Quirky Albuquerque! March 17-27

Reminders: 1. Posts are in chronological order with most recent on top. 2. Pictures can be enlarged by clicking on them and then using the back button (not close) to return to the text.

This is the first time that we really felt like we were back on the boat, with the weather driving our itinerary. We used to listen carefully to marine weather forecasts to decide whether we should stay put in a harbor or make a run to the next one. Now we were doing it again.

We left Las Cruces in a comfortable wind from the south – behind us – after apologizing to Keith and Cherie for canceling our dinner date. The wind increased on the way up to Albuquerque, but the real trouble was scheduled for the next day.

About thirty miles from ABQ, our check engine light came on. The monitor had been telling us for a couple of weeks that service was required, but we ignored it because we’d done a thorough service in Tucson and figured they simply forgot to update the schedule. But nothing seemed actively amiss, so we continued on and arrived at the campground safely.

The road sign shortly before the entrance to Enchanted Trails RV Park offered wringer washers, a manacle and a Wurlitzer organ. Sure enough, everything was there. But that was just the beginning. Just inside the entrance, is a miniature park-within-the-park where classic trailers were not only on view but available as rental “cottages.” They included the smallest Winnebago we’d ever seen and a 1950 Hudson Commodore attached to a 1954 Vakashunette teardrop trailer painted in the same colors. The lobby of the campground was also filled with artifacts of earlier years – no wonder, since the city is proud of its Rte. 66 heritage.

Our site was a pull-thru “side-by-side,” one of the very few times we have ever experienced this. Instead of being separated, the units next to each other share a common area. Fortunately, we ran into extremely nice neighbors, David and Sharon. He and I were equally hard of hearing, which led to loud conversations!

The place was very nice – lots of space and dog restrictions limited only to courtesy, which we have down pat. We settled in, left awnings and patio furniture stowed, and felt prepared for the next day’s blow.

Or so we thought. The damper in the range exhaust fan needs to be secured when we travel – we forgot. The truck windows are normally left open an inch under their hoods to allow some ventilation – we forgot to close them tight.

And it blew. All day Sunday, up to 60 knots. Worst of all, it blew dust. You undoubtedly heard about the serious dust storms in Arizona last fall, with zero visibility. That was not a single phenomenon but an ongoing situation; there was a dust cloud overhanging us throughout our stay in Tucson and we hadn’t left it behind. By the time it eased up on Monday, the damper in our range vent was gone, every niche on the outside of our trailer was plastered, and the car had sand dunes inside.

Now we had to deal with the engine warning. Cleaning off the seat enough to slide into it, we drove the truck to the local Dodge dealer, renting an car on the way. Late that day, we learned that the engine light came on because of a system failure that needed an $800 repair. Somehow, it was a warranty issue; we thought the truck was already out of warranty. On the other hand, the service light indicated a maintenance issue that hadn’t been done. So the following day, we reclaimed the car for the low low price of only $650, plus about $75 for the rental. Yuk! This on top of $1300 in tires and $1500 in trailer wheel repairs, all within a month.

When we got the truck back, we gave it a thorough bath on the outside, and I bought a mini shop vac and spent over half a day detailing the inside. In the process, we discovered that the right front window switch would respond only to “down;” only the driver’s control pad would put it up. Long story short: as we drove back to the dealer, it began to work again. Now it’s spotty, but postpone-able.

Then another oops. My birthday on the 21st was also the expiration date of my driver’s license. Who thinks about when renewal only happens every five years? I contacted Maryland MVA, and they overnighted me ($89 UPS charge) a temporary license and renewal packet. But that required an eye exam. They do it at the MVA in about 20 seconds, but when you’re out of state, you get an eye exam ($55). Bottom line is that I will still be a legal driver.

With all these glitches, we extended our five day stay by three, and then by two more so we could adequately tour Albuquerque. We started by plying both the historic section of Rte. 66 (unimpressive) and Old Town (very impressive).

