Retro Roadtrip: New Mexico

About one-third of the state’s population lives in the Albuquerque area, which is the state’s economic center. Old Town is where this bustling city began in 1709 as a small village of Hispanic farmers. Today, this picturesque plaza with Pueblo and Spanish architecture is home to 200+ shops, restaurants and galleries.

A new sculpture garden greets visitors to the Albuquerque Museum of Art & History. Four centuries of Rio Grande history are showcased here. One of the highlights is a reconstructed 18th century house and chapel from the Spanish Colonial period.

The non-profit Indian Pueblo Cultural Center displays artifacts in its lower level to tell the story of the Pueblos from prehistoric through present times. The upper level is divided into 19 alcoves where changing exhibits and art explain the distinct culture of each tribe. The museum’s restaurant serves only Native-American food.

In 1978, Albuquerque balloonists Ben Abruzzo and Maxie Anderson, along with partner Larry Newman, completed the first nonstop crossing of the Atlantic Ocean by gas balloon. Following the deaths of Anderson in a 1983 ballooning accident and Abruzzo in a 1985 airplane accident, their families decided to honor their accomplishments with a museum. The families raised funds throughout the 1990s but there wasn’t enough money to start construction until the City of Albuquerque provided major funding. Opened in 2005, the $12 million Anderson-Abruzzo Albuquerque International Balloon Museum building dominates the skyline near Balloon Fiesta Park. Dedicated to the art, culture, science, history, sport and spectacle of ballooning, the museum features one of the finest collections of ballooning equipment and memorabilia in the world.

Also opened in 2005, the Unser Racing Museum displays antique cars, race cars and trophies the Unser men have won at the Indy 500. The Turquoise Museum is a little gem that houses the world’s largest collection of turquoise. Visitors enter a simulated mineshaft where turquoise is embedded in the walls. Exhibits showcase the semiprecious stone’s history, geology and mythology. Visitors can also find out how to determine the value of a turquoise stone.

Specialty museums of interest include the University of New Mexico Art Museum, New Mexico Museum of Natural History & Science, New Mexico Holocaust and Intolerance Museum & Study Center, National Hispanic Cultural Center, National Atomic Museum, Museum of Archaeology & Biblical History, Maxwell Museum of Anthropology, J&R Vintage Auto Museum, Archaeology & Material Culture Museum and the American International Rattlesnake Museum.

Santa Fe
About 65 miles north of Albuquerque is the state’s dynamic cultural center. Zoning regulations set limits on the height of buildings so that the mountainview is not blocked. A stroll down Canyon Road is the best way to experience the essence of Santa Fe. Nicknamed the “art and soul” of the city, this narrow road winds up the Santa Fe River canyon away from the downtown plaza. More than 200 galleries intermingle with an eclectic mix of stores, museums and restaurants.

Located near the Plaza in downtown Santa Fe, many experts rate the Museum of Fine Arts as the Southwest’s best. Founded in 1917, its collection of paintings, photography and sculpture relate primarily to the American Southwest of the 20th century.

Built in 1610, the Palace of the Governors is the oldest public building in the United States. Located on the Plaza in downtown Santa Fe, this humble-looking building is the history museum of the State of New Mexico. Its furniture collection includes 400 examples from 19th century Victorian to early New Mexican styles. The weapons collection includes swords, knives, rifles, pistols and tomahawks from the Spanish Colonial Period through the 20th century. Blankets, hats, fans, dresses and military uniforms are among the 2,000 textiles dating from 1840 to 1970. Pueblo artisans gather daily on the portal to sell their handmade arts and crafts. Strict oversight demands authenticity and all money goes directly to the craftspeople and artists, so this is a good place to shop.

The Georgia O’Keeffe Museum opened in 1997, which was 80 years after her first visit to Santa Fe. It was the first museum dedicated to a woman artist of international stature. The museum’s permanent collection showcases more than 130 works completed by Georgia O’Keeffe between 1915 and 1980.

The Museum of International Folk Art is the home of 120,000 objects representing one of the world’s finest collections of folk creations. The American collection showcases Native-American pottery and kachinas, Canadian Native-American figurative carvings, African-American baskets and toys. The 10,000 items in the Asian collection include ancient Korean pottery, musical instruments, jewelry and miniatures. The 3,200 items in the Middle-Eastern collection include kilims from Turkey, baskets and containers from Jordan, copperware and tiles from Iran and folk paintings and prints from Saudi Arabia. The African collection showcases textiles, metalwork, costumes, wooden and ceramic figures, miniatures and masks. Opened in 1998, the Neutrogena Collection displays a world-class array of about 3,000 textiles and folk-art items from around the world.

Los Alamos
Los Alamos National Laboratory was built in 1943 as headquarters of the Manhattan Project, which was America’s secret effort to develop atomic weapons. The world’s first nuclear bombs, which ultimately ended World War II when the United States bombed Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, were built there. Today this 43-square-mile lab is involved in nuclear defense research, biomedical science and environmental cleanup. Bradbury Science Museum, which is located in downtown Los Alamos, offers visitors a chance to see projects developed at the lab, which is not open to the public. About 40 high-tech interactive exhibits explore the world of computers, environmental science, and aviation as well as the Manhattan Project.

Chaco Canyon was a major center of ancestral Puebloan culture between 850 and 1250 AD. The Chacoan people combined architecture, astronomy, geometry, landscaping and engineering to create spectacular architecture that still amazes and inspires more than a thousand years later. Called the “Stonehenge of the West,” Chaco Culture National Historic Park is now part of the sacred homeland of Pueblo Indian peoples of New Mexico, the Hopi Indians of Arizona, and the Navajo Indians of the Southwest. Today visitors at this remote and isolated park can see Pueblo Bonito, which has 800 rooms, two large and 32 smaller kivas. Within the park are 11 other major ruins and numerous smaller ones from the 9th and 10th centuries.