Bienvenidos! Albuquerque lies at the crossroads of Interstate 40 and Interstate 25, on the banks of the Rio Grande river. A mid-sized, mild-weathered city, located in the heart of the high desert of New Mexico, Albuquerque is an authentic and laid-back destination. The hottest days of summer usually peak in the high 90’sf and the coldest days of winter dip down to 32f and below. You can definitely experience all four seasons in Albuquerque, although they are relatively mild in comparison to other parts of the country. Some snow and some rain, windy springs, and hot summer days – generally a dry climate though sometimes it does pour rain. The city is at an elevation of about 5,000 feet above sea level. There are about 900,000 people in the greater metropolitan area.
The crossroads of the Interstates is known as “the big I” and separates the city into the NE, NW, SE, and SW quadrants. The Rio Grande River runs through the middle of town North to South forming distinct halves, “Albuquerque” and “The West Side.” The Sandia and Manzano mountains form the eastern border of the town, here you will find a lot of suburbs and nice homes climbing into the “foothills.” On the other side of the mountains, a few small towns populate the “East Mountains.” Sandia Peak or “the Sandias,” to the North of Interstate 40, and the Manzano Mountains to the south.
Then there are more specific parts of town: Nob Hill (shopping and dining district on Central Ave, or historic Route 66, in SE part of town), University Area (just west of Nob Hill, close to the Big I), Old Town and Downtown (close to the river, pretty much the middle of town), Uptown (newer retail district showcased by an outdoor mall, in the southern part of the NE Heights), EDO (East of Downtown, urban renewal project with condos, lofts, and restaurants in renovated buildings along Central Ave between Downtown and Interstate 25), the Foothills (suburban-like residential part of town also known as the “Heights”), the South Valley (rural-feeling, with a thriving Hispanic population), the North Valley (rural-feeling with a lot of farms, nice homes, and local commerce), the West Side including Rio Rancho to the North (lots of new development on the western side of town). Or try a Google Map cause is worth a thousand words.
What puts Albuquerque on the map more than anything else is the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta but the hit TV show “Breaking Bad” is drawing attention. In early October, hot air balloon pilots and their crews gather from around the world to fly their balloons, compete in technical drills and generally have a good time. Here is the story of one of the pilots.
The Balloon Fiesta has been going on for over forty years and the park where it takes place is well maintained and quite accessible. Thousands and thousands of spectators attend this fiesta every year, but the event takes place in a spacious park that has plenty of room for people to spread out if they want. There are great wheelchair parking spaces by the entrance. Shuttle buses, pick-up trucks, and even covered wagons take people to the fiesta. Everyone helps each other experience this event. It’s a cool time of year. There are many vendors of jewelry, local art, great food, clothing, carnival-type toys, memorabilia, etc.
The Historic Nob Hill area is in the middle of town, well the SE middle of town, with a student population of around 25,000. This area is buzzing with life and sometimes the place to be. Nob Hill is surrounded by many shops, restaurants, and bars-all kinds of unique commerce.
An outstanding multi-use trail runs through the middle of the city, along the Rio Grande River for about 20 miles, from Alameda Ave in the North Valley to a loop at the southern end of town called Paseo del Bosque, pronounced Puh-say-oh dell Bos-kay. Paseo del Bosque is also known as the Bosque Recreation Trail or simply the River Trail and is a must-visit in Albuquerque for wheelchair travelers. This trail is paved and well maintained with no car traffic, including underpasses and bridges. Whether you are taking a leisurely stroll down by the river, picnicking amidst a grove of Cottonwoods, or cruising down the trail on a hand-cycle, you can be close to nature within the city. There are many trails in and around the city but this particular trail is quite special. There are some beautiful and nicely shaded sections. Wide-open parking lots and even intersecting trails are quite accessible. The city bus has many stops along the trail. Some wildlife can be seen along the trail, including jackrabbits, coyotes, hawks, roadrunners, ducks, lizards, snakes, beavers, and the occasional badger.
There are many nice trails in and around town. Some are very accessible and others only moderately so. The Elena Gallegos Open Space in the foothills is a nice 640-acre park that has many trails and picnic areas but there are more public parks are accessible in Albuquerque.