One of our primary educational goals in New Mexico was understanding the Pueblo culture. We knew that Pueblo did not define a tribe but rather a village, or living situation. Numerous tribes adopted Pueblo living; in fact, there are today a group of 19 Pueblo nations in the greater Santa Fe area, as well as the Zuni near the New Mexico/Arizona border. Albuquerque hosted an educational clearing house named The Indian Pueblo Cultural Center, so that’s where we headed first. It was an enclave that included not only the Cultural Center but a central ceremonial courtyard, conference centers, a market, a gas station, an Arby’s restaurant and a liquor store! The Center permitted pictures in only a few limited areas. The rotunda includes the statue at right and photos of many Puebloans.

A large room to the right offered a comprehensive history of 100 years of state and federal policy’s impact on the Pueblo nations. It is told through the documents of the governments that increasingly impinged on their rights and later righted some wrongs. From the Guadlupe Hildago accords, whose promises were not realized for a century, through the invasion of soverignity through the Lincoln Canes, to the eventual recognition of the All Indian Pueblo Council in 1922 to the progressive rights finally re-accorded throughout the twentieth century, the history is extensively documented. There was a class of Indian students on a field trip with their teacher and a sociologist/anthropologist with whom I had a wonderful conversation about our travels.

Basic Puebloan tenets were also displayed, along with a memorial to Dr. Joe Santo (Paa Peh), a beloved teacher and prolific writer who joined his ancestors in 2011 at 88. On the main level, a corridor around the courtyard had mostly off-camera segments, starting with a beautiful exhibit of weaving, pottery and painting called Gathering The Clouds (I shot the entrance and a weaving tableau at the end!).

The next section showed the influence of Catholicism on the Puebloans; a detailed exhibit of their saints was followed by a sanctuary. The religion was introduced by the Spanish Franciscans and embraced by the natives because of their deep-rooted value of combine and balance opposites. Between the two sections was a pair of doors on loan from the Laguna Pueblo’s San Jose Mission. The doors were reconstructed in 1934 from the 18th century originals; the left door, shown here, features the crossed arms of Jesus and St. Francis, both bearing the stigmata, or wounds of Christ. Next was a trip out to the courtyard, replete with murals and the scene of dance recitals every Saturday at noon, as well as other ceremonial events. Then we went downstairs to a well-organized museum in the other hemisphere that displays dialogue and artifacts by phase of life, from family to architecture to culture to religion to crafts, and more. Above is a café, gift shop and offices. We left feeling prepared to visit active Pueblos on at our next stop and ask intelligent questions.

In a totally different vein, we next went to the Anderson-Abruzzo International Balloon Museum. Opened in 2005, it is named for two-thirds of the team whose Double Eagle II made the first successful gas balloon flight across the Atlantic in 1978: Albuquerque businessmen Maxie Anderson and Ben Abruzzo. Sixteen attempts, with five deaths, preceded the success of Double Eagle II. The third member of its crew, ultralight pioneer and manufacturer Larry Newman, was also aboard Double Eagle V with Abruzzo and two others when it crossed the Pacific from Japan to California in 1981. One of the other two was Rocky Aoki, founder of Benihana and financier of the mission. Maxie Anderson was killed in a European balloon race in 1983. Ben Abruzzo was killed, along with his wife and four others, when his Cessna crashed outside of ABQ airport, likely caused by a baggage door opening at takeoff. Newman died of natural causes at the too-young age of 64.

The museum complex does many things. It charts the history of non-winged flight from its earliest days, with countless models and scenes. It graphically displays the major events in modern balloon history, including the display of both Double Eagles, in a three-story atrium. It covers scientific, military and commercial uses of balloons. It heralds the efforts of high altitude adventures, including the parachute jump from 102,800 feet in 1961 by Joseph Kittinger, Jr. which included a free-fall down to 18,000 feet before his main chute opened. Austrian adventurer Felix Baumgartner will attempt to break that record at 120,000 feet sometime in 2012. There’s a room featuring the story of the development of other free flight, including paragliging, skydiving and ultralights.

