We never planned to spend three days in Albuquerque. In fact, we aimed for a single day of exploring Santa Fe as we were driving across the country. But anyone living the RV life knows that breakdowns happen and you have to be willing to go with the flow.
All at once we had to replace axels and tires on the truck, and the entire slide-out mechanism on the trailer, which stranded us in Albuquerque for far longer than we wanted. Of course we made the most of this unintentional stop-over though.
Nestled at the foot of the beautiful Sandia Mountains, Albuquerque sits at just over a mile high elevation. It's is the largest city in New Mexico with just over a half million people. Another half million people live in the surrounding areas. Being stuck in the most culturally diverse city in the United States (according to the 2013 Census Bureau) we knew we had to fill our time diving into its history and what makes Albuquerque unique.
Indian Pueblo Cultural Center
Located in the heart of Albuquerque, the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center is a true gem to experience. Their mission statement is, "To preserve and perpetuate Pueblo culture and to advance understanding by presenting with dignity and respect, the accomplishments and evolving history of the Puebloan peoples of New Mexico." After visiting, I believe they have done an amazing job at preserving the Pueblo culture and telling their story.
Going in, we had very little knowledge of the Pueblo people, and realized it was important to visit here before heading off to hike the Petroglyph National Monument nearby.
There are 19 remaining Pueblo tribes today, each with their own government, traditions, and even language. They've been living in this region for hundreds and hundreds of years. What impresses me the most about the Puebloans of New Mexico is their resilience. They have survived three direct attacks to their way of life over the last 300+ years by the Mexicans, Spaniards, and the United States.
The museum is open 9am - 5pm every day, costs $8.40 for adults (senior and military discounts available), and takes about 2 hours to get through. We highly recommend it!
Petroglyph National Monument
The Petroglyph National Monument is one of the largest petroglyph sites in North America. Located on the west side of Albuquerque, it spans 17 miles and is home to roughly 24,000 images that were carved between 300-700 years ago by Pueblo, Apache, and Navajo people.
If you're like me and Nick, you might be asking yourself what's the difference between a petroglyph and a hieroglyphic. A simplified comparison is that petroglyphs are carvings in rock that convey a message. Hieroglyphics are pictures drawn onto rock that stand for certain sounds or ideas, essentially a language, and are less permanent than petroglyphs.
We stopped in at the Welcome Center first where the volunteer helped us decide which area of the Petroglyph National Monument to explore. We had a few awesome options with varying difficulty levels. Not much for long hikes, we decided to go to the Boca Negra Canyon just two miles down the road.
Boca Negra Canyon has three small areas to explore complete with restrooms, drinking water, and shade. With about 100 petroglyphs along the three trails it was perfect for us and didn't take more than 45 minutes or so.
We saw birds, and people, and spirals, and even 21st century graffiti (what's wrong with people?) carved into the volcanic basalt rocks.
It's free to visit Boca Negra Canyon, but they do charge a small parking fee of $1 on the weekdays and $2 on weekends.
National Museum of Nuclear Science & History
If you're into history of science and war, then this will be an interesting and fulfilling stop for you. To be honest, Nick and Ienjoyed the parts of the museum that showed how nuclear energy changed modern warfare and how it has altered the environment a lot more than we liked the parts about the history of nuclear development.
Toward the back of the museum they have exact replicas of Little Boy and Fatman, the two atomic bombs that the U.S. sent to Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945. I wasn't expecting them to be so small considering how much damage they did, killing around 200,000 people.
We felt the museum was tasteful in depicting the tragedies and abuses associated with the advent and usage of nuclear power, a definite must see if you're in Albuquerque.
We saved the nuclear museum for last which was a mistake because we ran out of time to see everything we wanted. Unfortunately we had to skip through most of the Cold War section. Visiting at the end of the day was also a mistake because we had to sit in Albuquerque rush hour traffic on interstate 40 to drive back west across the city, something to keep in mind if you're visiting.
And now, the lame:
Self-Guided Tour of Breaking Bad Filming Locations
This was hands down the cheesiest, most touristy thing I have ever done while traveling, and yet somehow we couldn't not do it. We drove around the city to various locations where they shot the show Breaking Bad. Excuse me while I hide my face in embarrassment.
We went to Gus' laundromat where Walt and Jesse cooked drugs in the basement. It was a uniform shop in real life, where real life people were loading up their real life cars to drive home from their real life jobs.
We drove by Jesse Pinkman's house, which was difficult to recognize, so we circled the block again to be sure. Apparently they've changed it quite a bit since filming. I'm sure they're tired of idiots like us driving by and taking pictures.
We also stopped into the place where Tuco had his business hide out, the one that Walt bombed in season 1 to prove he was the new bad ass in town. It's actually a coffee shop with a cool graffiti wall and delicious assortment of baked treats.
To be clear, I doubt we would have done this if we weren't stranded in Albuquerque looking for things to do. And even though we were grasping at straws for ways to spend our time, we refused to drive all the way to the other side of town to see Walts house or the A-1 Car Wash where they literally laundered their money.
For a full map of Breaking Bad locations to drive around and check out, Lonely Planet has a great resource.