Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Avoiding Poo in Albuquerque

933 - 1143 (11348 - 11558)

After an evening in Santa Rosa, New Mexico, today I made another short drive, to Albuquerque.

The area around Santa Rosa is dotted with several artesian, crystal blue lakes, thus its slogan, the City of Natural Lakes. Consequently the town attracts water sports enthusiasts from hundreds of miles around to swim, boat, water ski, and even scuba dive in the otherwise semi-arid ranch country.

The scuba diving takes place at the famous Blue Hole. It is an 81-foot-deep artesian well , some 80 feet wide at the top but spreads out to 130 feet at the bottom. Because the water has a stable temperature of 61 degrees F, you can dive here year-round (winter is supposedly the busiest season, though I found myself alone on this Tuesday morning). I took a short path up to the spring's cliff face for a great view of the Blue Hole's deep, crystal clear blue water. From here you can leap off the rock outcropping some 12 feet into the "refreshing" spring (61 degrees! brr!).

Back on the road headed west, this picture shows how the New Mexico terrian changed from the flat lands of the Texas Panhandle. OK, so not much of a change. At least some shrubs.

My AAA guidebook named the Rio Grande Zoo in Albuquerque as a "gem." Who am I to argue with AAA? Besides, I had not been to a zoo in a while on this journey. Here I am outside their impressive flamingo exhibit.

Most of the exhibits were very naturalist, and allowed you to get pretty close to the animals. Here a polar bear seemed to take exception to my intrusion.

I walked through the zoo's "Catwalk" which features felines from various parts of the world. I prefer Woodland Park Zoo's policy of exhibiting animals according to where they live in the world. Here I saw snow leopards (Asia) next to cougars (North America) next to jaguars (South America) next to cheetahs (Africa). In the middle of this were meerkats. Um, meerkats are NOT cats...

The zoo did have an impressive new Africa exhibit featuring giraffes, elephants, lions, and rhinoceros in naturalist seetings. I was looking forward to seeing the chimpanzees, and I was not disappointed. Upon my arrival at the exhibit, a chimp ambled up to the window and proceeded to smear feces all over the glass. How pleasant. I do seem to have a way with animals.

In one part of the Africa exhibit you passed over a narrow wooden bridge and under the buzzards above. In trying to get a good shot, I had to dance a bit to avoid the birds who choose to "unload." See a theme here?

Another must see in Albuquerque is Old Town (also a AAA "gem"). Founded some 300 years ago, Old Town remains a center of southwestern culture and traditional adobe architecture in the Pueblo-Spanish style, with a central plaza anchored by a church. San Felipe de Neri church remains a functioning Catholic church, made of adobe with walls five feet thick; its white towers mark Old Town from a distance. The traditional buildings of Old Town have flat roofs, stuccoed walls with rounded edges, and are supported with heavy wooden beams. There are a number of museums, restaurants, and specialty shops selling southwestern pottery, rugs, carvings, art, and (of course) TaT.

The highlight of Old Town for me, however, was the Native American artists selling jewelry along the portal east of the plaza. Here I met Warren, a Navajo, respendent in his Pittsburg Steelers cap (he is kneeling in the white cap in this picture).

Warren said his family has been selling jewelry here for 18 years, though the past couple of years have been tough. He said that the nation's economic woes have hit them hard, as the cost of silver, gold, and precious stones has risen and fewer customers buy pieces. Plus, he said, they are increasingly having to compete against knock-offs of their jewelry, made cheaply in Asia and Mexico.

Warren explained that each stone and each design in their jewelry has a higher meaning for them. For example, turquoise symbolizes motherhood, coral keeps the wearer protected, arrowheads etched in the silver mean guidance. When their pieces are purchased, Warren said, it's like they send a prayer with each customer, something the fakes cannot do.

Bravo, Warren, for sharing so much of yourself with me. And yes, I bought some gorgeous opal earrings (and at a great price!); I enjoy the thought of being sent away with a prayer.

I had dinner at the home of Sandra Shepard, the eldest daughter of Aunt Jane Shepard Vincent McIlvaine (who I had visited in New Hampshire) and sister of Mary Shepard (who I visited in Houston). We had a grand time catching up. Sandra had been my family's nanny one summer when she was a young teenager; quite the adventure for her!

This picture is of Sandra's dogs, Mustafa and Casey, who amply supplied me with much attention and consequently I got a major puppy fix. Those are Sandra's legs.

My final stop of the day was at the Route 66 Casino. It seemed appropriate based on my pursuit of the Mother Road. Further stimulation of the local economy.

Tomorrow to Flagstaff, Arizona.

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