New Mexico is a land of extremes, and Albuquerque is no exception. As the main gateway to the state, Albuquerque, founded in 1706, has a rich tricultural history, and although the city is now known for technology industries, it still carries the spirit of the Old West. That spirit is seen in everything from the architecture—old adobe buildings and the kitschy nostalgia of Route 66’s neon signs—to the personality of the people. Albuquerque folk are feisty and individualistic, pioneers at heart, whether their family has been here for generations, they are descended from the original Spanish settlers, or they’re recent Anglo transplants to this high-desert environment. The Native American peoples, who were here long before anyone else, endured their own hardships to dwell in this glorious land. Although indigenous peoples inhabited the Albuquerque area for thousands of years, by the 1300s larger populations had migrated from the drier Four Corners area to sustain their families along the banks of the Rio Grande, the life-giving vein of the region.
Burqueños are also mighty friendly. When you live in a city packed with great arts, leisure, and employment, in some of the most beautiful landscapes on earth, what’s to be grumpy about? People arrive in New Mexico seeking adventure on the frontier, and in Albuquerque they find it. The Albuquerque Convention and Visitors Bureau slogan, “It’s a trip,” says something of the quirky Burque character and lifestyle—this is not a homogeneous cookie-cutter city. Often vacationers decide to stay; witness the many tales of travelers passing through the state whose vehicles break down; or they’re otherwise delayed; or they simply fall in love with the land, the light, the laid-back atmosphere; and the next thing they know they’ve picked up sticks and moved here. New Mexico is known as the Land of Enchantment, but locals fondly call it the Land of Entrapment—once you step foot here, you might never leave.
Visitors, and even those who’ve lived here for years, are magnetized by the natural beauty of the Sandia Mountains. Sandia means watermelon in Spanish, and under our famous New Mexico sunsets, the Sandias do indeed glow the luscious pink of ripe watermelon. The Rio Grande provides irrigation to the green belt of the bosque, with its whispering cottonwoods, while the high-desert sunlight has drawn artists and photographers from around the world. Duke City, as it’s called, after the Duke of Alburquerque, for whom it was named (that first “r” was later dropped), is colorful in every sense. Its residents are into enjoying life and living outside the box, with lots of room for creative types and for innovative minds of every stripe. Bill Gates’s Microsoft started in Albuquerque, and the city has long been a center of science and inventive technology. Today nanotechnology, biotechnology, energy technologies, and green technologies, including solar energy, are part of the dynamic business mix. Albuquerque—or Tamalewood, as some have dubbed it—is also flourishing as a movie city, with a film industry that contributed $130 million to city coffers in 2008. Terminator Salvation is one of many productions shot at the new and top-notch Albuquerque Studios complex, and the Emmy Award–winning TV series Breaking Bad is also set in the city.
People come to Albuquerque to enjoy life at the highest level—literally! At 5,326 feet above sea level, Albuquerque lies more than a mile high and enjoys mile-high rankings, too, in “best cities” lists for quality of life, leisure, health, and fitness and as a relocation destination.
The Albuquerque metropolitan area has grown from a population of just shy of 600,000 in the 1990 U.S. Census, to an estimated 859,000 in 2009, and urban sprawl is a community concern and a challenge to city planners. However, there are many green oases and open spaces throughout the city—including 28,000 acres of dedicated open-space lands, 286 parks, and 113 miles of developed trails—all offering wonderful recreation opportunities. You can ski in the morning, play a round of golf in the afternoon, and be back Downtown in time for a gourmet New Mexican dinner.
The city lies at the feet of the Sandia Mountains to the east, a base for skiing, hiking, and biking. Or you can zip to the top of Sandia Peak on the longest aerial tramway in the world, for stunning views over 11,000 square miles, including the dormant volcano area stretching to the west, a prehistoric landscape where you’ll find the Petroglyph National Monument. Maybe you’ll spot balloons bobbing past; Albuquerque is the ballooning capital of the world, and the city celebrates the high life in October at the Balloon Fiesta, which brings around 800,000 visitors to Albuquerque to watch over 700 balloons soar into the turquoise skies.
The lively arts scene includes over 100 art galleries and studios and performing arts from classical music at the University of New Mexico’s stately Popejoy Hall, to innovative theater at the Filling Station, a converted 1930s gas station on old Route 66. The historic KiMo Theatre, a flamboyant former vaudeville house built in Pueblo Deco style, hosts everything from poetry slams to ballet, but even if you don’t catch a show, it’s worth a look—or even a tour—as you cruise along Central Avenue.
