Albuquerque: a cultural mosaic

Albuquerque: a cultural mosaic – Travel Views

John Handley

BALLOONING IS THE SILENT way to fly. You drill over the earth slowly, effortlessly, quietly at the speed of the morning breeze.

Below is Albuquerque, New Mexico, a landscape changing second by second. Above is a huge, colorful balloon, your passport to the sky. Suspended from it is a wicker basket, crowded with six passengers, who are excited and a bit apprehensive. But the pilot seems to have everything under control.

People love to look down on Albuquerque–from a hot-air balloon. After all, the largest city in New Mexico is the “Ballooning Capital of the World.”

But long before ballooning soared to become the No. 1 symbol of Albuquerque, it was a fascinating place to visit because of its colorful past. Many traces of yesteryear still can be seen.

One of America’s most culturally diverse cities, Albuquerque is a rich blend of many peoples. Prehistoric settlers were attracted by the fiver, the Rio Grande.

First came Native Americans, the ancient Indians. Their artwork can be viewed at Petroglyph National Monument. Walk the trails to view the clearly visible drawings of dancers, animals, geometric designs, and other figures. More than 15,000 ancient Indian petroglyphs are carved into the black rock remnants of five extinct volcanoes.

Navajo, Apache, and other nomadic and semi-nomadic groups came later. For an up-to-date look at Native Americans, check out the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center in Albuquerque. This is a window on another world, as special performances feature the beat of drums, colorful costumes, and ceremonial dances. Also, each of New Mexico’s 19 pueblos is represented in displays of weaving, pottery, jewelry, and clothing.

A 55-mile drive west on Interstate Highway 40 is Acoma, the famed “Sky City” pueblo. Dating from about 1150 A.D., Acoma boasts that it is the oldest continuously inhabited city in the nation.

Spanish armies arrived in the 16th century, launching the era of Hispanic influence. Spaniard Francisco Vaques de Coronado visited Acoma in 1540 and described it as “one of the strongest ever seen because the city was built on a high rock.”

The pueblo residences, with their characteristic ladders, overlook a vast desert and the Enchanted Mesa in the distance. The 400-foot-high mesa, according to legend, is inhabited by ancestral Acomas. Guided tours of Sky City include San Esteban del Rey Mission, built in 1629.

Founded in 1706, Albuquerque was named for a Spanish duke. Spanish colonizers traveled El Camino Real (the Royal Road), stretching 2,000 miles from Mexico City to Santa Fe, 60 miles north of Albuquerque. Today, 38 percent of New Mexico’s population is of Hispanic origin. Hispanic influences are evident in architecture, folk art, mariachi music, and more.

The National Hispanic Cultural Center of New Mexico in Albuquerque is dedicated to preserving that rich artistic heritage. New at the center is the Roy E. Disney Center for the Performing Arts, where a 691-seat theater showcases Hispanic plays, musicals, and dance productions; a smaller theater shows films.

Old Town, the original heart of Albuquerque, is a magnet for tourists because of its many galleries and shops that offer Southwestern art, jewelry, and souvenirs. Grouped around a plaza are adobe buildings in Pueblo-Spanish style. Check out San Felipe de Neri church, dating from 1793.

Those with a bent for nostalgia may want to take a trip down memory lane–along historic Route 66. Part of the 2,4-48-mile highway between Chicago and Los Angeles runs through Albuquerque on Central Avenue. Reminders of the Mother Road’s heyday in the 1950s include vintage motels and gas stations. The 66 Diner, while not open during that era, is an authentic old-time eatery, down to the menus and waitresses in ’50s-style uniforms.

It’s easy to get a bird’s-eye view of Albuquerque. Either go up in a balloon or ride the Sandia Peak Aerial Tramway to the top of the 10,378-foot mountain overlooking the sprawling city. A visitor center on Sandia Peak is open from May through November. Summer visitors can hike on trails, while skiers in winter can test their skills on slopes served by four chairlifts.

Those who want to view Albuquerque’s sky-high spectacular should plan to attend the Balloon Fiesta, held every October. The largest ballooning event in the world, it fills the sky with as many as 1,000 balloons at one time.

Contact: Albuquerque Hispano Chamber of Commerce Convention and Tourism Department, (800) 754-4620 or (888) 451-7824, www.ahcnm.org; or Albuquerque Convention and Visitors Bureau, (800) 284-2282, www.abqcvb.org.

COPYRIGHT 2003 World Publishing, Co. (Illinois)

COPYRIGHT 2003 Gale Group