Get Ready to Rally in Albuquerque, New Mexico

January 2, 2009
Filed under Destinations

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1909729_alburquerque_old-_town_church.jpgThe Rally, the largest RV event in the country, is a time to renew old ties, live new experiences and gain richer knowledge of the RV lifestyle. Hosted annually by MotorHome’s parent company, Affinity Media, The Rally is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year by touching down in Albuquerque, New Mexico – a beautiful, scenic location that is rich in culture and history.

New Mexico is often called the Land of Enchantment, and Albuquerque is arguably the heart of the state. Of course, the best way to explore the heart is to start at the beginning: Albuquerque’s Old Town. No trip to Albuquerque would be complete without paying a visit to Old Town, settled in 1706 near the banks of the Rio Grande. The San Felipe de Neri Catholic church, built in 1793, is the oldest surviving building in Albuquerque. Distinctive, territorial-style architecture is evident in many of the authentic adobes around the plaza – some almost 300 years old. More than 150 boutiques, art galleries and souvenir stores entice serious shoppers and casual browsers alike. If you’re looking for more authentic, one-of-a-kind merchandise, check out the multicultural artists who have continued a long-standing tradition of selling their own crafts at the east end of the plaza.

Cultural immersion is easy at the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center, the official interpretive center for the 19 Indian Pueblos of New Mexico. Each weekend Native American dancers perform in the plaza. The upscale gift shop features authentic handcrafted jewelry, pottery, baskets and flutes. Whether you are a long-time admirer of handmade Indian pottery or wonder what the fuss is about, you’ll have a better appreciation after watching the Center’s short movie about Maria Martinez. The film shows the famous potter of San Ildefonso Pueblo collecting desert sand, making clay, shaping and decorating pots, and firing them. The seemingly crude firing method – using scrap metal, cedar kindling and dried cow chips – actually allows for better control than today’s modern kilns. This woman’s talent impressed everyone, particularly the four U.S. presidents who invited her to the White House.

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When you are ready to switch gears, cruise by the National Atomic Museum. The museum is getting a new name – the National Museum of Nuclear Science and History – and a new home, as it moves to a new, 30,000-square-foot facility this April, just in time to fascinate science and history buffs attending The Rally. A stroll through the facility educates visitors about the atom’s role in medicine, energy, war and peace. A Trident I fleet ballistic missile on display looms large at 34 feet long. When you think about it being launched from a 540-foot Ohio-class submarine, it’s mind-boggling.

Additional exhibits explore the contributions of Albert Einstein, Marie Curie and other pioneers of science. Little Al’s Lab offers interactive activities for inquiring young minds.

If you have the grand kids along, then you must visit the New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science, which traces the state’s roots back 12 billion years to the Paleozoic period – before dinosaurs roamed the planet. The youngsters are sure to thrill at this chance to indulge their dinosaur-mania. Two life-sized New Mexico dinosaurs cast in bronze, “Spike” the Pentaceratops and “Alberta” the Albertosaurus, greet visitors outside the museum’s entrance.

Fast forward from when dinosaurs left tracks on Earth to when the Rover left tracks on Mars for those of you who prefer to explore the final frontier. Dr. Larry Crumpler, research curator at the museum, was selected as one of 23 scientists to work on the Mars Exploration Rover Mission. The finely detailed Rover replica is displayed in the museum’s planetarium, and is sure to inspire many a dreamer to reach for the stars.

Speaking of reaching to the heavens, Albuquerque is rather well known for inspiring flights of fancy – balloon fancy, that is. The city is often referred to as the “Hot-Air Ballooning Capital of the World” because of its unique weather patterns.

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The influence of ballooning on the city is ever present, but never more so than in October when visitors from all over the world come to the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta, the world’s largest hot-air ballooning event. For those who are interested in the art, culture, science and history of ballooning, the Anderson-Abruzzo International Balloon Museum features more than 50 gondolas, some with balloons. Many of the gondolas set records, such as the Double Eagle V, the first to cross the Pacific in 1981. Others have historic significance, like the World War I observation balloon.

All of this might just inspire you to take a balloon ride of your own, and why not? Several companies offer year-round balloon rides. Many of them will pick you up for no extra charge, so you can leave the motorhome safely back at the RV park.

If you do decide, however, to take the dinghy out and about, plan to stop at the 26th Gathering of Nations Powwow. All are welcome, and more than 3,000 Native Americans from 500 tribes in the U.S. and Canada meet for the gathering each year. The powwow features native foods, ceremonial dances, dance and drum competitions, the Miss Indian World pageant, and the works of more than 800 artists on display and for sale at the Indian Traders Market. This year, the powwow meets from April 23 to 25, and will be held at the University of New Mexico Arena.

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Ever since Indian gaming was approved in 1988, New Mexico’s casinos have flourished. Five of the state’s 25 casinos are in the Albuquerque area. Two of the best are the Sandia and Isleta casinos. Both are complete resorts with large Las Vegas-style casinos, golf courses, spas and entertainment. If you’re feeling a little bit lucky, then be sure to squeeze in a short afternoon detour. If you’d like to visit longer, the Isleta Casino also has an RV park with 50 full-hookup sites, and if gambling isn’t your thing, cast a line into one of the on-site, seasonally stocked lakes, where you can try your hand at catching rainbow trout or channel catfish.

For those of you who love the great outdoors, the La Luz Trail will offer a challenge. Take the 2.7-mile Sandia Peak Tramway – the world’s longest aerial tramway – to the observation deck atop 10,378-foot Sandia Peak, where you’ll see the city of Albuquerque laid out in the Rio Grande Valley. Then, if you’re energetic and have sturdy knees, hike back down the trail, but be warned: This popular trail drops 3,775 feet over 8 miles. Be sure to check out the weather and trail conditions before you set out. 

If a less strenuous hike is more your style, the Rio Grande Nature Center has a selection of blissfully flat trails, and there are several other hikes of varying lengths in nearby Petroglyph National Monument. The park’s estimated 20,000 carved images will ensure a unique hiking experience.

You’ll want to be sure to bring along your bicycles when you pack up the motorhome, as Albuquerque was named 2006′s “third-best place to bike in the U.S.” by Bicycling magazine. And a bicycle offers an excellent means of alternative transportation, especially when camping. Luckily you’ll never run out of scenery to enjoy while you pedal. The 15-mile Paseo del Bosque trail offers an easy ride though the forested area along the Rio Grande.

Golf courses and wineries seem to go together naturally, and New Mexico is no exception. In fact, the oldest wine-producing region in the U.S. isn’t Napa or Sonoma valleys, it’s New Mexico. In the early 1500s, the first Spanish settlers planted their European grapes in the fertile Rio Grande Valley. Today there are around 20 wineries in the state, including those in or near Albuquerque.

Last but not least, live theater is thriving in Albuquerque, with the Albuquerque Little Theatre, which maintains a full schedule throughout the year. Take a break from The Rally to catch a show; if you have the kids with you, treat them to a showing of “The Three Señorita Pigletitas Y el Diablo the Wolf.” This enchanting retelling of a classic fairy tale runs April 17 to May 3.

With all there is to see and do, you may want to plan an extra-long stay this year when The Rally comes to Albuquerque.

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