|Albuquerque, New Mexico
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Albuquerque, New Mexico on Wikipedia
Albuquerque is a sprawling desert metropolis near the center of New Mexico.
Although it is the largest city in the state, Albuquerque is often overshadowed by Santa Fe, 60 miles to the north. But Albuquerque has a number of great attractions in its own right, with pleasant scenery, colorful history, and a spectacular hot-air balloon fiesta in the fall.
Albuquerque was founded in 1706 as a small Spanish settlement on the banks of the Rio Grande and was named for the Duke of Alburquerque (hence Albuquerque's nickname, "The Duke City"). In the 1880s the railroad came to town, and almost overnight a new city grew up around the train tracks a couple of miles away from the original settlement. This "New Town" became the hub of commerce for the state, and the city grew exponentially (eventually the "New Town", which today is Downtown, and the original "Old Town" settlement were joined to become part of the same city). In the 1920s the federal government officially recognized a series of highways that ran from Chicago to Los Angeles as Route 66, and Albuquerque was one of the towns "The Mother Road" passed through. Today, Albuquerque is still a hub of activity and transportation. While Santa Fe is the state capital and the principal tourist destination of New Mexico, Albuquerque is New Mexico's only truly urban area with a metropolitan population of nearly 900,000. This is where you'll find the headquarters of the state's businesses, the University of New Mexico, many of New Mexico's largest employers, and the Albuquerque International Sunport, the only major airport in the state.
Albuquerque is in the high desert [35.11N -106.64W (Elev. 4989 ft)] and has a generally warm, dry climate with four distinct seasons. Spring is sunny and windy, although temperatures at night can be unexpectedly cool. Summers are hot (highs average 90-95 degrees, and temperatures near 100 degrees are not rare) and still mainly dry, but monsoonal conditions develop in July or August and produce furious if short-lived thunderstorms. Have rainwear available in the summer, although you won't use it most days. Fall is delightful, with comfortable temperatures and a return to generally dry conditions. Winter can be blustery, with overnight lows below freezing, but subzero temperatures are rare. One winter-weather issue for the traveler: snow, while infrequent and short-lived, does occur, and its relative rarity means that local drivers don't deal with it well. If you happen to be in town for a snowstorm, expect road chaos far out of proportion to the amount of snow that falls.
This is a casual town. Expect shorts, a T-shirt, and sandals to be entirely acceptable almost everywhere. People tend to be friendly. While Albuquerque has a large non-native population, it is predominantly white, Hispanic, and American Indian.
Two Interstate highways pass through Albuquerque: I-40 goes east-west and I-25 goes north-south. Where they meet is a large intersection called "The Big I". Albuquerque's Central Avenue is part of old Route 66. A minor note of caution: I-25 south of Albuquerque is a "safety corridor" in which state law mandates higher fines for traffic violations. Enforcement is spotty, but take the speed limits seriously anyway.
Albuquerque's airport, the Albuquerque International Sunport (ABQ), is the major air hub for all of New Mexico. The Sunport has service from all major US airlines and their international partners, and is a major hub for Southwest Airlines. One tip: If you're prone to airsickness, try to get flights into this airport that arrive either before noon or after sundown, particularly during late spring and early summer. The high elevation, hot sun, and spring winds combine to produce thermals that can make afternoon arrivals an extremely bumpy proposition. There are no major safety issues (the airport's runways are long, owing to the adjacent Air Force base, with no nearby obstacles to run into), but try telling your stomach that! The rough ride is less of a problem with outbound flights. Incidentally, this airport contains a number of attractive displays of New Mexican arts and crafts as well as one good restaurant (a member of the Garduño's chain, see below under "Eat"), and is a more pleasant place than most airports to kill time while waiting for a flight. The major car rental companies are nearby, with a shuttle from the airport to the large new rental center. The Sunport has charging stations for electronics and completely free wireless internet access.
Albuquerque is a stop along Amtrak's Southwest Chief daily train route. The depot is at the Alvarado Transportation Center in downtown, at 214 First Street SW. The westbound train to Los Angeles arrives at 4:10PM and departs at 4:40PM. The eastbound train to Chicago arrives at 12:17PM and departs at 12:40PM.
Albuquerque has a fine bus depot at the Alvarado Transportation Center in downtown, 320 First Street SW, which is served by Greyhound and Autobuses Americanos .
Map of Albuquerque
Map of Downtown/Old Town Area
Albuquerque is a heavily planned city. In much of the city, the major roads are lined primarily with businesses with residential mazes on the insides. Street addresses in Albuquerque take the form "12345 Main Street (NE/NW/SE/SW)" in which the northeast/northwest/etc. suffix denotes the quadrant of the city containing the address. The railroad tracks, which run parallel to I-25, are the east/west dividing line, and Central Avenue is the north/south dividing line. This nomenclature, while useful in helping you with maps and directions, has the drawback that you can't tell whether a street runs north-south or east-west simply by looking at the address.
Basically, if you remember that I-25 runs north-south, I-40 runs east-west, the Sandia Mountains are to the east, and the Rio Grande runs along the bottom of the valley in the western part of the city, you should be able to make your way around the city without too many problems. Here are some basic terms that will come in handy when asking for directions or looking at a map: Central Avenue is a principal east-west artery, running south (and roughly parallel) of I-40. The interchange of I-25 and I-40 is called "The Big I" and is roughly in the center of the city. Downtown is just southwest of "The Big I", the "Heights" are the eastern part of town closer to the Sandia Mountains, and the Westside is all the suburbs on the western part of town across the river.