Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Albuquerque, New Mexico: Unser Racing Museum

Auto racing fans know that the Unsers are the First Family of Racing. Consider that Al, Bobby and Al. Jr. have won a combined nine Indy 500s over the years. That's a record that might stand for a while.

The Unsers are from the Albuquerque area, and they decided to give something back to their community. The gift came in the form of a museum, that does a fine job of reviewing the careers of the racing family.

The car shown in the photo has some special significance. It was the one in which Al Senior won his fourth Indy 500. Only A.J. Foyt and Rick Mears join Al as four-time winners. There are many other cars around the museum, along with videos, kiosks, displays on engines and cars, and a kids section. I particularly liked the computer simulation of driving five laps at Indy - I got it up to 180 on the straightaway. A second building has some more cars by other drivers. The gift shop had a good selection of items, including some autographed items by family members.

Here's a video look around:


There's one added benefit to it - you might meet a legend. Al has been known to spend time there, particularly during Balloon Fiesta Week in October. If you drop in, you might have the chance to shake hand and pose for a photo with one of auto racing's all-time greats. Al was quite friendly during our visit, and still looks good at the age of 77 as of this writing.

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Albuquerque, New Mexico: Old Town

We visited four good-sized cities in New Mexico in a week. Three of them had plazas.

Albuquerque is the biggest of the cities, and has the biggest of the plazas.

This used to be the center of commerce, but then the railroad came through town around 1880 in a different spot. Business followed the choo-choo. The area went downhill for a while, but eventually became a trendy spot for artists, etc.

Now there are about 150 stores in the area surrounding the center square shown here. The Church of San Felipe de Neri dominates one side of the plaza. It's been around since 1783 - the year the Revolutionary War ended. Elsewhere, you can get the usual tourist items - shirts, jewelry, art galleries, etc. Some days there are musicians playing background noise for your visit.

Let's take a longer look around:


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Albuquerque, New Mexico: The Library

Who says eating and drinking aren't educational?

That's not the case at The Library Bar & Grill. It's located at 312 Central Ave. in the middle of downtown Albuquerque.

And take a look at those books. Even the Jolly Green Giant would have trouble handling volumes of that size. (Ho, ho, ho.) If you look carefully (click on the photo), you can see that the titles are puns - such as "Lord of the Onion Rings" and "The Wrath of Grapes."

You'd hope that they keep "Today in Buffalo Sports History" handy for reference, but that may be asking a lot.

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Tijeras, New Mexico: Musical Road

This is the type of tourist attraction that you'd probably only discover by reading Roadside America's web site. A big thank you goes to that group for this.

Because, how else would you hear music coming from a road?

You have to follow the instructions exactly right. The area in question is on Historic Route 66 east of Albuquerque. Get off of Interstate 40 at Exit 170, and then go east for about 3.5 miles. You'll see a two-part sign. The first says "Go exactly 45 mph," and the second one is shown above.

Then you must drive on the rumble strip that is close to the white line while sticking to the 45 mph guideline. We missed the strip the first couple of times, and heard a little noise on the third. But we persisted, turning around again and again. On Try Number Four, we heard the final few bars to "America the Beautiful." It only works when going east.

The New Mexico Highway Department teamed up with National Geographic for this stunt, which was installed two years ago. This video is a good way to experience it; the author notes that the second strip used to play the Nationwide theme, but thankfully does not any more.

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Albuquerque, New Mexico: Petroglyph National Monument

The hope of many writers and artists is for their actions to live as long as possible. In Albuquerque, that hope seems to be coming true.

It's the home of Petroglyph National Monument, one of the nation's best places to find drawings from American Natives and Spanish settlers. They date back between 400 and 700 years old, and are found throughout the park grounds. You can see up to 100 in a single hour in certain places.

This National Monument has a slightly odd layout, in that the Visitor Center is nowhere near the actual hiking trails. Visitors should stop at the center first to register (there's a small fee involved), find out about the park, and receive instructions. Be sure to stop and watch the 20-minute video on the place. Then they can go to three separate areas for their walks.

