My last four days I took a mini-vacation from Seattle’s coffee-and-status fueled bump and grind to catch up with an old friend of mine in Albuquerque, New Mexico. While four days isn’t a long time, given that many writers are happy to make their proclamations on a place after a quick Wiki search and an afternoon in town, four. whole. days. confers on me a level of expertise that threatens to overwhelm even my considerable data receptors. Fortunately– for you– I’m willing to share my now-vast knowledge of the Land of Enchantment in the form of this handy power ranking.

I have many observations, but these are the most powerful, ranked by:

  1. Accuracy.
  2. Insight.
  3. Travel Brochure Quotability.

5. Route 66: Kicks?

It’s strange to encounter what always registered as a pop culture artifact in real time. Route 66— or the idea of it– was already nostalgic by the time I was born. A reference in oldies tunes, westerns, and film noir. Its legacy in pop culture and its legacy in history overlap and contradict, the idea of the long desert road inhabited by all manner of adventure, sleaze, and anti-heroism constantly repurposed by pop culture nostalgists.

So when I was wandering Central Avenue on Nob Hill and looked up to see a street marker proclaiming “Historic Route 66,” I was surprised and a little sad I hadn’t known earlier. There’s still a festival, and probably a historical society, and the road possibly retains more significance outside the city proper. But I wasn’t on Route 66; I was on Central Avenue, the Big Dog of Albuquerque thoroughfares, and R66 was just a cute little memory.

But if you’re looking for kicks, stay on Central Avenue. I’m pretty sure you can get anything you want there. You barely even have to look.

Accuracy: 66/10
Insight: 3/10
Travel Brochure Quotability: “Hey come see this thing that used to exist!”

4. Meow Wolf Alone Is Worth The Flight

Do you know about Meow Wolf? I didn’t, which is weird, since it’s totally in my wheelhouse. Maybe I’d heard about it in passing conversation that registered as

Blahblah blah cool Santa Fe art collective. . . blah blah blah

yeah, I’ve heard Santa Fe is cool or whatever

innovative something or butt. . . blah blah blah you just used the word

“curated” five times in two sentences, blah blah blah why did you just

flip your hair when you said “installation art” blah blah this restaurant is

way too expensive considering it’s “reimagined street food”

. . .I need new friends.

At least, it’d be hard for me to describe Meow Wolf in a way that didn’t feel like I was being Pretentious Art Gallery Friend. So just go, if you can! It’s super weird and really fun and macabre and I imagine you could do it altered if you wanted, but you don’t have to. It’s a trip by itself.

The rest of Santa Fe was cute enough, but it did seem like your Rich “Hippie” Aunt’s version of a desert city, with endless papyrus font, rock jewelry, and self-satisfied liberals from gated communities. I wouldn’t want to live there.

Accuracy: 10/10 for Meow Wolf, 6/10 for Santa Fe. Maybe I missed something?
Insight: 7/10
Travel Brochure Quotability: 9/10 for  Meow Wolf, 10/10 for Santa Fe since it seems like they’d take it as a compliment. It wasn’t.

3. Every Building Is WAY Bigger Than It Looks From the Outside

Seriously. I stayed with my friend in a house that’s been converted into multiple units. Still in the Albuquerque city limits, it’s nonetheless fairly rural, with dirt roads leading up to the property and a horse ranch across the way. She had a decently sized one bedroom with a patio, hammock, adjacent shared (huge) yard and swimming pool.

As she showed me around the property, (the adjacent units aren’t currently occupied) it became clear that what looked like a standard issue bungalow was, in fact, a labyrinth, with room after pre-decorated room full of coyote-art and grandma-saucy aphorisms hand painted on wood blocks. (Example: “If you drink to forget, please pay in advance.”) It’s adorable and a little disorienting.

Also, my friend pays $500 a month.

This spacial disorientation applied nearly across the board– the metal bar/pool hall that I thought would be a tight, upstairs hallway, was actually a spacious room with many couches and a library in a corner. The awesome waffle spot that does it’s considerable business in a converted house has like 8,308 back patios, all through different rickety gates.

The Church Street Cafe in Old Town looked like a pretty standard two room eatery, perfect for quiet dates or bringing parents, but it rolled on into — and I counted– about five separate rooms including the expansive patio, complete with waterfall.

I could go on.

Accuracy: Every building. This is a fact.
Insight: 8/10
Travel Brochure Quotability: Depends on if you’re an agoraphobic.

2. You Aren’t Anywhere Else When You’re Here

In some ways  this echoes the nature of Albuquerque itself; driving in on I-25, the skyline isn’t much to speak of. No shade on the individual buildings; some are pretty great. But the small smattering of modest skyscrapers doesn’t prepare you for the fact that when you’re in Albuquerque, you do feel like you’re in a City. Not an east coast, tightly-packed-with-history city, nor a west coast boom town in shiny glass, but a southwestern city, spread out, but not sprawling unnecessarily. With neighborhoods that roll into each other and defy easy categorization by northwest standards.

Likewise, the art I encountered in New Mexico was very much… its own. Some I loved. Some I thought was cheesy as hell. Some didn’t register as “Good or Bad”, just very much… itself. Either way, there’s definitely a culture of murals-on-buildings that’s pretty cool. Do we have that here outside of Henry? Convo for another time.

Granted, the place has its own sets of problems and challenges which despite my expertise, I’m not qualified to opine on. But, while every place in America has it’s blocks of generica– strip malls, fast food, chains– and Albuquerque (or Santa Fe for that matter) is no exception, when I was there, I never felt like I was anywhere else.

Accuracy: 10/10
Insight: 9/10
Travel Brochure Quotability: Pay me.

1. It Is As Hot As They Say

Oh my Lord is it hot. So hot. I didn’t mind, strangely enough, probably for all the reasons above, but sweat and sunscreen then more sweat and sunscreen. I’ll be bright red for a week at least.

Accuracy: 110 degrees fahrenheit
Insight: What is there to say? 
Travel Brochure Quotability: “Visit New Mexico: Land of Enchantment. Bring Sunscreen.”