Natural Albuquerque: The Rio Grande Nature Center

Natural Albuquerque: The Rio Grande Nature Center



Rio Grande Nature Center
It’s funny how, even in urban areas, nature makes a stand if you give her half a chance. Sometimes she’s a little too pushy, of course, if you count earthquakes and hurricanes – or termites –  those times she lets you know who’s really boss. Sometimes she nudges you lightly with a sparkle in her eye, when a hawk decides to nest on the upper floors of a Manhattan apartment building. I’m thinking, however, of those graceful places and moments where the natural and the cultural coexist with intention. At the end of Candelaria Street in Albuquerque, where the road ends abruptly in the cottonwood trees along the Rio Grande, there is such a place: the Rio Grande Nature Center.
The Rio Grande neatly bisects the state of New Mexico from north to south, entering the state with vigor not far from its headwaters in the San Juan Mountains of Colorado, and exiting at the southern border as a desert-bound river near El Paso, Texas, where it turns in an easterly direction, on its long way to the warm sandy waters of the Gulf of Mexico. The northern stretch of the river is hemmed in with rocky canyons over most of its length – the Rio Arriba, or upper river, of the Spanish – but just southwest of Santa Fe the river leaves its confines near the Pueblo of Cochiti and takes up a more sedate course through the rest of the state.

A path through the bosque of the Rio Grande

Most of New Mexico enjoys a semi-arid climate, and a great deal of the central and southern part of the state is downright arid – as in qualifying as true desert, where less than 10 inches of rain will fall in a year. The Rio Grande flows year-round even in the driest times, however, and its narrow floodplain supports a unique ribbon of deciduous forest throughout the central part of New Mexico. It’s called the bosque – a Spanish word for woodlands – and interestingly, the place it is best developed – and most accessible – is right in the middle of our largest city, Albuquerque. Walking and biking trails run for miles through the leafy cottonwoods of the bosque throughout the city; the Albuquerque zoo takes advantage of its pleasant shade; and at the end of Candelaria Street the city has created a park to celebrate its little Nile: the Rio Grande Nature Center.
Ponds in the floodplain attract waterfowl of all kinds, and there is a very pleasant room, perched on the edge of one pond, with floor to ceiling windows, sofas and chairs, a little library, and a view into a sea of birds and turtles:
Viewing room at the Rio Grande Nature Center

The viewing room at the Rio Grande Nature Center

Hidden microphones pipe the cacophony of peevish waterbirds right inside. Here culture and nature truly intersect, as you sit back in the comfort of a sofa and listen to avid birders point out the distinctive markings of the female wood duck – yes, that little brown one that has just pushed all the other birds off the feeder.
There are some good interpretive displays inside the nature center, as well as a sweet little bookstore and a children’s activity room.  Outside there is a network of trails under the cottonwoods of the bosque, with access to the banks of the Rio Grande and series of small gardens of native plants. Concrete walls with strategically placed holes form blinds for viewing ducks, geese, snipe, cranes, and other waterfowl at the edge of the ponds. There are excellent views of the Sandia Mountains to the northeast.

Interpretive displays inside the Rio Grande Nature Center

It’s funny: in spite of hiking all around the Southwest, some of my most fascinating animal sightings have been right here in the heart of Albuquerque. I’m thinking of enormous porcupines perched in the upper branches of the forest canopy, nesting owls, a roadrunner with a lizard squirming in its beak, and – best of all – a pair of bald eagles feasting on a fish on a sandy island in the river. So if you can tear yourself away from the historical delights of Santa Fe for part of a day, or if you have a few hours to kill in Albuquerque, waiting for your flight, consider a walk along the Rio Grande under the cottonwood trees. Keep your eye peeled for porcupines. And hey, it’s Albuquerque, so you can hit a Satellite Coffee or the Flying Star Cafe minutes later!
The Sandia crest seen from the Rio Grande Nature Center

The Sandia crest seen from the Rio Grande Nature Center

Inn on the Alameda, That Enchanting Small Hotel in Old Santa Fe, proudly presents all historical blog posts written by Joe & Michael Schepps. Read about the authors here.

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Joe & Mike’s Blog: Up, Up and Away in My Beautiful Balloon

One of New Mexico’s signature sights is hundreds of hot air balloons “flying” over Albuquerque – their many shapes, patterns and colors contrasting against the vast blue canvas of the sky and the rich earthen colors of the ground below. New Mexico is home to the largest balloon festival in the world: The Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta. The Fiesta is an occasion to welcome hundreds of balloonists from all over the world, providing an opportunity for both visitors and locals alike to experience the surreal beauty of the balloons in the New Mexico sky.


Pretty Balloons

If it were not for the pioneering spirit of Albuquerque balloon legends Ben Abruzzo, Maxie Anderson and Larry Newman, it is doubtful that the Balloon Fiesta would have become such an internationally recognized and celebrated event. These men were the first to cross the Atlantic and Pacific oceans in hot air balloons – the famous Double Eagle II and V in 1978 and 1981.



