Flying High in the Albuquerque Skies


MANY TOURIST DESTINATIONS tease with promises to “get away from it all.” One in the US goes a step further. Albuquerque, NM, offers opportunities to “get above” much of it, thanks to mountainous trails, a memorable aerial tramway and world-renowned hot air ballooning.

After spending a few days there, I’d dare suggest an “elevated” slogan that won’t likely gain traction. Still, “The City for Ultimate ‘Soarness’,” works for me. (OK, I won’t quit my day job.)

I’m thinking New Mexicans–whose state was admitted to the union in 1912–are far too modest. Officially, it’s the “Land of Enchantment,” and tourism leaders in Albuquerque claim “It’s a Trip.” Six million tourists pumping $2 billion annually into the city’s economy can’t be wrong. Yep, “soarness” there is big and getting bigger.


   Multiple reasons for “soarness” go way back. God’s handiwork in topography set things up, and the rich talent of this region’s people has added much. Today, there’s a modern “new” Albuquerque, but snuggling alongside is its historic district, “Old Town.” The strong partnership in one of the world’s most unique cities suggests strong commitment to cultural preservation–pride in what was, what is and what will be. Heart, spirit, mind and soul reach for “ultimate ‘soarness’” in Albuquerque, all year long.

Two additions in the past half century are noteworthy. The storied Sandia Peak Aerial Tramway in 1966 was an immediate delight–and still is. Six years later in 1972, Radio Station KOB celebrated its 50th anniversary with Albuquerque’s first Hot Air Balloon Festival. Now the largest in the world, it draws global attention during its annual nine-day run each October. In the beginning, a handful of balloonists and small crowds showed up. Now, the spectacle is limited to 600 balloons–in various shapes, sizes and colors, many of them “game” for multiple competitions.

It is not uncommon for 100,000 visitors to gather for a single launch. Last year, the event attracted 850,000 people, and many visitors watch ballooning there throughout the year.


   “Old Town” is simply a “must.” Arts and crafts–all preserving Native American, Hispanic and Spanish cultures–abound in dozens of shops, with a myriad of turquoise and silver jewelry–as well as pottery and leather goods–on sidewalk display.

Locals, redefining “friendly,” cheerfully suggest restaurants they like. And, doesn’t that make visitors feel more like insiders?

Menus typically feature Hatch chilis, guacamole, and other staples in recipes, some centuries old. Waitpersons help to “dial in” red or green chilis to achieve desired temperatures. Yep, culinary “heat” soars, too, in the state that introduced Smokey the Bear.



Lobby of the Nativo Hotel
Lobby of the Nativo Hotel

Art of the Southwest impresses. It is promoted in many ways, including initiatives by individuals, institutions and corporate groups. At Nativo Lodge–and other Heritage Hotels and Resorts–the rich, multicultural heritage draws from a blend of the region’s cultures for guests’ enjoyment–even amazement.

An authentic Native American drum–perhaps 10 feet in diameter–dominated our hotel lobby.

We would understand it better a day later.


   Sunday brought two distinctive religious experiences.

One occurred early on. A Native American chanted quietly, slowly beating the aforementioned drum. The man–perhaps a guest?–was at worship. It was authentic; there was no commercial aspect. Then in Old Town, we visited the beautiful San Felipe de Neri Church, built in 1793. Church bells called worshipers to morning mass, and the robed padre bade welcome at the door.

Breathtaken by all the adobe structures with thick walls to withstand the ravages of centuries, we wished they could talk. They’d have much to say.


   It’s easily understood why more than half of New Mexico’s two million residents live in greater Albuquerque.

They love the sunrises and sunsets for which the state is known. Also loved are tandem efforts to be progressive in what is “new” without disregarding what is “old.”

We visited Roswell–my wife’s birthplace, where ongoing conversations about aliens include predictions that the area may soon lead the world in pecan harvests. We vowed to visit Carlsbad Caverns one day soon, a “wow” experience in childhood. And, the capitol city of Santa Fe beckons from this enchanted land where more wonders await.


   More information available at Dr. Newbury is a speaker in the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex. Speaking inquiries/comments to: Phone: 817-447-3872. Web site: Columns archived at, newbury blog.

Don Newbury is the author of When the Porch Light’s On.



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