New Mexico

Native American Chief at Gathering of Nations Indian powwow in Albuquerque New Mexico
© Mike Leco / USATourist

A Native American elder speaks at the Gathering of Nations, the largest Native American powwow in North America.

Albuquerque, New Mexico

Albuquerque (pronounced al-buh-kirk-ee) is the largest city in New Mexico. It is located along the Rio Grande River near the center of the state. Two major interstate highways neatly divide New Mexico into quadrants. Route 25 comes across its northern border from Colorado, wends its way through the north central mountains, then follows the Rio Grande Valley south to El Paso at the borders of Texas and Mexico. Route 40 bisects the state roughly following the path of old Route 66 from the Texas border on the east to the Arizona border on the west. These two major traffic arteries intersect in Albuquerque.

At the intersection of these two highways near downtown Albuquerque, the ramps and bridges are all painted in pastel hues of pink, tan and turquoise. The bridge abutments and retaining walls are artistically decorated with Indian designs. The very roads and civil constructions of this city are imbued with the essence of southwestern culture.

Located on a high plateau

The city sprawls across the wide shallow valley of the Rio Grande River nearly 5,000 feet (1,524 m.) above sea level. To the east, the Sandia Mountains form an imposing wall reaching high into the turquoise sky. On the horizon in every other direction, distant hills and mesas punctuate the vast upland plateau. On the western edge of the city, the Rio Grande River lies nearly hidden in its shallow channel at the foot of the low bluffs overlooking the city.

The climate at Albuquerque is surprisingly mild in all seasons. Although located in a near desert environment, it is spared from intense summer heat due to its higher elevation and spared from bitter winter cold due to its southern latitudes. It receives some rainfall in the summer and a spare amount of snow in the winter, but normally has clear blue skies on most days in any season.

Downtown Albuquerque, with its small cluster of new high-rise building, lies near the intersection of the two highways. Commercial buildings, shopping malls and hotels cluster along these major highways in all directions. The old town section of Albuquerque lies just a few blocks southwest of this crossing of roads.

San Felipe de Neri in Albuquerque New Mexico © Mike Leco / USATourist
The San Felipe de Neri is Albuquerque's oldest catholic parish. It was constructed in 1793 and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Restored old town district

About ten square blocks of the old town district have been carefully restored to its original Spanish colonial era atmosphere. Low adobe structures with protruding wooden Vigas and shaded promenades surround the main plaza which is dominated by the imposing adobe structure of the San Felipe de Neri church. Narrow passageways lead to shaded inner courtyards and hidden fountains. About 100 shops, restaurants and galleries are located in the area, with Native American crafts sold daily at an open-air market under the eastern portico of the main plaza.

There are several unique museums located in the old town area including the rattlesnake museum, the turquoise museum and the national atomic museum. If you intend to buy any turquoise jewelry, you should definitely go to the turquoise museum first, as you will get an education on the mining, manufacture and quality of turquoise gems. Albuquerque also offers a zoo, a biological park, an aquarium, a botanic garden a science center and a museum of natural history.

Indian Pueblo Cultural Center

The Indian Pueblo Cultural Center is located just a few blocks north of the old town district. It provides visitors with information about the history and culture of the Pueblo Indians and the other Native American tribes indigenous to this part of the USA. You can learn about the 19 ancient Indian Pueblos in New Mexico that are still inhabited by resident natives, and can find out how to visit them. The center offers many interpretive programs, including native dances by members of various tribes during summer weekends. The center has a store featuring Native American crafts manufactured in local villages, plus an outdoor market featuring foods and crafts sold by their native producers.

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Every April, the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque hosts the "Gathering of Nations", the largest Native American Indian powwow in North America. This weekend festival attracts as many as 2,000 Native American dancers, drummers and singers from numerous tribes. It also attracts tens of thousands of Native American spectators, but everyone is welcome to attend.

In October, Albuquerque hosts an annual International Balloon Fiesta. This colorful nine-day event attracts hundreds of balloons and features some spectacular mass ascensions. The geological features around the city create near perfect conditions for ballooning with winds that radically change directions at increased altitudes.

Nearby attractions

Other nearby attractions includes the Petroglyph National Monument on the western outskirts of the city. It contains thousands of ancient and not-so-ancient Native American rock carvings and paintings. A few miles to the north of downtown, the Sandia Peak Arial Tramway can take you on a 2.7-mile (4,5 km) climb to the top of this 10,378 feet (2.343 m) high peak. If you enjoy driving, there are several scenic routes through the eastern mountains including the beautiful Turquoise Trail that passes through alpine meadows, evergreen forests and even a few ghost towns.

Acoma Pueblo west of Albuquerque New Mexico © Mike Leco / USATourist
Acoma Pueblo is a beautiful Indian village located high atop a mesa overlooking the vast prairie. It has been continuously inhabited for nearly a thousand years.

Heading west from Albuquerque, you can see historic old Route 66 running parallel to the main highway. You can even get off the Interstate and drive it for a few miles. About an hour and a half west is Acoma Pueblo, also known as "Sky Pueblo". This beautiful Indian village is located high atop a mesa overlooking the vast prairie. It has been continuously inhabited for nearly a thousand years. It is open for guided visitation daily. There are several other pueblos that you can visit within an hour drive from Albuquerque.

An hour and a half drive north is Santa Fe, the capitol city of New Mexico. It is a beautiful old city with adobe architecture and rich Spanish colonial culture. It is also an upscale ski resort and artist's community with a fabulous array of fine restaurants, craft shops, boutiques and art galleries.

Getting there

Albuquerque Sunport International Airport is located just a few miles south of downtown along route 25. There are busses, shuttles and taxis that will take you anywhere in town for very modest prices. Amtrak, the national passenger rail service, operates its Southwest Chief Line from Los Angeles to Chicago with a stop in Albuquerque.


There are plenty of nice accommodations in Albuquerque at very affordable prices. Most of the hotels are located along route 25 and route 40 with a large concentration of budget to moderate priced hotels near the airport. There are hotels in all price ranges near downtown and in the vicinity of the crossing of route 25 with route 40.

Written by: Mike Leco
Top Photo Credit: © / ACVB
Photo Description: Skyline of Albuquerque, New Mexico