The University of New Mexico (UNM), founded in 1889, played a vital role in establishing Albuquerque as a center for artists, scholars, and thinkers, broadening its horizons from being just another frontier town. The 25,000 students attending UNM’s 600-acre campus in the heart of town keep the city buzzing with youthful energy and contribute to the artsy, intellectual atmosphere in the University and Nob Hill areas.
Over a third of New Mexico’s population is bilingual, with the great majority of those speaking Spanish and English. You’ll hear Spanish spoken in Albuquerque and a hearty peppering of Spanglish, too, and many roads and districts have Spanish names. If you don’t know Spanish, you’ll have no problem communicating, as English is used for everyday business. Get out into New Mexico’s rural villages, though, and you might still run across a few people who only communicate in Spanish.
Albuquerque is the largest city in New Mexico, although the state capital is Santa Fe. In 2012 New Mexico will celebrate its 100-year anniversary of becoming part of the United States. It joined the Union as the 47th state on January 6, 1912, so if Americans still sometimes mistake New Mexico as a foreign country—and they do—we can’t be too surprised. Rest assured, no passport is required.
Albuquerque has a host of attractions and museums sure to please all ages and all interests. Many focus on the outdoors, as you’d expect in a city where the land itself is a big part of the area’s character and history. The Albuquerque Biological Park is a must-see for many visitors, and it includes a zoo, an aquarium, and a botanic garden. The Sandia Peak Tramway is an adventure, giving you the chance to boast that you’ve ridden the longest aerial tramway in the world, even if you just zip straight up and come immediately down again. Nobody does, though, of course! The tram’s destination is part two of this unique experience—the heights of Sandia Mountain, where you can hit the trails into Cibola National Forest or head onto the ski slopes, eat at the restaurant on the peak, or just take in the view of thousands of square miles of glorious New Mexico. On hotter summer days, higher-elevation and out-of-town attractions like the tramway and the Tinkertown Museum on the east side of the mountain are especially welcome to those who feel the heat. Visitors interested in the history and peoples of New Mexico will want to check out Albuquerque’s two terrific cultural centers—the National Hispanic Cultural Center and the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center—while the Albuquerque Museum of Art and History gives a superb cross-cultural overview of the area’s history. Petroglyph National Monument and Coronado State Monument offer an intriguing glimpse into the past, reflecting the worlds of the indigenous ancestors in this region. At the same time both monuments get you out into the land, to enjoy vistas of spectacular beauty. For all outdoor attractions remember that we’re at high altitude and the sun is strong. Take your sunscreen, sunglasses, sun hat, and a bottle of water. Sensible walking shoes are also a must. Even at indoor attractions you can cover a lot of ground, so pick your footwear wisely, and you’ll be smiling all day!
Many of the local museums showcase subjects that we especially associate with Albuquerque and New Mexico, so we have museums focusing on balloons, dinosaurs and natural history, nuclear science, and even a couple of museums dedicated to rattlesnakes and the state gem, turquoise! Other attractions are destination areas such as Old Town, the University of New Mexico campus, and the village of Corrales. Each of these brings a different aspect of local history to life, as well as being aesthetically lovely, with superb architecture, and lots of things to see or do. They are all free for you to wander and spend a few hours soaking up the ambience.
Times for museum docent tours and other special events at attractions are shown as guidelines and are correct at the time of writing, but they may change. So if you want to join a tour or see Indian dances, call ahead to make sure you’re there at the right time. Museums and attractions usually close for some or all major holidays, although specifics vary, so check with the individual venue.
It might come as a surprise to people outside the movie world to learn that Albuquerque has a flourishing film industry. Movies shot here, at least in part, include Terminator Salvation, The Book of Eli, Wild Hogs, The Men Who Stare at Goats, and the Oscar-winning No Country for Old Men. As the Albuquerque Film Office folks say, perhaps slightly tongue in cheek: “Albuquerque—who knew?”
The State of New Mexico has worked hard to attract filmmakers and in 2002 was one of the first states to commit to a serious package of economic incentives. The menu of incentives has included a 25 percent tax rebate on eligible direct production costs, including New Mexico crew. There are also exemptions on state gross receipts tax (sales tax) at the point of sale, and a Film Investment Loan Program, offering interest-free loans of up to $15 million for eligible projects. A Film Crew Advancement Program reimburses 50 percent of wages for on-the-job training of New Mexico residents in certain crew positions. These lucrative financing packages have been a big draw for moviemakers, benefiting the entire state in growing its film industry and leading New Mexico to be tagged “Hollywood Southwest.”
Albuquerque is a hub of the action, and in 2008 Forbes cited Albuquerque among “Hollywood’s Favorite Cities.” MovieMaker magazine ranked Albuquerque number two in its “Top 10 Movie Cities of 2008.”
