New Mexico — The Land Of Enchantment

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The annual Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta is the world’s largest hot air balloon festival.

In my early years after graduating university, my first real job was at KOB-TV, Channel 4 in Albuquerque, N.M. I lived there for some four years, learning the television business. Having been raised in Los Angeles, anything in New Mexico seemed different and interesting. On my days off I would take to the highways and explore this enchanted part of America.

During prehistoric times, dinosaurs roamed in the tropical environment. Finally, an ice age took over after the giant reptiles vanished, and the sea, which once covered most of the state, receded. Glaciers melted and carved out the high mountains found in many regions of New Mexico today.

About 10,000 B.C, the Clovis-Paleo Indians lived in the eastern plains of the state, where scientists have found a wealth of evidence pointing to the existence of dinosaurs and early man. These early ancestors of today’s Native Americans left behind archaeological evidence of their existence and lifestyles throughout of the state. These ancient peoples dwelled in pit houses — which were large holes dug in the ground covered with branches — cliffside caves and stone structures, and examples can be found at Chaco Culture National Historical Park

Later, the Spanish explorers in North America trekked through the area, leaving their cultures to the peoples and then, much later, railroads and roadways were built to allow people from our East and Midwest to explore the Southwest, including New Mexico. When I resided in Albuquerque in the 1950s, the population was somewhere in the 150,000s. Today, the greater area boasts some 600,000 residents and growing. The moderate weather, dry climate and friendly Southwest atmosphere attract people from all over North America.

Here, in Arizona, we are about 450 miles from Albuquerque and an easy day’s drive on good highways. My suggestion is to plan at least three days to explore the city before moving on to other areas of the state.

Albuquerque is situated in the high desert at 5,000 ft. and partially surrounded by the Sandia Mountains which rise to 10,378 ft. The “Duke City” is serviced by the old Route 66, now I-40.

In Old Town, you can shop and roam through museums. At night, plan dinner here for some of the best New Mexican cuisine on earth. This is a mixture of Mexican and Indian foods that are a favorite for many travelers. Then, there is the Albuquerque Biological Park with a fine zoo, aquarium and botanical park. A drive up to Sandia Peak Aerial Tramway will give you a view of the surrounding area for many miles if the skies permit. In town, there is the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center and the National Hispanic Cultural Center of New Mexico to name just two. For auto fans, there is the Unser Racing Museum. The performing arts include traveling Broadway shows, symphony, and assorted entertainment that visit the University of New Mexico. Many big acts perform at the Journal Pavilion, a giant outdoor amphitheater on the outskirts of Albuquerque.

From Albuquerque, go north a few miles to Rio Rancho to see the Petroglyph National Monument and other specialty museums nearby. There are often sporting events at the University of New Mexico and J&R Vintage Auto Museum and the Intel Museum of the Computer Chip in Rio Rancho. Going further north to Corrales, Bernalillo and Jemez Mountain Trail Scenic Byway you will find Casa San Ysidro, Coronado State Monument, Zia Pueblo, Santa Ana Pueblo, Jemez Pueblo and Jemez Hot Springs.

South of Albuquerque is Belen, Los Lunas, El Camino Real Scenic Byway and Mountainair. In these areas, you can visit the Harvey House Museum in Belen, Tome, Salinas Pueblo Missions and the Pueblo Missions National Monument.

New Mexico is the 5th largest in area behind Alaska, Texas, California and Montana, so there is much to see and enjoy.

An hour’s drive north of Albuquerque is the Capital, Santa Fe. The historical city is beloved by many for its unique classical southwestern/native American architecture and is home to several interesting museums which include the Museum of International Folk Art, the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture, Palace of Governors and the New Mexico Museum of Art. Opera is famous here and presented in a unique theatre with open roof. You might want to try a stay in Santa Fe at the La Fonda Hotel. This is the “Grand Dame” of the town, and located in the center of everything. Strolling through downtown you will find numerous shops with local and regional art that you almost can’t leave behind.

Going north of Santa Fe you would enjoy a train ride on the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad departing from Chama which is located in the far north central portion of the state close to the Colorado border. This all-day journey on a narrow gage train travels through some of the more rugged terrain of the area and enters Colorado several times as it winds its way through breathtaking mountains and valleys. The steam train stops at noon in a remote location which houses a large cafeteria where you enjoy good food as you sit and marvel at the sights through the many windows of the dining establishment. After your tummy is full, you get back on the train for an afternoon of more train delights. At the end of the rail line, you are driven back to Chama by an hour and a half coach ride on a good highway. A memorable experience and be sure to take your camera.

For UFO fans, visitors of the intergalactic variety supposedly hover above New Mexico, which is sometimes called the UFO state. Some residents and visitors claim to have spotted UFOs around the state, but two destinations are legendary: Aztec and Roswell. Each city hosts a yearly festival/symposium to commemorate alleged UFO crashes that some say were covered up by the U.S. government. For more information about these incidents and festivals, visit www.aztecufo.com and www.roswellufofestival.com. The more famous is Roswell, and their UFO Festival is the July 4th weekend. Nearby is the Roswell mystery of the Legend of the Bottomless Lake! They advertise travelers come to camp, fish and disappear! Here, you will find Alien Zone. An Area 51 room with alien picture-taking props, blacklight space city and of course, a gift shop. You can read about the alleged space ship crash in a field outside the city with photos.

While in New Mexico, be sure to include a visit to the Carlsbad Caverns. It is located in the southeast portion and should not be missed if you have not visited before. You will be guided through some of the most amazing underground sights of your life. This is one of the largest caves in the world and is located 27 miles south of Carlsbad on U.S. 62/180.

New Mexico has been known for its cutting-edge research and is entering a new era of tourism with the building of the Spaceport America located between Las Cruces and Truth or Consequences. To keep posted on developments, log on to www.space portamerica.com. Currently, you have a variety of places to learn about science. The New Mexico Museum of Space History in Alamogordo pays homage to the history of space travel. The New Mexico Museum of Natural History & Science in Albuquerque has a planetarium and an observatory.

The Very Large Array (VLA) National Radio Astronomy Observatory at Magdalena uses a series of radio telescopes to explore deep space and offers self-guided tours and a visitor center.

There is an astounding variety of geography in the state from the heights of the Black Range to the grasslands of the northeastern prairies. New Mexico’s diverse cultures, fascinating history and many recreational opportunities are showcased along the 3,531 miles of road. Give it some time to really explore all its glory.

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