The symbol shown above is quite common. Our guess is that it's a sign of life - the longer the swirl, the longer the life. But to a certain extent, we're still guessing what these people from the past were trying to say.

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Taos, New Mexico: San Francisco de Asis Church

The roads to and from Taos to Santa Fe are said to essentially end in the same place - the well-known San Francisco de Asis Church. It is located where the Low Road and the High Road more or less meet (it's a couple of blocks south of the intersection on Route 68).

This adobe structure dates back to the 1700s, and is considered one of the most beautiful buildings of its type in the country. No wonder it is a National Landmark.

One tip - the church is set back from the road a bit, so look for a parking lot on the east side of the road. The front entrance is on the other side of the building. And bring a camera.

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Taos, New Mexico: Kit Carson Home and Museum

Kit Carson is one of those figures from the Old West who is relatively famous, but many probably don't know why. In real life, he was (according to the brochure of the building shown here) a trapper, scout, rancher, Army officer, courier and U.S. Indian agent.

Carson lived in Taos for more than two decades (1843 to 1866), and his home has been a memorial for more than a century. The place became a museum in the 1950s, and became a national landmark in 1966.

There are plenty of photos and other items about Carson's life here, and you can buy some books to find out what all the fuss was about. It's across the street from the Taos Plaza in the "historic district," which is only a couple of blocks long.

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Taos, New Mexico: Taos Plaza

When visiting Taos, a visit to Taos Plaza is almost required. It's been the center of the city for more than 300 years.

The Spanish first set up buildings on this plaza when they arrived. The place has evolved into a center of commerce. The four sides have stores that sell the usual tourist items - shirts, crafts, jewelry, etc. There's also some restaurants around, and the Hotel La Fonda looks over it all.

There is parking there, but it fills up quickly. So you might want to get there before 10 a.m. in order to grab a space, or just plan on making a small walk.

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Rio Grande Gorge State Park, New Mexico

Parts of north central New Mexico are flat. Really flat. Pancakes should be so flat.

That makes it surprising when east-west drivers suddenly come across a canyon that's 1,300 feet across. It's a spectacular site too - another part of the land chiseled out by the Rio Grande over the centuries.

A nice bridge goes over the chasm. Not only does that allow traffic to sail over it, but it is a great stop for tourists as well. They can stop on either side of the canyon and park, although the west side is the one with rest rooms and some Native vendors. That way, the tourists can walk to the middle of the bridge on a sidewalk, look down and see what it looks like. And it looks spectacular from 650 feet above the water.

Come to think of it, it looks good from a drone's-eye view too:


My friend fell out of a raft in this part of the river during a trip. I'm glad he didn't wind up in the Gulf of Mexico, like the river.

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Pilar, New Mexico: Rio Grande Gorge

There are two ways to go from Santa Fe to Taos - the Low Road and the High Road. Most people seem to prefer the High Road. Yet the Low Road deserves more attention, in part because of a short cut that few probably know about.

Yes, there's a story there.

We were driving along Route 68 when we hit some construction, which slowed up our travel. As we crawled along, we came to the Rio Grande Gorge Visitor Center, run by the National Park Service. Those are always worth a stop.

While there, we told the ranger we were headed to the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge, located almost due north. She said we should take a short cut - as long as we didn't mind driving on a dirt road for a couple of miles along the way. We were game.

A quick left soon after leaving the visitor center put us on Route 570, when we realized we were now driving right along the gorge - as opposed to relatively close to it on the main road. Wow. It was fabulous, and unexpected. There were a couple of campgrounds on the road, and other places to stop and take in the scenery. We even stopped and put our hands in the Rio Grande; it was rather cold. The dirt road left the car a little dusty, but it was well worth it.

As usual, it's tough to capture it all with a single photograph. The one displayed here will have to do. But there's always a video:

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