The city’s movie muscle has paid dividends to the local economy. In the 2004 fiscal year, direct spend from the film industry to the city of Albuquerque was $11 million. By 2007 spend had leaped to $83 million. A mere year later, in the fiscal year of 2008, the film industry earned the city a rocking $130 million.
Albuquerque is just a 90-minute flight from Los Angeles, and one of its many appeals to movie and TV producers is its easy access to a wide range of locations. These include settings from contemporary urban to suburban to rural. Albuquerque has masqueraded on film as cities as diverse as New York, Dallas, Cincinnati, and Munich. But there are also many open-space and unspoiled areas around the city that can pass for (or be easily transformed to) the Old West, old-world Europe, the Middle East, a sci-fi futuristic Planet Earth, or even another planet altogether. Landscapes on Albuquerque’s doorstep range from mountains to deserts, as well as the forests and pastoral and prairie lands in between. Architecture runs the gamut from evocative old adobe neighborhoods to Western ranches to charming Victorian houses and ultramodern Downtown lofts. There is no location fee for filming in state-owned buildings, and few permits are required for filming in the Albuquerque area. Consistent weather patterns help keep shooting on schedule, with a reliable 310 days of sunshine a year. The sun shines in more than 75 percent of daylight hours even during winter months.
There is also an experienced and eager workforce of crew, talent, and production and technical staff. Film pros have chosen to live in New Mexico for years—at times it’s seemed like a kind of dormitory community for Hollywood, with crew and actors commuting to California for jobs. Now Hollywood comes to them, and the workforce is growing as colleges step up their professional training. The University of New Mexico’s Interdisciplinary Film and Digital Media Program aims to integrate filmmaking and digital media and “build a native New Mexican Hollywood.”
The jewel in the crown of Albuquerque’s filming facilities is Albuquerque Studios, which opened as a state-of-the-art $74 million complex in 2007 and has since expanded. Terminator Salvation, starring Christian Bale, Sam Worthington, and Helena Bonham Carter was shot here, and the filmmakers cited the diversity of nearby locations available as one reason for choosing the venue, as the movie covers mountaintops to deserts. They also needed a studio with plenty of land around to build (and blow up) sets as needed. Terminator Salvation is said to be the biggest and most expensive film shot to date in New Mexico.
Albuquerque’s reputation as a film hot spot was enhanced further when Sony Pictures Imageworks opened a Downtown facility as a satellite to its Culver City, California, headquarters. Sony Pictures Imageworks is the Academy Award–winning digital production studio, famous for its innovative visual effects and digital character animation. The company’s cited criteria for choosing branch locations are that they must be convenient for clients, close to centers of artistic excellence, in areas offering economic and lifestyle incentives, and low operational costs. Sony Pictures Imageworks projects in Albuquerque include Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland, Jerry Bruckheimer’s G-Force, Brad Peyton’s Cats & Dogs 2, and Sony Pictures Animation’s Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs.
In 2009 ReelzChannel opened production facilities and moved its corporate headquarters to Albuquerque. ReelzChannel is a cable and satellite network and accompanying Web site dedicated to programming about (suitably enough) movies, from behind-the-scenes coverage to new movie reviews. It reaches over 43 million homes nationwide and is the first national TV network based in New Mexico. It is located in 30,000 square feet of office and production space at Albuquerque Studios.
Besides the big names and the blockbusters, Albuquerque also has a thriving independent movie culture and was ranked number five by MovieMaker magazine in its list of the “25 best cities in the U.S. to ride it out as an independent moviemaker” in 2009. The nation’s economy crunch was hitting home at the time of that report, and MovieMaker’s calculations aimed to identify the places offering indie filmmakers the “best all-round chance of finding success with their art.”
Of course, it doesn’t hurt that even the most glittering screen stars enjoy a visit to the Land of Enchantment. On the whole, Burqueños are pretty cool about the celebrities in their midst, as laid back about Val Kilmer’s dropping into a Lobo basketball game as they are about most other things (Kilmer’s lived in New Mexico for some years and is rumored to be a possible candidate for governor). And the actors themselves seem fairly relaxed here. The Washington Post reported that when The Book of Eli was being filmed in Albuquerque, New Mexico governor Bill Richardson dropped by the set and spotted lead actor Denzel Washington. “Hey, Champ, good to see you,” said Richardson. To which Washington apparently replied, “Good to be seen by you.”
