Central New Mexico is the region containing Albuquerque and vicinity. (Unusually for a United States city of significant size, Albuquerque has almost no true "suburbs" that have grown along with and after, rather than independent of, the city; about the only one of consequence is Rio Rancho.) Several Native American pueblos also call this region home, some of them of interest to the traveler. Attractions in Albuquerque are covered in the city's article; this article deals with attractions of the extended region.
- Albuquerque, largest city in the state and its only major air hub
- Los Lunas
- Santa Fe, the state capital, is generally considered part of the North Central region.
- Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument, north of Bernalillo
- Petroglyph National Monument, west of Albuquerque
- Salinas Pueblo Missions National Monument, multiple sites near Mountainair
- Sandia Mountains including Cibola National Forest and Sandia Mountain Wilderness
A New Mexican who hears "central New Mexico" automatically thinks "Albuquerque," but there is more to the region than just its largest city. Broadly, central New Mexico is bounded on the:
- North, by Santa Fe and environs, although Santa Fe itself is usually considered part of the North Central region. Cochiti Lake and Cochiti Pueblo seem like a useful dividing line;
- East, by the Sandia and Manzano Mountains and their foothills, although a few towns east of the range (Moriarty, Mountainair, perhaps Estancia) are usually considered part of this region;
- South (and rather indistinctly), by Socorro and US highways 60 and 380;
- West (again amorphously), by the sparsely inhabited Plains of San Agustin and El Malpais.
English, but if you happen to be a speaker of Tewa or Keresan, you'll have opportunities to practice at the American Indian pueblos of the region. (Of course, if you're a speaker of those languages, chances are you're a member of one of the pueblos already!) There are many native speakers of Spanish, although the fraction is lower than in some other parts of the state. With several universities in the region with international faculties and student bodies, speakers of other major languages can be found to help the traveler who is not fluent in English or Spanish.
As in the north central region, it's recommended that, if you see a place name apparently of Spanish origin, you try to pronounce it as Spanish. "Anglicized" pronunciation of Spanish words (and, particularly, surnames) may be normal in some parts of the United States, but it's not here. It runs a real risk of antagonizing the person you're talking to, who may speak Spanish at home as his/her ancestors have for 400 years, and may consider failure to make an attempt at Spanish pronunciation discourteous. Pronunciation tips in the WikiTravel Spanish phrasebook are useful here; the most common things to watch for are words with "ñ" (e.g. the popular Garduño's restaurant chain), double "l" (e.g. the very common Gallegos surname), and double "r" (e.g. Rio Arriba County, which incidentally is a particularly good place in which to have your Spanish pronunciations in shape).
Albuquerque has a major airport (three-letter code ABQ) serviced by most United States carriers. It is a primary hub for Southwest Airlines. The city is built at the intersection of Interstate highways 25 and 40, the latter generally following the route of historic Route 66. Most of the smaller towns of the region are either along one of the Interstates or on one of the lesser highways reached from them.
There are no unusual driving problems in most of this area under normal conditions; the mountains are not high enough, nor the arid valleys low and hot enough, for significant weather-related driving hazards. (Partial exception for I-25 north to Santa Fe, which gains considerable elevation and can be closed for hours at a time at "La Bajada Hill" north of Cochiti Pueblo due to snow and ice.) One minor warning: Albuquerque doesn't get much snow, and consequently, its residents aren't used to snowy roads. When the occasional snowstorm does blow through, driving conditions in town can range from mildly crazy to downright alarming, more because of the behavior of the motorists than due to objective road hazard.
Public transportation in this area is generally limited to Albuquerque. However, there are plans for a light commuter railroad linking Albuquerque to other communities along the Rio Grande, with entry into service possibly happening by spring 2006. Stay tuned.
- Expansive views of this region are available from the top of the Sandia Mountains. The ambitious traveler may choose to hike to the top on any number of trails, but the less ambitious can either drive up on state roads 165 or 536 (from Bernalillo and I-40 east of Albuquerque, respectively -- both are winding and may intimidate the inexperienced), or ride the Sandia Peak Aerial Tramway, starting on Albuquerque's northeast side. The Tramway, one of the world's longest and highest, costs $15 for a round trip and runs every 20 or 30 minutes from 9 a.m. until evening (no morning rides on off-season Tuesdays), with closures in April and October. It's well worth doing, but the acrophobic may find it uncomfortable. Phone 505-856-7325. Either way, try to be atop the Sandias after sundown at least once on your visit; the view of Albuquerque at night is marvelous.
