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Old 07-01-2010, 07:16 PM
Location: WA
1,659 posts, read 2,977,325 times
Reputation: 1911


Hi all:

A couple weeks ago I came on here for some advice on kids attractions and possible neighborhoods to explore on a short scouting trip to Albuquerque while my wife does interviews. The advice from the regulars on this list was spot on. We had a great trip and enjoyed the city. Although my wife doesn't think the position she interviewed for is exactly what she wants, we were intrigued enough by the city to think that we'll be looking around to see if the right position comes up. So she's going to do some more shopping around to see what other positions might be out there in the near future.

While my wife was doing her thing I took the kids to the zoo and tram. The zoo is excellent and would probably be the #2 zoo in Texas (after the Fort Worth Zoo) if it were here in Texas. It beats out the zoos in Dallas, Houston, and San Antonio which are all much larger cities. Although I did find the traffic patterns within the zoo very confusing and we had a hard time working our way around to all the displays. Maybe it was just me. To our disappointment we discovered that the zoo train wasn't running on Monday so we didn't get to take the train to the aquarium. We'll leave that for another trip. We had intended to do the tram on Monday but a rainstorm postponed that until Tuesday. The kids loved it and we hiked all around the trails on top. It was great to see skiing opportunities so close to the city.

We also had dinner at the Frontier Restaurant which my kids loved. We had breakfast and coffee at the Flying Star Cafe which seemed to be the place to go but I thought was rather overpriced for a casual breakfast cafe.

As for our perceptions of the city. Never having been to Albuquerque before I wasn't sure what to expect. In general Albuquerque reminded me a lot of what Portland and Austin used to be like 20 years ago before 2 decades of explosive growth doubled the size of both those cities and subjected them to tidal waves of California equity refugees. I went to college in Portland in the early 80s and a lot of what I saw of Albuquerque's downtown and Central Ave reminded me quite a bit of what Portland used to be like before the city became overwhelmed with growth. I especially loved how Albuquerque has really maintained and restored much of the old Route 66 institutions and architecture. Most cities in America have the old drag through town with all the old aging motels and restaurants. But they are usually mostly lost and forgotten and decaying away in squalor. So a big thumbs up for the Albuquerque downtown and Central Avenue area. Very attractive for a city of its size.

Now for the suburbs. Most of the advice on this forum was to concentrate on the NE side of town and so my wife and I did quite a bit of driving around at random looking at neighborhoods and houses in that area. While I like the faux adobe style and xeroscaping, my wife's comment was "OK, I get the adobe look but seriously, does every single house have to look like a WW-II bunker?" My wife found some sort of iPhone app that is GPS-enabled so that we could see what houses were for sale and at what prices for any neighborhood we were driving through. Very very cool. And very helpful. We drove all the way up to the top of Sandia Ridge and other surrounding neighborhoods of which I forgot the names. They all started looking the same. We drove past La Cueva HS which was recommended as the best public HS in Albuquerque and wow...whoever chose that color scheme should be fired with extreme prejudice. What an ugly school made worse by the paint scheme. Our initial impression was that while the NE Albuquerque area is quite nice it just didn't grab us. Too monotonous. We saw practically no restaurants or groceries or anything nearby, just endless cookie cutter subdivisions. Perhaps we didn't know where to look. But the very initial impression was that the far NE Albuquerque neighborhoods we looked at are even more car dependent than where we live in Texas but without the green space and community amenities of true Texas style master-planned communities such as community pools, pocket parks and playgrounds, bike paths and running paths, etc. Also no sidewalks so it didn't seem that pedestrian-friendly.

We also drove through the area around Cibola High School which I guess is considered the west side? And wow, that whole area looks exactly like any of dozens of areas around the big cities in Texas complete with all the exact same big box stores and restaurants. Even the new housing looked very similar, I'm guessing some of the same national builders that work in Texas are also present in Albuquerque because they are using the same formula.

Then by accident we discovered the Los Ranchos area when I decided to drive back to downtown via Rio Grande Blvd instead of the freeway and my wife perked up immediately. "Now THIS I like" was her comment. Well, duh. Huge estates, lavender farms, wineries, horses and riding trails in the middle of the city. What's not to like? Way out of our price range no doubt. But the Los Ranchos area reminded us more of my wife's home neighborhood in Chile than anything we've seen anywhere in the US. She comes from an upscale area on the outskirts of Santiago that really looks a LOT like Los Ranchos. I suspect there must be other similar areas around Albuquerque no? But that should give you an impression of what we liked and didn't like. I'm guessing that the big tradeoff to some of the older areas of Albuquerque is going to be the schools. We have 3 girls ages 4, 7, and 12 so schools are a big deal and I don't intend to pay for 3 private tuitions. Saving for college is tough enough as it is.

