cactusflowerOne of the great things about Albuquerque, New Mexico, is its central location. Book a (very affordable) room in Albuquerque and you can make easy day trips to enjoy the artist community of Santa Fe, hike in the desert, bike in the mountains and learn about Native American culture.

Santa Fe

The New Mexico Rail Runner Express is an Albuquerque commuter train that has recently been extended to Santa Fe. For just $9 round trip, you can spend the night in Albuquerque and the day in Santa Fe. Once you arrive in Santa Fe, there is bus service to several locations around town Monday-Saturday and service to the ski areas of Taos on the weekends. Keep your train ticket and show it to get discounts at several shops along the route. Buy your tickets online and save a buck. Kids under 10 ride free.

Petroglyphs

Petroglyph National Monument, just outside of Albuquerque, has more than 3,000 petroglyphs carved into the volcanic rock by the ancient peoples who once lived there. There are three paved trails in this area, which make it relatively easy to get up close and personal with the ancient rock carvings. A viewing area for physically challenged visitor who can’t manage the pathways is nearing completion.

The petroglyph images are carved on lava that has hardened into basalt, we learned from the park ranger who met us during our press visit to the site. Most, but not all, of the carvings were made before 1650. Some were made in the last few years as visitors to the site found they couldn’t resist adding their own images to the rocks. It’s sad enough to see that kind of graffiti on a wall. To see it on a spiritual landscape that still is important to the Pueblo people is simply tragic. It’s little wonder Native Americans don’t trust us to take a photograph or visit their most sacred sites.

nativeamericanmuseumStop at the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center in Albuquerque before venturing out to a Pueblo site. It will give your kids the history and understanding they need to treat tribal lands and customs with respect.

Jemez Springs

This tiny town is about an hour northwest of Albuquerque in the Jemez Mountains. You can make it a day trip, but consider an overnight trip, particularly if you’re traveling without the kids and want a romantic stay or a girlfriends getaway. If that’s the case, there are two charming inns right next door to one another– the Inn @ 6300 (thye 6300 refers to the elevation) and Canyon Del Rio, which has just added a day spa. Both spots are perfect for relaxing and reconnecting with loved ones.

Drive about 20 minutes beyond Jemez (pronounced hay-mess) Springs to the Gilman Tunnels for a photograph of the raging waterfall. Or visit Soda Dam for a photo op or dip in the river. If the water’s too cold, head to one of the natural hot springs.

When you’re in town, take the kids to the Jemez State Monument to learn about the Towa Pueblo people, one of 19 Pueblos in New Mexico, and tour the ruins of the Spanish-built church. It’s a short paved path easily accessible to wheelchairs and strollers. Able-bodied visitors can climb down in the kiva, an underground room used for Pueblo religious ceremonies. No photos are allowed inside the kiva, but it’s a rare treat for non-tribal members to be allowed inside. Pick up a self-guided tour book so you can learn about each excavated building. The site was unearthed in the 1900s, at least partly through the work of the Depression-era CCC, or Civilian Conservation Corps.

Red Rock Canyon

This geological wonder made me think we had gone too far and crossed over into Arizona and the red rock landscape near Sedona. The red rocks and iron-laden sand here include an easy 1.5-mile hike. Stop first at the Walatowa Village Visitor Center to learn about the Jemez Pueblo (pueblo translates to “village” and a pueblo in New Mexico refers to the village of people who lived and worked together in one area). The visitor center is chock full of information but, unfortunately, is not interactive enough to capture the attention of kids.

paultasoThe hiking trail was laid within the last year or two and it’s in great shape. There were only a few spots that might have proven challenging to a visitor who is a little unsteady on his feet.

On your way out, stop at one of the six booths where Pueblo women sell their wares. They only get one day a month in the booth, so spend a little money. Besides, the fry bread we bought was well worth the three bucks we spent.

Sandia Mountains

Take the tram to the top of the mountain for breathtaking views and maybe dinner. Or just take a hike on one of the trails that lead up into the mountains. If you’re really adventurous (and can still breath at elevations of 8,500 feet or more), it’s possible to hike to the top of the mountain and over to the tram stop for a ride back down. If you need advice on the best places to hike, ask Art Gardenswartz, Albuquerque’s outdoor travel expert. There are nine other local experts, too, that can answer questions about subjects ranging from cuisine to golf. The family travel expert is Aileen O’Catherine.

Jeep Tours

portapottyOur tour was with New Mexico Jeep Tours, owned by a former SWAT cop named Roch (pronounced rock) Hart. He’s a great guy with a real love for the desert around Albuquerque. He does a number of different tours and will customize a tour to fit your needs. We stopped often to get out of the jeep and hike to get a closer look at the petroglyphs or take photos of the wild horses.

There are no porta potties here and few trees or bushes to hide behind. It wasn’t a problem for the men on the tour, but Hart learned early on in his tour business that his female customers weren’t crazy about peeing the natural way. So he came up with a great solution: a portable potty inside a pop-up tent. Ingenious.