Top 5 things to do for a weekend in Albuquerque

01 May 2013

Unexpected family circumstances took my big sister and me to New Mexico in February. Our grandmother passed away, and I didn't take it well. Of the three of us, I was closest with our grandmother.

She was Italian through and through, honest as the day is long, stubbornly independent, courageously adventurous, and a whole-hearted realist. She was, in many ways, a lot like me and my sisters. We each exhibit a number of her most prominent characteristics, and with great overlap too. In the simplest of her words, she encouraged me to be strong, to move beyond pains and frustrations, to put into things what I want to get out of them, and to not let any one experience break me. I miss talking to her, reading her words that illustrated a clear vision of her typing away to me with her sharp, sometimes brusque, outlook. One of the hardest parts of losing her was feeling as if I lost yet another lifeline to my father. It tears me to pieces, and one of the best people to help pick me back up is yet another stubbornly independent, whole-hearted realist in my life: my oldest sister. She joined me in New Mexico to face the grave circumstance, and I'm so glad she did.

It wasn't the most ideal trip to a new destination, but we made the most of it and took time to ourselves to clear our minds. We hadn't done a lot of research since we weren't expecting to visit, but Albuquerque surprised us with incredible scenery and interesting history. It felt like we were in the middle of an old western film, or maybe plucked from today's urbanized U.S. and shipped off in a time travel machine to the early days of colonization. Okay, maybe not exactly... But it did feel quite different than I expected. 

Top 5 things to do for a weekend in Albuquerque, New Mexico from The Brave Little Cheesehead at

1. Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument: Kasha-Katuwe was certainly not on our radars before reaching Albuquerque. In fact, we'd never heard of it. But the Cappodocia-like photos lured me in. For a fraction of the cost to go to Turkey to see this phenomena, I'll gladly pay the standard $5 parking fee to check it out in the U.S.

The park is an hour outside Albuquerque, but not quite on the way to Santa Fe. With that kind of a time frame in mind, H wasn't convinced. But c'mon! There are only, like, three places in the world where you can experience this geological bewilderment!

At one point in historynearly six or seven million years agothis area was home to a massive volcano. Eventually it erupted, leaving behind thousands of feet of ash that eroded into cone-like tent formations that are layered of pumice, tuff and volcanic glass, and are referred to as hoodoos. (That's kind of the best part.) Some have boulder caps atop them, which protect the coned tents below. Many of them are already disintegrating and geologists expect that this process will continue. In other words, H really owes me a "thank you" since they might be gone by the time we make it back to New Mexico! So, you're welcome.

2. Tram ride: After hiking the easy Cave Loop Trail (1.2 slightly inclined miles), we headed back to town for a sunset ride up the world's longest tram to Sandia Peak. This was on H's to do list. Mine? Not so much. It's terrifying and freakishly high. But who travels to new places and stays within their comfort zone? ...I hope you're not raising your hand. Nearly $20 later, we boarded the tram and away we went! It took nearly 15 minutes to cover 2.7 miles by way of the tram.

The kids in the tram were jumping up and down, running back and forth, and doing everything in their oblivious power to rock the car, scaring me to near death. It took every ounce of my boiling, terrified blood to refrain from grabbing them by the backs of their shirts and hushing them up with four-letter words void from their vocabulary. But fear was the only thing that kept me standing still, far from those daring children.

Breathless and blue, we arrived at the top. I'll be honest, the view was outstanding! It's far different than what either H or I see from the high peaks in the cities we live. We checked out the small station at the top and walked around a bit. Unless we wanted to dine at the restaurant, there wasn't anything else to do. Plan for it to be a quick, roundtrip visit. We rounded the station and head back to camp. In all truthfulness, the ride wasn't as bad on the way down. And hey, I lived to tell the story, right?

3. Old Town: Old Town is quite the quaint afternoon hot spot for visitors. The 10-block, ranch-style shopping area features adobe buildings with Pueblo-Spanish architecture that date back to the late 1700s. We parked ourselves at a cafe in the morning, Bebe Cafe, and relaxed with lattes and breakfast burritos. It was just us and the cook, a little old man. The food wasn't anything out of the ordinary, but it was just what we needed to jumpstart the morning. We strolled through the shopping district, passing street vendors at every corner, and caught ourselves reminiscing our youth inside a toy shop. Nothing takes you back to the '80s and '90s like your forgotten, favorite childhood toys (Little Tikes, anyone?). Our favorite shops were The Candy Lady, Gabby's Handmade Soap and The Christmas Shop, where I picked up my New Mexico ornament.

4. A night out in Nob Hill: Another popular neighborhood of Albuquerque, Nob Hill, sits on the city's Main Street, better known as Route 66. Among its history is the University of New Mexico, bringing a hip, youthful vibe to the notable suburb. Unfortunately, we didn't have time to experience this little corner of Albuquerque for what it's best known for: shopping, arts and entertainment. Instead, we grabbed pizza and pasta at the delicious Il Vicino. I highly recommend, and I truly wish we had one in Seattle!

5. Paseo del Bosque: The best kind of travel is free, and this beautiful path is no different. Paseo del Bosque, also referred to as the Riverside Bike Path, is a 16-mile walking and biking path that runs parallel to the Rio Grande and passes through Rio Grande State Park. Talk about a breathtaking stroll! The trail is uninterrupted by motorists, making it a tranquil escape during a busy day. It's easily accessible at different points within the city. Check out the link for a map of nearby parking.

Despite the circumstances, we kept distracted with the staggering delights New Mexico offers its residents and guests.

Ever since I was hit with the travel bug, I imagined visiting my Grandma in New Mexico during the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta. The images of all those magnificent balloons floating together above the arid, earthy landscape of New Mexico always steals my attention. Grandma always said there wasn't a day that went by you couldn't see one in the sky. I imagine I'll be back to climb into a big balloon and wade above the city, and see the many other sites H and I couldn't fit in to our weekend. But each time I return to New Mexico, I'll have Grandma on my mind and her adventurous courage in spirit.

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