Where does that leave us? We only had time to scratch the surface of Albuquerque and for the most part we liked what we saw. Enough so that we will continue to shop jobs in the area to see if something comes up that is a great fit. We're both happy enough in our current careers that it will have to be really right for us to move at this point. Because there are some obvious disadvantages to moving to Albuquerque as well.

In terms of comparing Albuquerque to Central Texas (we currently live in suburban Waco) my thoughts are the following:

Advantages to Albuquerque: Better climate, much greater outdoor opportunities, seems to be a healthier and fitter area, less traffic and hassle compared to Texas, friendlier political and religious climate. I'm a runner and a cyclist and the opportunities for both seem much better in Albuquerque. And the hiking and camping opportunities don't even compare. Texas has almost no public lands outside of the Big Bend area and few good state parks that are large enough to get lost in. Besides, who wants to camp when it's still 90 degrees and humid in the middle of the night?

Disadvantages to Albuquerque: Really isolated, airfare is MUCH higher to most of our common destinations with more difficult connections. We fly back and forth to Chile frequently and my wife's family flies up to visit frequently. We now have daily non-stop service between Santiago and DFW which is 1.5 hours from our house. Going to cost a lot more and take a lot longer to get to Chile from Albuquerque. In terms of education, the public schools seem to be in worse shape than in comparable upscale Texas suburbs. I'm a believer in Public education but I refuse to put my kids in a bad situation. Also, the higher education opportunities are far less in NM. Seems like it's go to UNM or go FAR FAR out of state. There doesn't seem to be much in the way of good private liberal arts colleges or universities in the mold of say Rice, Trinity, SMU or even Baylor here in Texas. I'm also not quite sure what is really driving the economy. In general, Albuquerque seems more vulnerable to economic disruption and climate disruption for that matter. I gotta wonder where the water is going to come from in 50 years if the area continues to grow and the SW continues to get hotter and drier as is projected under global warming.

Last edited by texasdiver; 07-01-2010 at 07:27 PM..
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Old 07-01-2010, 07:24 PM
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For such a short stay, that's an excellent assessment!!
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Old 07-01-2010, 08:21 PM
Location: WA
1,659 posts, read 2,977,325 times
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Well, I grew up in Eugene Oregon and since leaving home have lived and worked in Chicago, Portland, Guatemala City, San Francisco, Seattle, Washington DC, Juneau, Anchorage, Santiago Chile, Austin, and Waco TX. I now work as a HS science teacher but for over a decade I also did a LOT of travel around the US in a Federal government job. If all that experience is good for anything it at least gives me the ability to size a place up and to know what I'm looking for in a place to live and work!

By all appearances, Albuquerque has a lot going for it but like every place else there are drawbacks as well. But it certainly seems to be the sort of place where my wife and I could make a life and happily raise our kids
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Old 07-01-2010, 10:28 PM
Location: Colorado Springs, CO
2,139 posts, read 5,232,662 times
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I would recommend the communities all along the river, north and south for a similar, but less expensive, experience to Los Ranchos. Corrales, the entire North Valley and all the way down to Bosque Farms. Lots of agricultural, horse friendly areas with varying price tags.
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Old 07-01-2010, 10:31 PM
Location: Bernalillo, NM
947 posts, read 1,580,927 times
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If you liked Los Ranchos you might also like Corrales.

Main economic drivers here seem to me to be government, especially Kirtland AFB, and tourism. High tech is also important but I lump much of that with government since most of the high tech work here is government-funded. This could be subject to economic disruption but I actually expect the high tech money to keep flowing for the most part unless things really get a lot worse.

ABQ has done a much better job than other Southwest communities (e.g., Phoenix) in securing water resources and reducing per capita (and overall) water usage. There are some other C-D threads on this you might search for. It generally looks like we'll be ok for water even out to 2050.

My wife and I grew up in Fairbanks. One of the big surprises we had last winter after we moved here was to wake up one morning and look out at the Sandias, and see cloud-misted mountains that reminded us strongly of Southeast Alaska and the Valdez area. Never expected that in NM.
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Old 07-01-2010, 10:55 PM
Location: WA
1,659 posts, read 2,977,325 times
Reputation: 1911
Government and tourism? Sounds exactly like the economies of Juneau and Anchorage.

