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Getting Quirky in Albuquerque

Updated: Sep 21, 2023

For my entire life, I have narrowly viewed New Mexico as simply a through point on the way to the greener pastures of mountainous Colorado.

However on my latest road trip to Durango, in true wanderlust spirit, I decided to spend 18 hours in Albuquerque to investigate the zeitgeist of this southwestern gem located only an 11-hour drive from Austin.

Needless to say, after such a long drive from Texas, I was exhausted by the time I arrived.

I had booked a hotel in the University neighborhood, which surrounds the campus of The University of New Mexico, and my only agenda for the evening was to find dinner and get a good night's rest so that I could explore Albuquerque the next morning.

Luckily, 66 Diner, a highly-recommended eatery, was within walking distance of my hotel.

Located on Route 66 itself, 66 Diner offers "authentic '50s food and fun," according to its website.

As I walked inside the establishment, 66 Diner reminded me of a New Mexican Johnny Rocket's replete with Elvis memorabilia and soda fountain counter seating.

Yearning for the true local experience, I ordered a a half order of the famous New Mexican "Pile-up," also known as a "Fender Bender."

According to the 66 Diner website, a Pile-up is:

"Our Trademark! A pile of pan fried potatoes, chopped bacon, chopped green chile, two eggs any style, cheddar cheese & red or green chile sauce on top."

For my Fender Bender, I ordered both red and green chile sauce (an expert move recommended by the friendly staff) and my egg sunny side up.

A massive burrito-sized flour tortilla accompanies the calorific dish, which I imagined might be a lumberjack on death row's last meal selection.

As hungry as I was after an 11-hour excursion, I could only eat half of my heaping Half Pile-Up - those potatoes really fill you up!

Happily sated, I feel fast asleep dreaming of New Mexican green chiles.

The next morning, I awoke refreshed and ready to see the local sights.

Since I was in the University area, I walked a few blocks in the refreshing 68 degree forenoon climate to The University of New Mexico.

Located in the heart of Central campus lies the UNM Duck Pond, where both students and ducks congregated at the start of their early semester day.

The Sandia Mountains provide a pleasant backdrop to New Mexico's flagship institution of higher education, carefully overlooking the campus like a stern proctor monitoring her class of test-taking students.

While I am partial to the Forty Acres of the University of Texas, my alma mater, The University of New Mexico's campus of rolling hills winding through stucco pueblo-style buildings admirably reflected the state's southwestern vibe.

The next stop on my city tour was the Old Town area, located a few miles west of both campus and downtown.

Extending for several blocks in each direction from the centrally-located Old Town Plaza, this nationally designated historic site founded in 1706 is home to more than 150 independent restaurants and boutiques.

Across from the square, you can find the over 300-year-old San Felipe De Neri church, the oldest operating church in Albuquerque.

If you are in the mood for a nibble, locals adore the Church Street Cafe, striking distance from the shady, gazebo-lined plaza.

You can also take a trolley tour and other sight-seeing adventures from the tourist information office in the immediate vicinity of Old Town Plaza.

Having now fully digested last evening's gargantuan meal and ready for more New Mexico chile flavor, I headed to the northeast part of the city to visit Blake's Lotaburger.

With over seventy locations located across New Mexico, Blake's Lotaburger is New Mexico's equivalent to In N' Out Burger except with a much larger menu including not only burgers and hot dogs but also breakfast burritos and chili.

I ordered the LOTA Burger New Mexico Style, a double patty burger with cheese, lettuce, tomato, onion and - of course - New Mexico red and green chiles.

The burger reminded me of In N' Out's Double Double except the Lota Burger New Mexico Style had substantial heat from the additional chiles, which I enjoyed. Definitely make sure you have copious amounts of water to wash down the fire in your mouth.

My final stop of the day before I headed northward to Colorado's Four Corners region was Albuquerque's world famous Sandia Peak Aerial Tramway.

Completed in 1966 and designed and manufactured in Switzerland, the Sandia Peak trams leave every 15-25 minutes.

The tram ride takes about 15 minutes as it navigates its 2.7 mile journey up the Sandia Peak, traversing approximately 4,000 feet of elevation and arriving at the peak of 10,378 feet.

I plan on writing an entire article on the Sandia Peak Aerial Tramway experience; however, you can watch the video of my excursion on TikTok here.

I would recommend allocating at least two hours for this can't miss activity.

For you gamblers and golfers, the Sandia Resort and Casino is in the immediate vicinity of the tram.

As I got back into my car, I reflected on my short but fruitful time in Albuquerque with a smile on my face.

Whatever you choose to do during your short stay in the Albuquerque area, you will not be disappointed.

For more of my travel articles, please check out the Travel and Current Events section of my website here.

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