When it comes to VIPs, people in Albuquerque tend to get less excited about Very Important People than Very Important Places. Spotting and identifying home-city locations used in movies is a popular pastime, and Duke City citizens share tips on their favorite places that have cropped up on screen, from car washes to cafés. The Albuquerque Journal newspaper Web site started a map of locations used in the Emmy Award–winning TV series Breaking Bad, a show that is actually set in Albuquerque as well as being produced here. The drama tells the story of a chemistry teacher in desperate circumstances, who resorts to dealing drugs. That may not be the kind of image the city wants to promote, but it certainly creates a buzz as locals spot familiar locations whizzing by.
Albuquerque is first and foremost a city for families, and many of the attractions, entertainment, and recreation options featured in this book are as relevant to kids as they are to adults. The majority of annual events and festivals cater to youngsters, too, with dedicated activities and craft areas. In this chapter we highlight some especially fun stuff for kids. Within each themed section there are suggestions to please all age groups. The Crafty Stuff section has ideas on creative expression from candlemaking to making magic. Critters Galore gives venues in which to see or interact with animals, from cuddly alpacas to slithery snakes, plus exotic species at the zoo and aquarium, and even a Wild West rodeo. Fun & Games showcases amusements, play, and activity centers. Outdoor Stuff suggests ways to get a breath of fresh air while enjoying Albuquerque’s natural environment, right in the center of town. Smart Play highlights the elements of interest to kids in city museums and cultural centers, and Treats & Eats speaks for itself! Restaurants in Duke City are generally child-friendly, especially the mom-and-pop-style eateries serving New Mexican cuisine, and of course there are plenty of chain restaurants that you’ll be familiar with. But if you’re looking for ice cream, a cool Route 66 diner complete with old-fashioned soda fountain, or other family-oriented dining spots, check out our suggestions.
In Albuquerque’s desert environment it’s especially important to keep kids well hydrated, and to shield them from the piercing high-altitude sunlight with sunhats, sunglasses with UV protection for their eyes, and frequent applications of high-SPF sunscreen. On the hottest summer days, if you don’t feel like an indoor attraction, then either pass your time at shady outdoor destinations like the Rio Grande Nature Center or head for higher elevations. The Sandia Peak Tramway and Tinkertown Museum in the mountains are good choices for everyone to keep cool.
Pick up a copy of the free New Mexico Kids magazine for a calendar of events, activities, summer camps, and entertainment shows for youngsters. You’ll find it at libraries, cafés, and stores around town and at the visitor center booth at Albuquerque International Sunport on Level One.
Centrally located Albuquerque is in a good position to take advantage of New Mexico attractions at all points of the compass via I-25 and I-40, and the added benefit of a road trip in the Land of Enchantment is that the journey is just as beautiful as your ultimate destination. This chapter highlights some of the most popular and interesting destinations within easy reach of Albuquerque. These include the day trips of the Turquoise Trail, Acoma Pueblo, and, of course, Santa Fe, just an hour’s drive away, for a complete change of pace from Duke City. Santa Fe’s museums, galleries, entertainment, shopping, and restaurants are so easily reached that many people pop up just for an evening at the opera or a Friday afternoon stroll down Canyon Road to drop in at the gallery openings, followed by a spot of dinner. Slightly farther afield, the Georgia O’Keeffe country of Abiquiu and Ghost Ranch make a scenic day trip, with options for O’Keeffe tours, hiking, and a soak in the nearby Ojo Caliente mineral springs, but if you want to stretch it into an overnighter or a long weekend, some accommodations are suggested. Taos, at around two-and-a-half hours’ drive from Albuquerque or more if traffic is against you or you decide to stop off en route in Santa Fe, can be done in an early-start day trip. The more relaxing choice, however, is to stay over and drop into the much slower pace of this small town that can almost feel like another world once you emerge from the deep rift of the Rio Grande Gorge. And talking of other worlds—alien hunters and art lovers alike will enjoy Roswell, a three-hour drive southeast of Albuquerque, with its landscape that is quite different from the more rugged northern destinations featured here but equally beautiful in its sense of immaculate open space. These are numerous other places to discover, but these will kick off your New Mexico explorations and provide a taste of the diversity of land, culture, and activities available on Albuquerque’s back doorstep. In the destinations spotlighted there are, of course, many other attractions and further side trips, too. The selections point out some of the best of these destinations, knowing that you’ll find the rest of the best as you travel around and enjoy the discovery even more. And of course, then you can return and dig deeper into the places you love most.
While main highways are well maintained and fairly fast, be aware that once you get out into smaller villages or into the mountains, you may encounter dirt roads that are sometimes rutted to washboards or with potholes, slower speed limits, and lots of winding lanes. Take it easy, and enjoy the adventure, but allow plenty of time for journeys off the beaten track.
If you’re making a special trip to see a museum or other attraction, call ahead to be sure it’s open that day. Hours may change seasonally, and opening days in New Mexico can change rather spontaneously!