I do miss the views in southeast Alaska. I lived in Juneau almost 10 years and when it's clear there are few places on earth as spectacular. Don't miss the weather though. I do remember one consolation of living in Juneau and that was looking out the window at the dark snowy landscape and realizing that at least it was 50 degrees warmer in Juneau than Fairbanks on an average winter day!

In any event, this wasn't a trip to find a house or neighborhood to relocate to in Albuquerque. Rather, it was simply a trip to get a quick flavor of the place and make a snap decision as to whether it is the sort of place where we might want to pursue jobs and relocation in the future. I think we definitely answered that question in the affirmative.

My wife is still very high on Colorado so we shall see. She has the luxury of being able to find jobs anywhere due to her profession. Myself, I'm a bit hesitant about Colorado for myself because from all reports, teaching jobs are nigh impossible to find there. And I'm not particularly eager to either (1) play house husband, or (2) go through another major career change at this point in my life.
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Old 07-02-2010, 10:07 AM
Location: Albuquerque NM
2,720 posts, read 4,009,441 times
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Thanks for the feedback, texasdiver! And if you're the one who brought the rain, thanks for that, too!

The schooling issue could be solved if you get a job teaching at a private school. At some of them, children of faculty get a free ride. Years ago a friend of mine took a job teaching at Albuquerque Academy specifically so that his son, who just graduated, could get free tuition which is now at $16,000/year if not more.

There's a little disconnect between your history of working in far-flung places and your reservations about access from ABQ to Santiago, or the idea that your girls might go to college out of state. Anyway, this consideration is unrelated to your recent visit. If access to Santiago is important, then you could be researching employment options in Miami or Houston, but you are not. FWIW, I know several Chileans (one was a former boss of mine) who live or have lived in ABQ without complaints. One was a grad student here who ended up taking a job in New England and kept coming back to ABQ to visit, saying how she would move back here in an instant if she could find a job. There is a loose-knit group of Argentines here who throw a picnic potluck each summer and invite the Chileans. Children of my coworkers at UNM generally do send their kids to college out of state and think nothing of it, it didn't occur to me that this could be an issue for some, especially parents who are professionals like yourselves. Texas does have some great options for higher ed but... it's still TEXAS (sorry, I just can't help myself sometimes ).

Last edited by aries63; 07-02-2010 at 11:02 AM..
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Old 07-02-2010, 10:09 AM
Location: Albuquerque
366 posts, read 677,540 times
Reputation: 351
Thanks for posting that, it is great to hear how things turned out after people ask for advice. Very nice write up.

I think Los Ranchos is the most beautiful part of Albuquerque, I love just going down there especially when they have open houses or the parade of homes and you can view the amazing properties.

I think maybe you looked to far to the North and East. I would start at say the Uptown area and head north from there if you came again. A lot of nice neighborhoods with a mix of different types of housing. I personally have the adobe cookie cutter houses as well, so it is weird for people to talk about the cookie cutters houses, but I guess when I think of the North East Heights I am actually thinking of the Uptown, Sandia/Del Norte HS areas.

And yes, the zoo is a pain to navigate. a lot of backtracking...
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Old 07-02-2010, 10:19 AM
Location: Denver, CO
753 posts, read 999,837 times
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Great assessment based on what you asked for! You could have drove or walked to the aquarium/botanical gardens. Cookie cutter is the way of the US post 1940, all you have to do is go up to Rio Rancho. I'm glad that you enjoyed your stay. Texas is Texas, and ABQ Sunport is not a hub. You could say the same thing about ABQ as Austin or San Antonio. Master planned communities that you're looking probably don't exist here because our population is smaller than areas that you compare ABQ to. If you want higher education I would say go to California or New England! Anyway good luck on your search.
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Old 07-02-2010, 11:40 AM
Location: New Mexico U.S.A.
23,006 posts, read 35,250,917 times
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Originally Posted by alloo66 View Post
Cookie cutter is the way of the US post 1940, all you have to do is go up to Rio Rancho.
If your sole interest is just cookie cutters you should include Albuquerque for the sheer numbers.

You should also perhaps actually explore Rio Rancho rather than just repeat myths.

A few Rio Rancho pictures I took, no particular order, just a few I selected at random:

We have owned a residence in Rio Rancho and Albuquerque for the past 10+ years. My wife and I chose to live in the Rio Rancho residence for a variety of reasons. One main reason, we have children and grandchildren in Rio Rancho. Schools, low crime rate and family activity were some other factors. That is what I love about my country, I have thousands of places I can move to on a whim and just based on our own desire.

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