Dating from the promotional efforts of ballooning pioneers like Sid Cutter in the 1970s, the Fiesta soon became a pivotal location for the burgeoning modern balloonist culture. Traditions such as the lighted Dawn Patrol (glowing balloons going up while still dark to scout the wind conditions for the other fliers), the mass ascension and the flight of playfully shaped balloons became an integral part of the culture.


There is so much to do, but be sure to see the Mass Ascension, usually scheduled for 7 a.m. when the winds are calm. Once the lead balloon with an American flag launches, balloon traffic referees in zebra striped shirts coordinate the launching of the hundreds of colorful balloons, creating one of the world’s most amazing aviation events. Another astonishing event is the Balloon Glow, when at night all the balloonists fire their burners simultaneously, creating a spectacular explosion (well, hopefully not) of shapes and hue. Following the Balloon Glow, a massive fireworks display continues the excitement and entertainment.



The entertainment and excitement of the Fiesta are also caused by the balloonist competition – an important part of the Fiesta culture. The earliest iterations featured “Coyote and Roadrunner” chases where a balloon decked out with an image of the familiar character attempted to evade balloons painted as its antagonist. This has become a far more regulated set of events and aerial competitions and races can make for exciting viewing.


One of the reasons for the Fiesta’s success comes from the meteorological phenomenon known as the “Albuquerque Box,” a set of wind patterns that occur when the weather is “just right.”


“Albuquerque’s location is crucial to even the possibility of the Box forming. The city sits in the Rio Grande Valley between the Sandia Mountains and the West Mesa. The Albuquerque Box is ‘essentially a valley wind pattern that develops under certain stable conditions.’ Temperature, wind and moisture all factor into creating this unique weather situation. Temperature is important because cooler air is more dense than warm air and the air that is more dense sinks below the less dense air…When the Albuquerque Box is working, tourists can then stay in one spot and watch the balloon launch, drift away, then drift back and land all from the same location.” -Allison Smith from Meteorologist’s Jeff Haby’s website.




The Inn on the Alameda offers an excellent experience for guests interested in the Balloon Fiesta. Feel free to call on our knowledgeable staff to help ensure first-rate viewing and even the possibility of ascending to truly experience the Fiesta like no other. No one should miss the sight of the balloons, which is one of the unique New Mexico elements that truly make this the Land of Enchantment. And be sure to stop at the Agoyo Lounge for a drink and dinner and a special toast to one of the world’s most spectacular events.

Santa Fe Red Reporting for New Mexico Elections

Engaging and educational! That’s what I would call a sudden opportunity to help cover the midterm elections for Albuquerque Public Radio, KANW-FM. Although I’ve been a conscientious voter since I first registered, this was the first time I’ve had any active participation in the backside of the process, and it was truly interesting to find out what I didn’t know, namely, what actually happens after votes are cast and who is involved in the process. I was sent by KANW, the Albuquerque Public Schools radio station, to the Albuquerque City Council Chambers to monitor the precinct counts as they were posted. A computer glitch held up the flow of information for a bit, frustrating both the County Clerk, who had a reputation to uphold, and those from the media and citizenry who wanted the early and absentee numbers as soon as they were available. I sat next to the county IT specialist who patiently went from monitor to hard-drive repeatedly until he was able to repair the web link; I’m sure he went home feeling he had done his job! The Sheriff’s Department came back and forth escorting the precinct deliveries, which arrived every ten minutes or so until all 424 precincts were tallied. The county staff was arrayed at the city council’s horseshoe desk, and precinct reports moved swiftly from person to person, as the procedure for posting progressed. Despite the heavy reliance on technology, it was nonetheless touching to see that at the end of the line, the last staffer was calmly and patiently organizing the precinct reports disks numerically in a cardboard box, as humble and old-fashioned as that may seem.

TV reporters scurried in the background monitoring the reports from their stations and then going live with news as it broke. Local pols, easily identified by their impeccably monochromatic business suits, congregated together, stopping every quarter hour or so to stare at the big screen as the numbers updated. Interested citizens were few, but they were there too. Everything was conducted in a convivial and non-partisan atmosphere, which was encouraging to note.

Yours truly left close to midnight with seven precincts left to report, but with the critical races called and concession speeches and victory celebrations underway. As a Santa Fe local, I’ll look for opportunity closer to home next time, but this experience ensures that when the next election rolls around, I will be more knowledgeable and ready to be involved, beyond just casting my vote – and I wish the same for you!

Santa Fe Serves Up Restaurant Week

Great dining destinations deserve great deals once in a while…and New Mexico delivers with its first annual restaurant week! For two exciting weeks, Santa Fe and Albuquerque restaurants will be upping the ante in the kitchen while they’re dropping the price in the dining room to create deals that satisfy the palate and the wallet. If there was ever a time to visit New Mexico with our regional cuisine in mind, this is it! The brainchild of Michele Ostrove and Lucien Bonnafoux of Wings Media Network, this first annual culinary event kicks off on February 28 after only a few months of whirlwind planning.

