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Albuquerque is not your typical city. It represents the epitome of urban sprawl. It's not a bad thing - it just is the way Albuquerque developed. Most areas are quite new, and although there is a small but wonderful downtown area, and a quaint and historic Old Town, the majority of the city is suburbia. You can't think of it as a traditional city - it is a western city that grew in all directions at once. In 1978 there were still dirt roads in neighborhoods and on the fringes of town. Now - none at all. The city limits have increased to the ultimate boundaries to the north, south and east. The Sandia Mountains block development to the east, and Pueblo Indian Reservations block development to the North and South. The only direction left to grow is west of the Rio Grande.
Much has been said about public transportation in Albuquerque, but what needs to be added is that unless the corridor of Route 66 (Central Avenue) through Nob Hill, the University, Downtown and Old Town are the only areas you want to visit, the bus system here is really lacking for tourists. The areas mentioned above are easily accessed by the bus system, and are very safe and walkable once you get there, but there is so much more to Albuquerque than Route 66. Bus routes run throughout the city, but are really geared toward the commuter, not visitors. Some routes stop running completely after the evening rush hour. City cutbacks have hit the bus routes hard, and many routes run very infrequently, leaving tourist stranded and at the mercy of expensive taxi rides.
Visitors to Albuquerque are often dismayed to find that many of the places on their "things to do list" are not accessible without a car. You cannot access the Rio Grande Nature Center, The Sandia Tram, the Pueblo communities /hotels/casinos, The Petroglyph National Monument, lots of spas, retreats, and hiking trails easily by bus. Many of the fine Hotels, B&B Inns and great restaurants will also be off the bus routes. There are great day trips that will also be missed if you don't have a car. Many a tourist that has come here thinking a car would not be needed wind up going to a car rental place within 24 hours of their arrival, having learned their trip here will be so much better with the freedom of a car. Unlike Santa Fe - parking in Albuquerque is available everywhere, mostly free, but sometimes for a very nominal fee.
On a good note...the bike trail system in Albuquerque is rated one of the top in the nation. Great for commuters and travelers alike. Many travelers from neighboring states will drive here with their bikes in tow, and bike all over the city during their entire stay. Bike rentals are also available in several locations all over town.
Albuquerque is laid out in quadrants, with the axes formed by the railroad running north and south and by Route 66 (Central Ave.) running east and west. There are two major interstates, I-25 and I-40, which also run north and south and east and west, respectively. Where they intersect in the center of the city is known as the Big I. The quadrants formed by the interstates only vaguely resemble the quadrants still used by the residents for street addresses. For the sake of simplicity for first-time visitors, it may be helpful to think of the airport being in the southeast corner of the interestates, along with UNM, Nob Hill, the State Fair, Kirtland AFB, and the Sandia Nat'l Labs. Downtown would be in the southwest corner formed by the interstates. It is clearly visible from most anywhere in Albuquerque. Old Town, the BioPark, and the South Valley would also be in the southwest corner. The northwest corner includes the North Valley, Los Ranchos de Albuquerque, and the Balloon Park. The northeast corner is most of what is called the Northeast Heights. The Sandia Tramway is in the foothills at the furthest northeast point of the city.
|Tip: In Albuquerque, the prominent Sandia Mountains are always in the East. The flat horizon is in the West. The Rio Grande, at the bottom of the gentle valley floor, runs North to South. The airport is in the southern part of the city. Santa Fe is to the north.|
On I-25, anchoring Albuquerque to the south, is Isleta Pueblo and its casino resort. (Continuing south are Los Lunas, Belen, and eventually Las Cruces.) Also on I-25, anchoring Albuquerque to the north, is Sandia Pueblo and its casino resort. (Continuing north are Bernalillo and Santa Fe.) The stretch of I-25 from the Big I to Sandia Pueblo is increasingly being referenced as the Northern Corridor, and is the location of many new motels, restaurants and other commercial areas, including the Renaissance development and the Journal Center. From the Big I, Albuquerque stretches east along I-40 to the Sandia Mountains and Tijeras Canyon. Along the way are the areas called Midtown and Uptown. Uptown is home to malls and other shopping and restaurants, as well as business centers.
Everything west of the Rio Grande is now described as the West Mesa or the West Side. This is the area of the extinct volcanic calderas and escarpment visible on the western horizon and is the home of the Petroglyph National Monument. The West Side stretches west to Nine Mile Hill and beyond. From south to north, this area includes south valley communities (like Atrisco and Westgate), Taylor Ranch, Paradise Hills, and the incorporated city of Rio Rancho. The village of Corrales is also nestled on the west bank of the Rio Grande, north of Albuquerque and below Rio Rancho. The major artery running north and south through the West Mesa is Coors, which corresponds roughly to the west bank of the Rio Grande. Unser Blvd. and Paseo del Volcan are other arteries being developed, and eventually a northwest loop thoroughfare will connect I-40 with the state highway running northwest from Bernalillo and the Santa Ana Pueblo toward Cuba, Farmington, and Durango, CO. In addition to I-40, the bridges across the Rio Grande, from south to north, are Rio Bravo, Bridge, Central, Montano, Paseo del Norte, and Alameda.
The crossroads downtown is the intersection of Fourth Street (the old Camino Real to Santa Fe) and Central Ave. (Route 66). Central connects the BioPark at the river, Old Town, Downtown, Huning Highland, UNM, Nob Hill, and the State Fairgrounds. Fourth Street is still the main street of the valley, but Second Street is the quicker route north and south. To the south on Fourth Street is the Barelas neighborhood and the National Hispanic Cultural Center. A rural route through the North Valley is provided by Rio Grande Boulevard.
Paseo del Norte, on the northside, has become a major east-west artery running from the mountain to the petroglyphs, and eventually will join the northwest loop on the West Mesa. Together with Alameda, this is a major route to a commercial and mall center on the west side and eventually to Rio Rancho, as well as to Corrales.
The northernmost exit in Albuquerque on I-25 is Tramway and Roy. Tramway goes east toward the mountains where it turns south, making a loop from I-25 to I-40, where it's the easternmost exit in Albuquerque. The Sandia Tramway is accessed from Tramway. Going west, Roy connects to Fourth Street in the North Valley, where the old Camino Real also continues towards Bernalillo along a country road.
The Northeast Heights is laid out so that its primary arteries north-and-south and east-and-west are one mile apart and form a grid. Often there are secondary arteries at 1/2-mile increments. Commerce lines most of the primary arteries. Within the separate residential developments in the Northeast Heights, the streets often wind about each other.