photos.
Now that you’re close to the mountains, check out Sandia Man Cave—or Sandia Man Mancave as I like to call it, because I think it was Sandia Man’s space to be alone and stare at the fire. In truth, it’s commonly held that “Sandia Man” was a hoax possibly perpetrated by archaeologist Frank C. Hibben, though Hibben maintained his innocence to the grave. My best advice is to get directions from a local. Newspaper directions are boring to read, boring to write and rarely accurate.
So, while you’re hiking around, why not get directions to a crashed Martin 4-0-4 airplane? In 1955, TWA flight 260 went down in the Sandia Mountains, killing all 16 passengers and crew. And there the wreckage remains. I’ve never actually been to the crash site, but I hear the hike is strenuous. You can supposedly see some of the wreckage on the ride up the Tram, when the sun is just right. How long since you’ve ridden the Tram? It’s fun, there’s wreckage to see, and there’s a nice restaurant and kooky curio shop on top.
Check out Sandia Man Cave—or Sandia Man Mancave as I like to call it, because I think it was Sandia Man’s space to be alone and stare at the fire. In truth, it’s commonly held that “Sandia Man” was a hoax possibly perpetrated by archaeologist Frank C. Hibben, though Hibben maintained his innocence to the grave.
Curio shops are fun. There’s one at the (yawn) Continental Divide on I-40 east of Albuquerque. There’s another at the Dairy Queen in Edgewood. But the granddaddy of them all (at least right near here) is Cline’s Corners, the massive curio crap kingdom created by Roy E. Cline in 1934; it’s of such magnificence that Steve Stucker often reports on the weather there. It’s actually a little underwhelming and depressing, sitting as it does, alone in the center of a featureless brown skyline. But they make fudge and you can get moccasins.
Not all cool junk is for buying, though: Some junk is so cool it’s enough just to look at it. I’m referring, of course, to the junk at the Tinkertown Museum, which is just on your left as you begin driving up to Sandia Peak. This weird museum/menagerie of swords, tiny things and doo dads from around the world is the brainchild and legacy of eccentric world traveler Ross Ward, father to Jason Ward of Star Tattoo and Sad Baby Wolf fame, incidentally. If Tinkertown wasn’t featured as a Place of Power in Neil Gaiman’s American Gods, it should have been. You can get lost in there for hours without ever getting bored.
You can also easily lose track of time in Albuquerque’s top-notch Zoo (aka BioPark aka Baby Animal Factory), Aquarium and Botanical Gardens. The Japanese Garden in the Botanical Gardens, specifically, is a wonder. The city of Burque and its citizens have done a commendable job of creating world-class museums and attractions in and around the city: The Albuquerque Museum, The Natural History Museum, The Balloon Museum, The Rattlesnake Museum, The Telephone Museum, The National Museum of Nuclear Science & History, Explora, Indian Pueblo Cultural Center, UNM Art Museum, New Mexico History Museum … and many more, to whom I apologize for not mentioning, but space is limited.
If you like the notion of domesticated trout getting caught and mangled by 7-year-old anglers, Shady Lakes provides a beautiful backdrop for such horrors. Plus there are plenty of crawdads to terrify any babies in the area. Kidding aside, it’s a nice experience.
For you car nuts, at the corner of Bell and Conchas, you can see an actual Isetta perched atop a warehouse roof. In the 1950s, the Isetta was the world’s most mass-produced single-cylinder automobile, and it looks like a moon buggy. Is it cool? You bet.
Now, on the back road to Santa Fe, the kooky town of Madrid is lined with kooky galleries and shops. This old-timey mining-
While we could dedicate a whole issue to Santa Fe, our sister city to the north, that’s more a job for their own fine newspapers and I’d hate to presume. But Santa Fe, besides being the state capital, boasting hundreds of art galleries and its own world-class opera house, and providing frequent celebrity photo-bomb opportunities on its plaza, is also the second oldest city in the United States, and has lots of ancient churches and such to prove it. The Rail Runner goes there. Beyond the usual tourist stuff, look for the Kagyu Shenpen Kunchab Bodhi Stupa—a massive golden Buddhist shrine tucked incongruously amid the backstreet squalor near Airport Road.
On the way back, we all know our friends at the Dixon Apple Orchard fell victim to a devastating fire and we wish them well, but the drive to Cochiti Dam is lovely and the Tent Rocks rank as one of the most weirdly beautiful places on earth. Don’t steal those Apache tears, kids!
Now you’ve seen everything. Go home.