Thursday, July 09, 2009

Day 17 – Albuquerque: Sight for sore eyes

I’d like to stand up (actually sit UP since my foot still throbs) and place a vote for New Mexico as one of America’s hidden gems. It certainly lives up to its slogan and license plate tagline as the “Land of Enchantment.”
Being in this state of mind is certainly enchanting – from the majestic peaks that encircle Albuquerque to the clear waters of the many mountain lakes. Instead of desolation, the open space that accounts for most of the New Mexico terrain is inspiring.
The roads wind over canyons of volcanic rocks and forests; they pass by some of the best national wildlife refuges in the nation. And there is nary a speck of trash on the shoulders.
New Mexico has its share of national parks and monuments, telling a story of the inhabitants from centuries past – through petroglyphs drawn by Native Americans and the remnants of their dwellings. Modern history is found in the white sands of southern New Mexico where the atomic era was ushered into be.
Culturally, “New” “Mexico” embodies both of its names; it is undoubtedly the most Hispanic state among the American 50 without having the largest Spanish-speaking population. It has successfully blended the Hispanic and Native American influences into almost all factors – from its architecture to its music.
You can see it everywhere, especially when it comes to public art. It isn’t forced upon you; it appears as naturally as the clouds in the sky or the winds blowing through the canyons. Instead of the forced eyesores that dot the landscape of places like Frisco, the artistic renderings, especially in the largest city (Albuquerque), blend into the surroundings.
It also comes in the most unlikely places. Bus stops aren’t mere benches but thoughtful and pleasing places for waiting. Highway overpasses are not masses of concrete and fencing but a place for artistic expression of New Mexican heritage. Sound walls along the interstate become stone carving murals in eye-pleasing desert colors.
Even fast food restaurants and hospitals coordinate in gentle pastel sandstones.
Aside from Hawai’i and Oregon, this is one of the most beautiful states in America. Obviously, it has its share of commonly-held problems – unemployment, crime, poverty and a big problem with drunk driving fatalities (which has become a cause célèbre among the citizenry searching for some legislative answers).
But it is a state where you can have fun (skiing in Taos, horse racing in Ruidoso), festive celebrations (ballooning in Albuquerque), inspiration (the art of Georgia O’Keeffe in Santa Fe), exploration (searching through Carlsbad Caverns), advance your education (in Las Cruses and Albuquerque) or simply admire (everywhere you look).
Hopefully, Jodie and I will experience almost all of that tomorrow when we drive one hour north to Santa Fe. To paraphrase Billy Joel, we’ll be in a turquoise state of mind.
Here is a recommendation for dinner while in Albuquerque – the famed El Pinto in the northwest part of town. Reasonably priced, especially when compared to Tex-Mex joints in Dallas, the service was excellent, the ambience was relaxing and the food was outstanding.
Jodie found the pestole to be near perfect and the restaurant’s famous Hatch red chile sauce is worth bringing home by the jar.
And here was a nice twist: instead of serving flour or corn tortillas with the meal, El Pinto offers … soppapillas, piping hot and ready for either butter or honey to be poured inside.
Jodie said her house margarita was as strong as any she’s had in the DFW area; her happy disposition for the next few hours was testament to its quality – for just $6.50!
So when was the last time you made your significant other happy for only $6.50??? Beats the cost of jewelry or Godiva chocolate…
Until then … when we have completed the “Twins” celebrity tour of Santa Fe (Arnold was here???) … shalom!

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