When we Burqueños, (people of Albuquerque), go to the polls for a city election we always face many bond issues to tax and appropriate money to various things outside the city budget. More often than not there is a bond to purchase more land for city open space on the ballot. It almost always gets passed even though many people in Albuquerque don’t always know what it means. “Open Space” – that just sounds good. It’s land that cannot get developed, and with the big push for urban infill, this is more important now than ever.
One of the best kept secrets in Albuquerque is this Open Space. No one is trying to keep it a secret, it just isn’t advertised that much. Some people utilize Albuquerque Open Space without knowing that’s what it is, and visitors to Albuquerque rarely find it on their own. That’s why I am posting about it today.
There are many venues to choose from, and they are comprised of 28,000 acres within and outside the city limits. Some are raw and perfect for naturalists and others are set aside for wildlife only. Some are archaeological sites offering a glimpse into the region’s cultural and natural history. Others are designed for special uses, as is the city shooting range. All are managed to conserve our natural resources for years to come, provide recreation for humans and offer refuge for wildlife. There is so much offered in these spaces that you would have trouble finding them all in one day, and they should not all be covered in one blog, so I am going to mix it up – a few in each post.
In the Valley – east side of the River
4,300 acres along the Rio Grande from north of the city in Alameda, all the way down to the Isleta Pueblo south of town is designated as The Rio Grande Valley State Park. This park is the way our state made our much loved river through the city off limits to any kind of development. It encompasses the banks of both east and west sides of the river and has a 16 mile multi-use improved trail, the Paseo del Bosque, for bikes, blades, walking and jogging.
Within this park is a place very close to my home and my heart, The Rio Grande Nature Center, a preserve and educational venue with trails through the riparian habitat that is Albuquerque’s Bosque. It has an education room, education gardens, and an indoor observation room overlooking a pond full of waterfowl. I used to be very involved with the Friends of the Rio Grande Nature Center group for years before opening our B&B. I worked the gardens, served on the board and recruited new members. The group is responsible for educating thousands of kids in Albuquerque on ecology and the preservation of rivers and woodlands with their ongoing programs.
Standing in the Rio Grande Nature Center within view of the Sandia Mountains you feel isolated and serene, surrounded by the urban bustle of the city, yet so far away. Wildlife abounds and the bird watching is prime in this area. This is only one element of the whole Rio Grande Valley State Park, as it also holds Alameda Open Space on the north end, Rio Bravo Fishing Pier and Nature Trail on the south side, and various parking for trail heads and picnic areas in between. (See the Albuquerque Open Space Google map I have prepared for locations, and visit this website for more info.)
Also in the North Valley is Candelaria Farms, 97 acres that rest adjacent to the Nature Center. The city contracts someone to grow crops there with the stipulation that some of the crops are for wildlife and go unharvested – a plus for the wildlife and a plus for bird watchers! There are blinds overlooking these feeding areas as well as a man-made wetland at the Nature Center parking lot on the north east end, where you may enjoy watching the flocks of Sandhill Cranes and Canada Geese among the other avian species that come here to eat, drink and rest.
Los Poblanos Fields is a short distance from the Nature Center as the crane flies, but from the Nature Center you must return to 4th Street, drive north and turn left (west) at Montaño, because it is the only way to access the Fields. This 138 acre area in the center of a mostly residential area is utilized by Rio Grande Community Farm and Rasband Dairy, both farming the land. This is also the site of the incredibly popular Maize Maze (corn maze), uniquely prepared every autumn for Burqueños and visitors to ABQ alike. This year the maze theme is butterflies.
In The Valley – on the west side of the River
Last but hardly least is the City Open Space Visitor Center Farm located on the west side on the Rio Grande, north of Montaño and east off of Coors Rd. This 50+ acre facility has a 24 acre farm used to grow crops for wildlife, and is home of the Official Open Space Visitor Center, where you can get detailed info about every venue of Albuquerque Open Space.
This center has many purposes and hosts a great number of events year round. I found it by accident. A friend was remodeling her office and the designer wanted her to look at a new way to treat concrete floors, and she suggested we go see an example at this City Office by the river. We took forever to find it, and yeah…the red floor is cool, but this place was awesome, and they hadn’t even opened yet. Last winter I took another friend to see it, and low and behold there was a huge loom set up in the main room for the public to try, and we did, like silly school girls doing something we weren’t suppose to do. There was an exhibit of intricate weavings by locals hanging all around and you could vote for your favorite. We also viewed a great movie was showing in the education room about the cranes on the North Platte River in Nebraska that was so beautiful it choked me up. We were totally alone and had the place to our selves. This place is such a find.
The Center is an educational museum with exhibits of culture, heritage, fine art and photography. The building and grounds tell a story of the cultures and natural history of the Middle Rio Grande Valley. There are indoor and outdoor viewing areas so bring your binoculars and DON’T forget your camera. The farm itself is closed to the public for the safety and comfort of the wildlife, but there is a trail along the irrigation ditch were you may walk down toward the river. Check in at the desk inside the Visitor Center to be sure you will not be entering an off-limits area. See their calendar of events, as there are so many interesting things going on at this gem of Albuquerque. The crazy thing is…not that many people know about it.
I know the best things to do in Albuquerque!
Sarah Dolk, Adobe Nido Bed & Breakfast
Expert on Destination Albuquerque and Central New Mexico!