The following is a suggested itinerary for those interested in
witnessing the natural beauty of Albuquerque. The amount of time
suggested for the location, travel distance and address is listed under
each suggested stop on your tour of Naturally Albuquerque.
Stand on the 10,678-foot Sandia Crest or get close to a shark,
elephant or butterfly: Albuquerque’s Zoo and Aquarium, parks, and river
and mountain trails offer accessible nature at its best.
Tour 1: Natural Attractions
8-12 hours, all stops on itinerary are within Albuquerque city limits
With 310 days of sunshine a year and a climate that lets you play
golf and ski on the same day, Albuquerque offers abundant year-round
activities suited for every age, interest and fitness level. The BioPark
with zoo, aquarium, and botanical gardens, the Rio Grande Nature Center
State Park, Bosque hike-and-bike trail system, Sandia Crest and Aerial
Tramway, and mountain and wilderness trails in Cibola National Forest
let you get as close to the outdoors, or as far from civilization as you
want, and all within a short drive from downtown.
The Albuquerque Biological Park is made up of the Albuquerque
Aquarium, Rio Grande Botanic Garden, Rio Grande Zoo and Tingley Beach.
Each component of the park works to provide recreational opportunities
for the residents and visitors of Albuquerque. The BioPark operates two
narrow-gauge trains: the Rio Line which travels throughout the park and
the Thunderbird Express, a 3/4 scale train which loops through the Rio
Grande Zoo. The trains operate Tuesday - Sunday.
With more than 250 species, the 64-acre Rio Grande Zoo displays
animals from around the world in open-air habitats. Breeding herds of
elephants and giraffes highlight the Africa section, while treetop
walkways showcase gorillas, chimpanzees, orangutans, and other primates.
The zoo harbors endangered Mexican wolves, big cats, polar bears, and
walk-in aviaries. Animal Encounter, bird shows and interactive programs
bring the animals out into the public.
With three fishing lakes, a model boating
pond and train station with a gift shop and food service, Tingley Beach
offers year round entertainment for visitors. Open everyday from
sunrise to sunset, the beach is free and open to the general public.
During the summer months, visitors can rent out pedal boats and
bicycles. While at Tingley, don't miss the world's largest trout on
display at the Tingley Train Station.
(1-2 hours, 3 miles of trails, 2901 Candelaria NW, 505-344-7240, www.rgnc.org/parkinfo.htm)
the Rio Grande from Albuquerque to the Gulf of Mexico, the Aquarium
displays fish from the river, estuaries, surf zone, coral reefs and
ocean. Sharks circle a 285,000-gallon tank along with reef fish, eels
and turtles. Other tanks showcase seahorses, luminous jellies and deep
At the adjacent Botanic Garden, shady paths wind
through themed gardens, around a lake and into glass conservatories with
orchids, tropical plants and cacti. Kids love the Heritage Farm with
horses, cows, sheep, and pigs as well as the PNM Butterfly Pavilion
(summer). The Sasebo Japanese Garden offers a peaceful respite with
flowing streams, waterfalls and meditation gardens.
The 170-acre park is part of the Rio Grande Valley State Park,
which borders both sides of the river for 25 miles through Albuquerque
from the Isleta to Sandia Pueblos. The 16-mile, paved Paseo del Bosque
hike/bike trail, highlighted in National Geographic Adventure magazine,
has seven access points - one of which being the Rio Grande Nature
Center State Park - from the east bank of the river. In the winter, the
ponds at the Nature Center attract Sandhill Cranes and waterfowl,
visible from a glass-fronted observation room overlooking a pond.
Trails, interpretive exhibits, a native plant garden and programs begin
at the center.
(2-3 hours, 18 miles of hiking trails, 6001 Unser Blvd. NW, 505-899-0205, www.nps.gov/petr)
Located on the Westside of the city, Petroglyph National Monument
is alive with the sights & sounds of the high desert- a hawk spirals
down from the mesa top, a roadrunner dashes into fragrant sage, a
desert millipede traces waves in the sand. Visitors to the Monument can
explore an estimated 20,000 ancient rock carvings against the backdrop
of the glittering city skyline. Many of the petroglyph images are
recognizable as animals, people, brands and crosses; others are more
complex. Don’t miss a hike amongst the ancient rock carvings while
immersing yourself in the beautiful high desert atmosphere.
In the late 1980's, the revised City of Albuquerque Comprehensive
Plan designated over 28,000 acres of land in and around Albuquerque as
major public open space. The Open Space program was designed to protect
the natural character of the designated land by conserving natural
archaelogical resources, providing opportunities for outdoor education,
providing a place for high and low impact recreation and defining the
edges of the urban environment. The Visitor Center serves as the
gateway to learning more about the Open Space Program. It features an
art gallery, working farm, interpretive displays, bosque access and
Tour 2: Outdoor Recreation in the Sandia Mountains
10-20 hours, all stops on itinerary are within Albuquerque city limits
All stops accommodate tour buses and RVs.
(2-6 hours, 10 miles, 505-452-5200, http://www.cabq.gov/openspace/sandiafoothills.html)
1,000 years, residents of the Rio Grande Valley have stared up at the
Sandia Mountains with awe. First the pueblo indians, then the Spanish,
who bestowed the name Sandia because of the watermelon red glow of the
Crest at sunset, revered the mountains that loom a mile above the city.
towering mountains remain the magnificent crown of modern Albuquerque.
On the eastern edge of the city, the Foothills Hike/Bike Trail off
Tramway Boulevard leads into Bear Canyon, and trails in Elena Gallegos
Park climb into the Cibola National Forest. The Tramway Trail, from the
Aerial Tramway station, connects with trails that ascend to the Crest.
(2-4 hours, 10 Tramway Loop NE, 505-856-7325, www.sandiapeak.com/)
2.7-mile Sandia Peak AerialTramway, the longest aerial tram in the
world, starts in the desert and traverses four of the seven life zones
in North America. In 15 minutes you go from desert to spruce-fir forest.
From the viewing platform at the High Finance Restaurant at the top,
Albuquerque spreads across the Rio Grande Valley like pieces on a game
board. Mt. Taylor dots the horizon 65 miles distant. A 3.8-mile trail
with stunning views loops below the rim to the Crest House and returns
through spruce-aspen forest. In the tram terminal at the base of the
mountains, Sandiago’s Mexican Grill serves a fresh lunch (summer) and
dinner menu and deli selections.
Two chair lifts midway up the mountain on NM 536 offer 25 miles of
downhill and cross-country ski trails in the winter. Bring your own
equipment and you can ski right off the tram. In the summer, hikers and
bikers can use the lift to access hiking trails and the 30-mile
Mountain Bike Trail System. The chair lift goes from the base station at
8,678 feet to the Crest tram station and the High Finance Restaurant.
Bring your own mountain bike or rent one at the base area.
To reach the Sandia Crest by auto, take I-40 for 17 miles east to
Tijeras, then north on NM 14 through Cedar Crest, and west on NM 536.
Dozens of trailheads and 14 campgrounds branch off the Scenic Byway as
it climbs from piñon-juniper to spruce-fir forest. At the Sandia Crest
House at 10,678 feet, the view encompasses 11,000 square miles of rugged
landscape. Pause and let your mind attempt to grasp the
horizon-to-horizon expanse—it’s one of Albuquerque’s signature
experiences. The Ranger Station at the Crest has maps and trail
information, and the grill serves delicious green-chile cheese burgers
and chicken quesadillas.