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New Mexican road trip Part 1: Albuquerque

2010.06.30
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After my thesis defense in February, I embarked on a few trips with the goal of seeing as much of the US as possible before my departure in July, the most memorable one of which, is New Mexico. The first stop in New Mexico was Albuquerque and New Mexican weather in spring (I went in early May) was a welcome change from Chicago. It was not too warm, not too cold and the 5,000-feet elevation of Albuquerque gave the air a crisp dryness that I could feel on my skin acutely. It wasn't an entirely bad feeling because throughout the trip, I hardly perspired despite being involved in intense hikes during the middle of the day! However, I did feel distinctly thirsty more often than I did in Chicago :)

One of the hikes we went on was at the Petroglyph National Monument, a park in the western outskirts of Albuquerque. We stopped at the Visitors' Center and were greeted by bunches of dried red chili. Nothing says New Mexico like red chili, does it?
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After obtaining a map and getting a rough idea of the park layout, we hiked on a trail where we spotted numerous Native American petroglyphs (pictorial rock engravings). In the picture above, you can see the outlines of petroglyphs on the rocks I was sitting on or next to.
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Besides the great outdoors (and I mean, really great!), I enjoyed the cuisine in Albuquerque. We had Vietnamese pho the first night and although it's not very New Mexican, it was really really awesome Vietnamese food.

A dish that stuck in my mind is the Acapulco salad at the Flying Star Cafe, a New Mexican cafe chain. It's made of spring mix topped with grilled shrimp, avocado, jicama and diced orange chunks. The combination of ingredients and a citrusy dressing makes for a super refreshing salad that was to die for. And in case you forget, I love love love avocado!
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As if the city of Albuquerque isn't high enough, it is surrounded by many interesting mountain chains (especially interesting for a Chicagoan used to the Midwestern flat plains!). We scaled the Sandia Peak (with a tram of course) and enjoyed breathtaking views of the city. There were so many awesome rock formations throughout Sandia Peak and I couldn't help but feel like this would be such a perfect setting for a fantasy movie.
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Despite what you may expect, Albuquerque isn't entirely a desert. Due to its varying elevation, it enjoys many different climates at once. In the basin that is the city of Albuquerque (which is relatively flat), the climate is like that of a desert: dry and hot in the day, cool at night. However, on the various mountains surrounding the city, it's a more arctic climate, where snow still remains even in early May. We saw so many piles of snow that didn't melt on Sandia Peak; almost enough to ski on!

Up next? Santa Fe, here we come!
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