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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.
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.
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.
Depicting 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 ocean species.
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.
(1-2 hours, 3 miles of trails, 2901 Candelaria NW, 505-344-7240, www.rgnc.org/parkinfo.htm)
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.
(1 hour, 3615 Los Picaros SE, 505-452-5200, http://www.cabq.gov/openspace/visitorcenter.html)
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 wildlife viewing.
All stops accommodate tour buses and RVs.
(2-6 hours, 10 miles, 505-452-5200, http://www.cabq.gov/openspace/sandiafoothills.html)
For 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.
The 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/)
The 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.
(2-6 hours, NM 536, 505-242-9052, www.sandiapeak.com/)
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.
(3-6 hours, 45 miles one-way, 505-346-3900, www.fs.fed.us/r3/cibola/districts/sandia.shtml)
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.