Ten years ago this weekend, I arrived in Albuquerque. That weekend, a light snow fell, I watched the Super Bowl with my brother and parents, and I had no earthly clue what the future had in store.
I didn’t think I would stay for this long, but God loves surprises, and here I am. I have all kinds of thoughts and feelings about the city that has become my home, but describing them would take longer than the drive-thru at Blake’s Lotaburger*. Thus, just a few ways Albuquerque has left an indelible mark on me:
The Running. Does Albuquerque have huge, world-famous races? No. Does it have memorable races? Most certainly. The Run for the Zoo, offering 10k and 5k options, takes place every May. The weather changes – some years it’s sweltering; other years there are snow flurries — but the course is flat and pretty, the event is decently organized, AND runners get free admission to the Zoo the day of the race. Pretty cool!
Another race that I loved, which sadly isn’t around anymore, was the Get Your Sassy Back 5k. It was marketed towards women, and proceeds went to a local shelter. The shirts were fabulous, and the trophies were among the best I’ve ever seen: high-heeled shoes, carved from wood by a local artisan. Mine sat on proud display in my living room for years.
Racing aside, Albuquerque offers runners plenty of options. We have the foothills of the Sandia mountains, which are a veritable runner’s paradise. So many dirt trails! Such great views! And no cars whatsoever. Not far from the foothills, there’s the Albuquerque Academy, with a lovely 3.3-mile path around its perimeter. How do I know it’s 3.3 miles? Because PAULA RADCLIFFE said so. Yup, she used to do her winter training here. If hills aren’t your thing, there’s a long, flat path along the Rio Grande Bosque (i.e. wooded area next to the river). And let’s not forget the miles and miles of paved paths that wind through the city. The running choices are many.
The Food. Before moving to Albuquerque, I fancied myself a fan of spicy food. I could put down some spicy buffalo wings with the best of them! Then I arrived in the Land of Enchantment, and met the chiles, both green and red. My taste buds were rocked. Not only has the food won my heart, but also the restaurants that serve it. We’ve got more local places than you can shake a cactus at, and they specialize in everything from burritos to fancy salads to cupcakes to pho to New Mexican / Cajun fusion.
Here I have to talk about Golden Pride. It’s a local chain, and they serve the following: fried chicken, tacos, ribs, sweet rolls, the best mac ‘n cheese I’ve ever had…the list goes on. But what’s their specialty, you ask? ALL OF IT. All of it is amazing. My mouth is watering just thinking about it. It’s arguable that Golden Pride alone has justified moving out here.
The People. When a lot of folks think “Albuquerque,” they think Breaking Bad. While the show was fantastic, I can assure you that most of the Duke City’s citizens are NOT, in fact, of the Heisenberg variety. They’re more of the Steve Gomez variety; that is, decent, caring, hard-working people. An example: I was driving home one night when a flat tire forced me to pull over. I hardly had a minute to gather my wits when another car parked behind mine. Its driver was a middle-aged guy on his way home from a softball game, and he proceeded to change my tire, telling me he had a daughter around my age. He waved off my profuse gratitude, but I’ll never forget that kindness.
Something that continually surprises me about Albuquerque is what a melting pot it is. It draws people from all over the country and even the world — I’ve met folks from New England, South Carolina, Minnesota, California, Russia, and New Zealand. Not to mention, of course, my husband. They are some of the most fun, down-to-earth people I’ve ever met, and I’m a better person for knowing them.
Balloon Fiesta! OF COURSE I’m going to mention the event that put Albuquerque on the global map. It truly is a beautiful thing, and after living here for a full decade, a sky full of hot air balloons still stops me in my tracks. And coming back to the people: years ago, my friend Charity brought me into the ballooning community, and I’m so thankful she did. Early mornings, cold weather, scrambling around with equipment that’s both heavy and delicate? Totally worth it. While ballooning is a year-round – yes, year-round! – activity here, Balloon Fiesta is the crown jewel, and I never miss it. If you’re looking for a reason to visit Albuquerque, Fiesta (just say the word “Fiesta” and locals will know what you’re talking about) is it.
Ten years. They have FLOWN by. Albuquerque’s far from perfect, but I don’t for one instant regret moving here. I’ve learned to open my eyes more, open my heart more, and open my life more.
Here’s to the future.
*Dear Blake’s: no offense. I love you.