- Most of the American Indian pueblos of this region welcome visitors, and several have taken advantage of changes in New Mexico and federal law to open large, glitzy casinos. More traditionally, several are good for Native American arts and crafts, notably Acoma (picturesque too), Santo Domingo, Cochiti and Laguna Pueblos. Collectors of folk art may find a visit to these sites rewarding. Note that photography, sketching, etc., will generally be restricted.
- Outdoor recreation in this area is not as spectacular or as diverse as in the north central region, but the Sandia Mountains offer hiking, mountain biking, skiing, etc. There is also hiking in the lower Manzano Mountains (a southward extension of the Sandias) and the Gallinas and Magdalena Mountains near Socorro. Cochiti Lake, on the northern edge of the region, offers some water sports, including the curious opportunity to take a canoe or other boat directly to the base of a rock-climbing cliff and climb from the boat.
- Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument is just south of Cochiti Lake near Cochiti Pueblo west of I-25; follow NM SR 16 to the pueblo, then follow signs to the monument. This underappreciated little gem was one of several national monuments created in the waning days of the Clinton administration (2001) and doesn't appear on even some recent maps. Trails (hiking boots recommended despite their brevity) take the visitor on a 1.5-mile loop past some of the eponymous rock formations, and on a 1.3-mile (each way, some rough spots) trip to an overlook that includes a short but spectacular section of slot canyon. Day use only, with no camping; fee $5/vehicle, Park Pass does not apply since it's a BLM rather than NPS site (Golden Eagle pass does apply, however).
- Petroglyph National Monument is on the outskirts of Albuquerque and preserves a significant archaeological site with an impressive number of petroglyphs. Despite their proximity to an urban center and the fact that the monument is of recent origin, the petroglyphs are in good condition with very little vandalism or theft. There are short interpretive trails.
- Salinas Pueblo Missions National Monument occupies three separate sites (Abo, Gran Quivira and Quarai) in the general vicinity of the small town of Mountainair, on the east side of the Sandia Mountains. All preserve ruins of mission-era churches, along with Native American sites, some of them unexcavated. All three units of the monument can be visited in an afternoon from Mountainair.
Most of the restaurants in the region are in Albuquerque; see its separate article. A few outliers (area code is 505 for all phone numbers listed):
- Bernalillo has two interesting restaurants, Abuelita's New Mexican Restaurant (867-9988, near I-25, acceptable "New Mexican" cuisine) and Prairie Star (867-3327, west of town, mildly pretentious but good "American" food).
- There are a few adequate restaurants in Socorro and environs; see the separate article. The Owl Bar, south of town in San Antonio, is locally famous for hamburgers.
- Corrales, one of Albuquerque's few suburbs, also has a few interesting restaurants. Try the American cuisine at Essencia (792-4210, center of town; lunch and dinner, Sunday brunch, reservations suggested) and report on it here.
- Most of the casinos have dining of a sort, if you go for that kind of thing.
In addition to the Albuquerque night life, the casinos at the various pueblos may have live entertainment.
Albuquerque poses the usual urban safety issues, with the areas around the University of New Mexico and Kirtland Air Force Base and the southwestern part of town having relatively high crime rates. Most crime in these areas involves property rather than violence, and is of less concern to the visitor than to residents. Violent crime is generally not an unusual problem in the rural areas of the region. As in too much of New Mexico, however, drunk driving is widespread, and motorists, cyclists and pedestrians on the roads should be alert, particularly at night.
The environmental safety issues of the area are also fairly conventional: in the mountains, watch the weather and check for signs of altitude sickness (although it's less of an issue than in the higher mountains to the north), while in the lowlands, carry plenty of water when hiking. Water in the few springs and streams should be considered not potable. Sun screen is always a good idea when outdoors here.
- Santa Fe is one of the world's great travel destinations and is less than an hour's drive north of Albuquerque. If the weather is good, try going there via the Turquoise Trail (NM SR 14 on the east side of the Sandias) for a little additional local color.
- South of Socorro is the Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge. Vast flocks of sandhill cranes and various ducks and geese winter here and can be viewed from a driveable loop (small fee) or short trails. Socorro holds a fair called the "Festival of the Cranes" in mid-November to celebrate the return of the striking sandhills, with food stands, programs, mementos, etc. If you're a birdwatcher, the Bosque is a must-see.
- El Malpais National Monument is just beyond the western boundary of this region, near the small, nondescript town of Grants.
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