An exhibit of the Japanese Fugo weapon invoked thoughts of our tour of Oregon. Estimates vary, but between 6,000 and 9,000 Fugos were launched, intended to seriously harm the U.S. Each carried four incendiary bombs and one anti-personnel device. An ingenious barometric trigger mechanism was supposed to maintain their flight across the Pacific and relase their deadly cargo over North America. The envelopes themselves were made by Japanese schoolchildren by pasting together sheets of tissue made from a bush in the mulberry family that was later laminated. Fewer than 1,000 made it, but some all the way inland to Michigan and Texas — yet none caused any damage save for an innocent woman and five childen on a church picnic in Bly, Oregon who found one and accidently set off its explosive charge.

And there’s a Hall of Fame, going all the way back to the 18th century and heralding every major participant.

I participated as pilot in a balloon flight simulator. We were to take off, rise to an altitude where other currents would steer us toward the target landing site, and bring her down on the bulls-eye. With heavy coaching, I scored 85.5, and would have scored much higher if I hadn’t held the top vent open too long on the descent.

But the biggest feature of the complex takes place outside the building each fall. That’s when the 54 acre field behind the building is crammed for 9 days for the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta,with balloons of every description for ten days of ascension, competition, entertainment and camaraderie — day and night. As of this writing, it’s only 183|14|35|13 (days, hours, minutes, seconds, as displayed on their website!) away, according to its website. But who’s counting! It is almost enticing enough to find us back there this October. Oh well, next circuit.

Next, we visited Sandia Peak and its Aerial Tram. Sandia is a very successful ski area, built by Ben Abruzzo as one of his many developments in the Albuquerque area. The tram itself opened in 1966; the cars were replaced 20 years later and the cables very recently. It is a 2.7 mile ride up from 6559 feet to 10,378 feet, about a fifteen minute ride. While it was a product of the same company, this tram was significantly different from the one we rode in Jackson Hole. The cars are considerably smaller, yet they hold a similar contingent of riders because there is no seating. The ride is across vast open spaces, compared to Jackson Hole’s ride up the side of a mountain to a greater altitude. And it only has two towers, making the spans over open space (the last was 900 feet up) more dramatic. There is a fancy restaurant at the top, and access to the trails – skiing in winter and mountain biking in summer – on the other side. The temperature was 34 degrees at the summit; we weren’t dressed for it and didn’t overstay our welcome.

Next stop was the Albuquerque Museum of Art and History. As you can imagine, photography was de rigueur. The featured exhibit was Los Caprichos (fantasy), a set of 80 engravings by Francisco Goya (1746-1828) depicting the social traumas of Spain in the late 18th century. They feature such subjects as the Inquisition, church corruption, witchcraft, avarice and “frivolity of young women.” Ancillary to the exhibit were several Goya masterpieces and a series of “updates” of the engravings by Enrique Chagoya in 1999, featuring contemporary figures in Goya’s original situations. A satirical riot!

Elsewise in the museum, we viewed art of the area bridging many generations. The history portion was closed. Traveling exhibitions in addition to Goya included contemporary art (featuring works of Andy Warhol including the “Mao” series) and wonderful reproductions of a treasure trove of prints from plates taken by the Cobb family of photographers in the late 19th century.

There was no photographic restriction, however, on the exterior sculpture garden. In total, it included over fifty exhibits.

The cornerstone — literally — was a colosous called La Jornada, depicting the epic journey of the first Euro colonists in 1598. In addition to the families and conquistadors, the journey involved over 80 wagons and 80 Indian allies who led pack horses. Originating in Santa Barbara, Mexico, it departed on January 26 and arrived at San Juan de Los Caballeros in New Mexico on July 11. One of the participants, Don Gaspar Prez de Villagra, documented it in his history of New Mexico, published in 1610. The representation was created by Reynaldo “Sonny” Rivera and Betty Sabo and was dedicated in 2005. All of the photos below are parts of this single creation.