Wine then dine!

Wine & Dine!

Santa Fe serves up this dining extravaganza first, for the seven days from 2/28 through 3/6, with prices ranging from two for $25, up to $40 per person.Years ago, the Inn on the Alameda decided on its opening to forego a hotel restaurant, so our well-fed staff is prepared to offer honest advice about any participating establishment, and guests of the Inn can tap into a prix fixe meal at the following restaurants after enjoying the Inn’s complimentary 4:00-5:00 pm wine hour.

Smart diners will recognize the $40 deal represented by the following fine dining options: The Inn of the Anasazi, Geronimo, Terra at Encantado, The Compound and Trattoria Nostrani.

A $25 per person charge applies for the broad swath of excellent choices at these restaurants: A La Mesa!, Amavi, Amaya at Hotel Santa Fe, Andiamo, Café Paris, Cowgirl BBQ, Dinner for Two, El Meson, Epazote, Fuego at La Posada, Galisteo Bistro, Joe’s, La Boca, La Casa Sena, La Plazuela at La Fonda, La Stazione in the Railyard, Luminaria at the Inn and Spa at Loretto, Milagro 139, The O’Keeffe Café, Osteria d’Assisi, Rio Chama, Ristra, San Francisco Street Bar and Grill, The Old House, Vanessie, and Vinaigrette.

And two can eat for only $25 per couple at these convivial spots: Blue Corn Café (both locations), Flying Star Café, Maria’s New Mexican Kitchen, Pranzo, Rooftop Pizzeria Sleeping Dog Tavern and the Zia Diner.

In addition to the plethora of affordable dining experiences, there will be a series of Santa Fe culinary events that allow food mavens to expand their knowledge and hone their skills. Classes range from perfecting the classic Caesar Salad to discovering the panoply of foods of the Americas to finding inspiration in the humble taco, all under the tutelage of Santa Fe’s kitchen masters.

On Sunday, 2/28/10 at 4:00pm, Petro Pertusini of Osteria d’Assisi offers the Art of Making a Caesar Salad. On Monday, 3/1/10, at 10:00am, Rocky Durham demonstrates Traditional New Mexico Cooking at the Santa Fe School of Cooking. Featured on Tuesday, 3/2/10, at 11:30am at Epazote, are Fernando Olea, Lois Ellen Frank and Walter Whitewater, who share an informative talk and three-course tasting of tacos and their origin. Ms. Frank and Mr. Whitewater return on Wednesday 3/3/10 at 10:00am at the Santa Fe School of Cooking to demonstrate Native American Cooking. The Wines of Italy are the focus of a talk that night by Lisa Anderson of National Distributing at 6:00pm at Osteria d’Assisi.

Wines return on Thursday, 3/4/10 at 5:00pm, when Walter Gallegos leads a tasting at Fuego! At La Posada. For beer lovers, also on Thursday the 4th , the Blue Corn Café and Brewery Southside hosts a brewery tour and tasting at 5:00pm. Friday events include an 11:30am Foods of the Americas tasting presented by Fernando Olea, Lois Ellen Frank and Walter Whitewater at Epazote, as well as an Old World vs. New World Wine tasting at La Casa Sena at 5:00pm, hosted by James Cook and Michael Gelb. This delicious week is capped on Saturday, 3/6/10 at 5:00 pm, with The Art of Making Cocktails, by Calvin Lathrop, the talented bartender at Osteria d’Assisi.

On March 7, the dining action shifts to Albuquerque until March 13, whetting the appetite with $25 per person and $25 couple options. The state’s largest city continues to expand its dining options and out-of-towners and New Mexicans alike can certainly find an excuse to head for the Duke City and discover who is in the kitchen!

$25 per person offerings can be found at these Albuquerque dining destinations: Artichoke Café, Brasserie La Provence, Casa Vieja, Chama River Brewing Company, Corn Maiden at Hyatt Tamaya, El Pinto, Pueblo Harvest Café, Lucia, McGrath’s Restaurant and Lounge, Pars Cuisine, Prairie Star, Savoy Bar & Grill, Scalo, Seasons Rotisserie and Grill, Slate Street Café, St. Clair Winery & Bistro, Trombino’s Bistro Italiano, ZEA Rotisserie and Grill, and Zinc Wine Bar. Two for $25 specials are available at these two spots: Flying Star Café Downtown and Sandiago’s Mexican Grill.

Albuquerque culinary events appear on three alternating days with a Tequila and Chile Presentation by Jim Garcia at El Pinto on Tuesday, 3/9/10 at 6:30pm, repeated on Thursday, 3/1//10 at the same hour. A Toast New Mexico Restaurant Week wine tasting takes place on Saturday, 3/14/10 at 4:00pm at St. Clair Winery & Bistro, presented by Kevin Jakel, the winery’s general manager.

Bring a big appetite and a small wallet and come celebrate this first for New Mexico! Bienvenidos!

Muy Sabrosa!

Muy Sabrosa!