out and about
Gruet Winery 8400 Pan American Frwy. N.E.; 505/821-0055. The setting may lack the romance of Napa or Sonoma. In fact, an Albuquerque newspaper dubbed the winery's home "Warehouse O' Wine." But ultimately what matters is the stuff in the bottle, and since 1987 this spin-off of the French champagne house of Gilbert Bruet & Fils has produced what the New York Times calls the nation's best bubbly outside California. Tasting-room hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday and noon to 5 p.m. Saturday.
Sandia Peak Tramway 10 Tramway Rd. N.E.; 505/856-1532; $14 round-trip for adults, $10 for children five to 12. The longest aerial tramway in the world takes you from the foothills to the 10,378-foot top of Sandia Peak—through four climate zones in 15 minutes. With views extending for 11,000 square miles, it's a must-do at sunset. Hiking and biking trails thread through the mountains.
into the blue
A special atmospheric condition called the "Albuquerque Box" makes possible breathtaking ascents and precision navigation for hot-air balloons. Little wonder, then, that the city holds the largest ballooning festival in the world every October. Several ballooning companies also ply the air throughout the rest of the year, charging about $130 for a one-hour ride. Call the Albuquerque Convention & Visitors Bureau for more information (800/733-9918).
seeing the sights
Rio Grande Nature Center State Park 2901 Candelaria Rd. N.W.; 505/344-7240; adults $1, children 50¢. The cottonwood forests that shade the Rio Grande were called bosques by the Spanish settlers; to the graceful sandhill crane and more than 250 other species of migratory birds that throng the Rio Grande flyway, these placid riparian ecosystems are a great place to rest weary wings and refuel. The nature center preserves 270 acres of bosque and has two miles of easy trails that wind through forests, meadows, and marshland. You see the greatest number of birds on the wing in November and March.
American International Rattlesnake Museum 202 San Felipe St. N.W.; 505/242-6569; adults $2, children $1. You may think this is a relic from the days of Route 66 curio museums, but in fact it was opened in 1990 by a former biology teacher devoted to animal conservation. On hand are 34 varieties of rattlers; anyone who makes it all the way through without swooning gets an official Certificate of Bravery. On the lighter side, there's also an impressive collection of snake memorabilia (including a poster for the movie Cobra Woman) and a gift store.
Petroglyph National Monument 4735 Unser Blvd. N.W.; 505/899-0205, ext. 335; free. Few petroglyph sites in the Southwest offer such easy accessibility; unfortunately, this also means you have to block out the encroaching suburbs to appreciate the eeriness and poignancy of the place. Between 1000 b.c. and a.d. 1650, more than 20,000 images were carved on the basalt rock veneer of this volcanic escarpment. The artists ranged from hunter-gatherers to Anglo explorers, but most were Pueblo Indians, whose descendants still consider this sacred ground. There are warrior figures, handprints and footprints, astronomical markings, and a macaw that is unmistakable testimony to the Pueblo people's trade with Central America. Most visitors head for the trails around the Boca Negra Canyon, where you can climb a mesa and gaze out at five volcanic cones.
Indian Pueblo Cultural Center 2401 12th St. N.W.; 505/843-7270; admission $4. A cooperative effort of all 19 New Mexican pueblos, this museum explains the history and culture of a people through simple exhibits and fiercely political commentary. A separate gallery offers an excellent survey of each pueblo's distinctive pottery and other crafts.
Pueblo of Acoma 800/747-0181; admission $8. About 70 miles west of Albuquerque is the legendary "Sky City," a 367-foot-tall sandstone mesa that has been home to the Acoma people since the 12th century and is one of the oldest inhabited sites in North America. You can visit the pueblo only if you're on the guided tour.
all that's fit to print
Tamarind Institute 108-110 Cornell Dr. S.E.; 505/277-3901. In the 1960's, Tamarind almost singlehandedly revived the art of lithography in America by working with modern masters such as Josef Albers and Roy Lichtenstein. A division of the College of Fine Arts at the University of New Mexico since 1970, the institute continues to train artisans and produce limited-edition prints and folios. The gallery and bookshop are open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday to Friday, and by appointment; tours of the printmaking studios are offered on the first Friday of every month at 1:30.
The innkeepers of Albuquerque are always quick to mention how close they are to Santa Fe. But ask where they go for their own day trips, and watch them get positively misty-eyed about the Jemez Mountains.
The Jemez (pronounced "hay-mes") range presents plenty of natural beauty, along with the opportunity for a hot springs soak. To head for the hills, pick up Highway 4, a National Scenic Byway, in the village of San Ysidro, about 45 minutes northwest of Albuquerque. The road takes you past Jemez Pueblo—and, on weekends, roadside stands selling Indian fry bread—and then into a stunning sandstone canyon where the rocks are maroon. The desert landscape begins to soften to an alpine lushness as you near the bucolic town of Jemez Springs, where many Albuquerqueans seek rejuvenation and a little history at the Jemez Springs Bath House (505/829-3303: reservations recommended). Settlers first built a bathhouse here in the 1870's. In its current incarnation, the low-key, homey spa offers not only a hot mineral soak ($9 gets you an hour in one of the concrete tubs) but also wraps, facials, nail treatments, and massages by licensed therapists.
You can tackle the great outdoors of the 57,000-acre Jemez National Recreation Area (for hiking information, call 505/438-7840), but there are a lot of rubbernecking options for car potatoes, too. Just beyond Jemez Springs is Soda Dam, a goofy natural barricade 300 feet long 50 so feet high, formed from the calcium deposits of yet another geothermal spring. A hole in the dam lets the Jemez River flow through, forming a popular swimming spot.