Dot wandered across the lot to the fringe of Old Town. When I went over to dislodge her, I came across the mariachi band shown below. I’m not sure whether it was a family or a pickup gig, but they’d obviously played together before.

More stops left. Next was the National Petroglyph Monument. We stopped first at the visitor’s center, housed in the former home of noted anthropologist Dr. Sophie Aberle, whose research focused on the lives of Puebloan women. From there, the monument area involved miles of travel and climbs in many cases. We were able to get our fill, and a portion of results are shown below. We quickly learned the difference between a petroglyph (carved) and a pictograph (painted).

We visited the National Museum of Nuclear Science and History. This museum was originally on nearby Kirtland AFB until September 11, 2001, when it closed its doors to restrict base access. The new museum opened to the public in 2009.

Not unlike the Lewis & Clark adventure, which enticed us when we visited its origin in St. Charles, MO, the onset of the Atomic Age in the 1940’s piqued our curiousity when we visited Hanford, WA as part of our Tri-Cities expedition. As you might imagine, there was considerable focus here on World War II and the development/deployment of Little Man and Big Boy. Since we have one more view very soon of the nuclear age, let me just entertain you with pictures about this informative place. The top two rows involve the bomb development: the Calutron was used in Oak Ridge to separate miniscule amounts of U 235 from U238; the first bomber, Enola Gay, Truman’s dilemna right after FDR’s dath about the decision to drop, a replica of the Trinity test bomb, the 1940 Packard “limo” that ferried scientists around, the 1942 Plymouth that delivered the plutonium to the Trinity site, and other weapons of war. The next row touches on “fallout,” including shelters; next are medical uses; and finally, radiation risks and peaceful uses.

There was an outdoor exhibit in development, including classic bombers. It contained a group of wierd “towers,” which I learned were “sails” of nuclear submarines.

One more. The Unser family didn’t originate in Albuquerque, but the city claims them and charts their history and exploits at the Unser Racing Museum. Louis and Marie, Swiss immigrants, raised their family of three boys at the foot of Pike’s Peak. All three of their sons – Louis Jr. Joe and Jerry Sr. – picked up their dad’s interest in the newfangled automobile. They scaled Pike’s – previously insurmountable – on a motorcycle in 1915 and, after getting a contract to teach the Colorado City police how to ride, they were the prime entrants in the first 12.4 mile auto Race to the Clouds.

Jerry sired Jerry Jr., Louie, Bobby Sr. and Al Sr., all of whom got the bug. Half of the next generation found a home in the automotive industry, with Bobby Jr. and Al Jr. receiving most of the accolades. The current generation, 1981 forward, is much less involved.

But what a heyday! Pike’s Peak was the Unser’s playground for years and years, even after the family moved to Albuquerque. They have made their mark in Indy cars, motorcycles, midgets and even snowmobiles.

The enclave features two museums, the Racing Museum and Jerry’s Garage. The former chronicles the immense accomplishments of the family, including all of its generations. The latter represents the business opened by Jerry Sr. in 1936 in Albuquerque He quickly outgrew its space as he became the local expert – and trained his sons likewise. That building features many family acquisitions, including a 1928 Sterling truck that Al lusted after for years and finally had to purchase an entire estate – including property — to get. It also features a trophy room, containing over 25,000 pieces of Unser family memorabilia – all off limits except through the glass enclosure. Unser offices are upstairs. Our guide, who has had his own racing history, says that Al Jr. shows up almost every day, while Bobby’s visits are occasional.

On Tuesday, March 27, we finally made it out of Albuquerque, on short sprint up the road to Santa Fe. Close to arrival, we stopped at a visitors’ center, only to learn that virtually all of the active Pueblos were closed to the public. They reserve March and April for private ceremonies and reflection. No matter; we still found a lot to see.

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