ABQ and the Watermelon Mountains Apr20

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ABQ and the Watermelon Mountains

Our original plan was to continue east from Las Cruces out to Carlsbad to see the famous Carlsbad Caverns (2 nights), then up north through Roswell (1 night) and then be on our way north to Albuquerque. However, having been thoroughly amazed by Kartchner Caverns just a week before, we decided to skip that 300 mile arc and head on north straight up the I-25 to ABQ.

The Pueblo of Isleta is nestled in the scenic Rio Grande Valley, 15 miles south of downtown Albuquerque on Interstate 25. It is one of the larger 19 Pueblos within New Mexico, established in the 1300s, and it sports a Hard Rock Casino and an associated RV Park called Isleta Lakes RV Park.

Isleta Lakes RV Park

The view from across the lakes with the golf course and casino in the background

I wouldn’t say we were disappointed exactly, but the photos on the Internet were definitely from a greener time of year and they made ZERO mention of the commuter train that ran right by the entrance to the park. Obviously, ear plugs were a must, and oddly after 8 nights of horns and rumbling we easily slept through it all. Oh well, the sites were flat, we had all services, the seven lakes on the property were pretty and it was fun to ride our bikes all around.

Down the row at the end you can see the train zooming by

Down the row at the end you can see the train zooming by

After we got the RV all set up, we rolled the scooter off the rack and planned to head out to get a few groceries. The thing about the scooter is you can’t easily use your iPhone to get directions during the ride. Even for the passenger there’s the fear of dropping it, there are the gloved hands which make using it impossible, and there’s the loudness factor, which leads to yelling, which leads to wide open mouths in wind, which leads to ingesting bugs and spit flying in face. It was about a 20 minute ride to the nearest store and it was chilly that afternoon, so we bundled up a bit, memorized our directions, stuffed our 3 canvas bags into the seat trunk and were off.

We found the store, bought just enough to fill the seat and the top trunks, didn’t eat any bugs and made it back in an hour total. With all our chores done it was time to tour the lakes on our bikes.

Biking the park, RV spots in the distance

Biking the park, RV spots in the distance

Really nice facilities for fishing in the lakes

Really nice facilities for fishing in the lakes

Dirt trails meandered through and around all the lakes

Dirt trails meandered through and around all the lakes

For our first full day in Albuquerque the plan was to see Old Town in the morning, grab some lunch at a restaurant and ride our bikes along the miles and miles of paths that follow the Rio Grande River through town in the afternoon. We walked for a couple hours through the old town area, stopping at the museum to see the outdoor sculpture garden and popping into all of the art galleries/stores that surround the square. Old town was pretty crowded since it’s a very touristy thing to do, but there was some interesting art and if it’s a pretty day why not?

Ali kissing the man's chin

Ali kissing the man’s chin

Stretching

Stretching

Contemplation

Contemplation

Our restaurant choice for lunch wasn’t the best, though we did stick to our rule of no chain restaurants. It was a fairly new place in town, with good Mexican food, not great, just good, and the highlight of the meal was the margaritas of course.

Mine was the Coco Rita with toasted coconut on the rim and Ali's was the Prickly Pear Rita, watermelon candy on the rim.

Mine was the Coco Rita with toasted coconut on the rim and Ali’s was the Prickly Pear Rita, watermelon candy on the rim. So pretty!

We shared a plate of 3 tacos, but the damn chips and salsa are my nemesis! That and the margarita made for an interesting bike ride that afternoon. We don’t have any pictures from the adventure, but suffice to say the first hour out was challenging in terms of balance and intestinal fortitude. The trail was paved and wide with two lanes (plenty of room for people to pass the 2 weaving, burping girls) and I would recommend it to anyone visiting the area.

Home again to catch the moon rise over the casino

Home again to catch the moon rise over the casino

On day two we slept in a bit after having a second rough night with the train. We were able to have a lazy morning at the RV and eat lunch before we left, since the plan for the day was to hike in Petroglyph National Monument for a couple hours, then head over to the Sandia Peak Tramway to try to catch a sunset from the top.

Petroglyph National Monument protects one of the largest petroglyph sites in North America, featuring designs and symbols carved onto volcanic rocks by Native Americans and Spanish settlers 400 to 700 years ago. We hiked the Rinconada Canyon through deep loose sand along the remnants of volcanic eruptions that happened over 200,000 years ago.

This is a view of the trail that follows the volcanic rock in an arc.

This is a view of the trail that follows the volcanic rock in an arc.

Supposedly there are over 1,200 petroglyphs along this trail, but it was pretty hard to spot them. We were feeling like big fat losers when a man and his son met us on the trail and after a hello asked us, “Hey, I don’t mean to seem stupid or anything, but are you guys seeing many petroglyphs?” AHA! Either we were not alone in our loser-ness or these things actually WERE that hard to find. Either way we felt better. They were so rare, we photographed everyone we spotted – here’s all 13 of them.

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We had a long discussion about what WE thought the petroglyphs were all about. In the park brochure it described how the Pueblo elders hold that the petroglyphs are deeply spiritual and that they choose when and to whom they reveal themselves. We thought they could have definitely been specific communications, sign posts so to speak like – good place to hunt birds, beware of snakes, or I saw a tiny penguin-shaped man go through here. Or what’s to say they weren’t chiseled out by punky teenage Puebloans, who were just tired of picking corn and hauling water and needed an outlet.

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It is always remarkable to be among things that are so old and to try to imagine yourselves in that history, but 2 hours of trudging through deep loose sand is super tiring and hard on the trick knee. It was just turning 5pm when we were leaving the park, the ranger was closing the gate behind us, and it was getting more and more cloudy. Since sunset was still a couple hours away and the hazy sky wasn’t a very positive sign that it would be a good one, we decided to head on over to the Sandia Peak Tramway and just do it.

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Sandia Peak is at 10,300 feet accessible by an insane hike or via a 2.7 mile, 15 minute ride in a square car that dangles from a cable 1,000 feet over the ground. Clearly we opted for the tram ride! The mountain was named for the pinkish color of it’s rock – “sandia” means watermelon in Spanish.

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The ride up was really fun, the views are incredible of both the mountain side and the distant city. Our tramcar guide pointed out the significant rock formations along the way up and told us all about the history of the tram, its cost, its construction, the 300 or so helicopter trips required just to build the one tower. The ticket was $20 and the experience was well worth it.

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At the top is a little museum, lots of decking to enjoy the view and a restaurant called High Finance. The temperature drops by about 30 degrees at the top and the wind gusts between 35 and 55 miles per hour so it wasn’t long before a hot drink in the bar started to sound really awesome. Unfortunately, they have a policy of checking the ID/age of everyone who orders a cocktail and Allison had left her little purse in the car. BOO!

Nearing the top

Nearing the top

No hot drink, so sad!

No hot drink, so sad!