Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Belltower: The high life in Albuquerque

From page A4 | January 27, 2014 |

No, we didn’t go night-clubbing in Albuquerque, N.M. We rode what the AAA Guide calls “one of the world’s longest” aerial trams. It is, if I recollect correctly, the longest in the U.S.

It’s even less expensive than the Tahoe Heavenly Tram. Of course, the Sandia Peak Tram Co. in Albuquerque crams a couple dozen or more people in each tram. It really seemed like 30-40, but I may be exaggerating.

Built in 1966, the tram travels 2.7 miles from 5,000 at the base to 10,000, where one arrives to look over a the forested backside of the peak that dominates the Albuquerque skyline. In the winter that area is a ski resort. In the summer it has 25 miles of trails for hiking and mountain biking. At that elevation in October it was cool at the top. We did not linger. We took a quick look and got back on the tram before it filled up and we had to wait for the next one.

Albuquerque, of course, is famous for its balloon festival, an event our trip wasn’t able to time itself to see. One doesn’t have to fly to Albuquerque to see a balloon festival. Reno, Nev. has an oustanding balloon festival in September.

The Albuquerque Art Museum had mostly regional art, most of it financed with bond issues. The exterior of the museum, though, was sprinkled with some pretty neat sculpture. My favorite was a huge historical sculptural tableau involving multiple figures that included Spanish conquistadors, Indians, vaqueros and settlers. Albuquerque was founded by the Spanish in 1706. It was named in honor of Don Francisco Fernandez de la Cueva, the 8th Duke of Alburquerque (first r later dropped).

There was also a group of various figures, my favorite of which, naturally, was someone reading a newspaper.

When the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad came to town in 1880, it bypassed the main square by two miles. Today the main square retains its original Spanish layout and is surrounded by the usual assortment of restaurants and stores catering to the tourist trade with overpriced goods. Just off the square is a shop that carries Pueblo Indian pottery all recently made by specific artists with high quality patterns. The shop owner invited me to photograph the pottery, which turned out to be an inexpensive way to collect a few of my favorites.

Also fronting the central plaza is the 300-year-old church, San Felipe de Neri. It is a popular wedding location. The day we walked around Old Town Albuquerque there were two weddings scheduled back-to-back in the church built in 1793. As one bride and her party entered the church another bride and groom  and her wedding party were being photographed in the garden in front of the parish hall. Meanwhile, a third party waited in the shade of the trees on the plaza.

There is plenty of parking for Old Town, two short blocks away from the plaza. And next to that parking is the Albuquerque Art Museum, making a real two-fer. Across the street from the art museum is a natural history museum, not on our list of things to do.

We’re partial to art museums. And I especially like public ones that let you take photos of the art. We did visit a history museum in Santa Fe, but it required too much reading, which slows one down. Also, history museums don’t like people photographing their artifacts. Art museums are easier to absorb at a good walk. A lot of modern art can be seen by speed walking. Other art can require a few moments to absorb and then move on. I did the National Portrait Gallery in London in half an hour flat. Of course, that was before I started photographing the artwork with a good quality digital camera. I spent 30 minutes selecting high quality slides in the gallery’s gift shop to use for the college art history course I was teaching at the time.

Michael Raffety is editor of the Mountain Democrat. His column appears biweekly.






Michael Raffety



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