The Sandia Tram is a neat way to get a bird’s eye view of the city. You will pretty much need to take a car, tour bus, or taxi to get to up to the base of the Tram. It starts in the foothills of the Sandias and once you’re there, everything is fairly accessible. There is a large wooden observation deck at the top and a series of ramps (kind of looks like an M.C. Escher drawing). And, there is a restaurant that overlooks the city when you reach the top, at about 10,000 feet above sea level.
If gambling is your thing, there are a number of casinos around town, owned and operated by Native American reservations. You can play slot machines, Roulette, Craps, Black-Jack, Texas hold ‘em, etc. They often have higher-end restaurants and more casual restaurants as well as the ubiquitous ‘casino buffet’. They are all very accessible, well maintained, and hospitable. Many have their own shuttle services.
The Native jewelry of New Mexico can be absolutely beautiful and even breathtaking at times. A lot of turquoise and silver and traditional designs. The turquoise, and jewelry in general, is spiritual to the Native American people, so great care and pride is put into every piece. Other crafts are traded throughout the state as well. Many towns around the state have at least a couple of well-established stores and even street vendors. (The authenticity of the jewelry is protected by state law, so authenticity is pretty much guaranteed.)
The food in New Mexico is fantastic. Unique to the state, there are many local restaurants serving both New Mexican and International food. Local Menu items include Blue Corn Enchiladas, Chile Rellenos, Stuffed Sopapillas, and Huevos Rancheros (New Mexican Style – with Red or Green Chile). Menu items can usually be ordered with Red or Green Chile ‘Sauce’ (Or both red and green called, “Christmas”). The official state question is actually, “Red or Green?” Anyway, I was going to put a list of restaurants together, but a friend told me about this blog, the best by far! Gil’s Thrilling (And Filling) Blog has some incredible advice on places to eat. The blog does not cover accessibility issues of restaurants but talks about the food like no other. Restaurants around town are usually accessible, and local staff is generally helpful in whatever way they can be.
Places to Stay (with noteworthy accessibility and character):
Hotel Parque Central: conveniently located on Central (in EDO) just west of I25, this hotel is quite welcoming with its Apothecary Lounge (rooftop bar open to the general public) and numerous fancy guest rooms
Embassy Suites: a centrally located hotel and spa that is only a few years old, it is located at Lomas & I-25 near downtown, and not far from the University.
Mariott Pyramid: conveniently located in the near north valley in the Jefferson business district, this spacious hotel is located near I25 and one of the main bus lines and roadways in town, San Mateo & Jefferson
Mariott Courtyard: located across the parking lot, I think of it as overflow rooms for “The Pyramid” The Courtyard is also home to the annual banquet for GO Unlimited (Global Opportunities Unlimited), a local wheelchair-friendly outdoor adventure group.
Hotel Albuquerque: a historic hotel located just north of Old Town, lots of space, dining, and comfort can be found in this unique old building
Hotel Andaluz: a boutique hotel located in the heart of downtown at about Second & Central, this fancy little hotel dates back to the 1930s
The Hyatt downtown: notably the tallest building in town, this might also be the location of the exact center of town
Hiway House Motel: a landmark in Nob Hill close to the University
Getting to & around Albuquerque
To get to Albuquerque, you can take direct flights from most major cities in the western United States (and even New York now!). Or you might want to try Amtrak, hop on the Southwest Chief which goes from Chicago to LA. If driving, you can certainly travel by the interstate highways, I40 and I25, which intersect in the middle of town.
There are not any mainstream wheelchair accessible taxis in town, but there are a few companies like Wheelchair Getaways or United Access that do rent out vans with advanced notice. All the major rental car companies can be found near the airport. To get to a more precise location within the city, you can (with a temporary pass) schedule a ride with the Sun Van Paratransit Service, which has a fleet of buses that are all equipped with well-maintained wheelchair lifts. Each one-way trip with the Sun Van costs $2.00. The city bus system, AbqRide, is pretty decent as far as accessibility and convenience go. It is a fairly efficient way to get to many popular destinations around the city. The “normal” or fixed route buses are somewhat universally designed, equipped with ramps that flip over from the bus to the sidewalk.