Tamales and Trails: A Culture-Rich Bike Ride Through Albuquerque
Lyrics by Courtney Knott | Photos by Tory Powers
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As a New Mexican who drifted away from the Land of Enchantment long before I began my descent into the depths of cycling, I was eager to explore my home state on two wheels. And, as a cyclist? Very excited to find the hype that so many people I’ve met over the years have shared.
Known in particular for the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta, the green chili and its growing position in the film and television production industry (Breaking Bad, Better Call Saul), Albuquerque is the most populous city in New Mexico. But don’t worry – Duke City is scenic, easily navigable, and seemingly immune to the downfalls of major urban areas (traffic, etc.).
This is not surprising considering that New Mexico ranks fifth in the United States for land area, but 46th for population density.
Located in the north-central part of the state and served by the Albuquerque International Sunport, the city is divided from north to south by the Rio Grande River and framed to the east and west by the Sandia Mountain Range. -Manzano and the West Mesa and Petroglyph National Monument, respectively.
My riding partner and true New Mexican, Robbie Douangpanya, brought such rich history to life as we scoured the city for the best routes to ride and restaurants to restock. If it’s safe to assume the friendliness of a city’s residents is directly correlated to quality of life, then New Mexico has to top both lists!
A short distance from our Old Town hotel is the Paseo del Bosque trail. This 16-mile (26 km) paved multi-use trail (no street intersections!) is a fun, flat route that provides easy access to the ABQ BioPark system (Zoo, Aquarium, Botanical Garden, and Tingley Beach), but is also a link to countless rides across the city. Its ease of access and use allowed us to park our four wheels and rely on our two.
Bonus: Alongside the paved path, there are miles and miles of flowing dirt trails and singletrack that will have you grinning from ear to ear (even on 25s and tires!)
Day 1 – Tramway, La Luz, Les Doigts
We were aiming to tackle some elevation in the foothills on the east side of town. After a delicious breakfast at Bike In Coffee at Old Town Farm – a bike-centric cafe nestled under a canopy of lush greenery (with burritos, a bike repair station and bathrooms) – we cycled to and through Los Ranchos de Albuquerque, a charming town with agricultural roots displayed in the form of vineyards and green chili patches dotting the roadside.
Once on Tramway Road (NM 556), the wide shoulder and stunning views of the Sandias made the steady, gentle climb a pleasant warm-up for what was to come.
Forest Rd 333 offers the first chance to add some pizzazz with a nearly 1,000ft (300m) 2 mile (3.2km) climb to the La Luz trailhead!
Embark on a climb to La Cueva Picnic Area and The Fingers (a route that winds through the quiet, hilly streets of the neighborhood; definitely download it to your head unit) and you’ve got a great day of climbing ! Although you can do a full loop, I recommend retracing your strokes for an out and back.
There was only one good option for lunch after a day of climbing: Duran’s Central Pharmacy on historic Route 66. This iconic spot claims to serve “the best authentic New Mexican food on the planet.” and I challenge you to find someone who disagrees.
Day 2 – Petroglyphs
The West Mesa and Petroglyph National Monument serve as the city’s western geological boundary, and that’s where we were heading next. Once again we hopped on the Paseo del Bosque trail from our hotel and headed north to Alameda Open Space.
From there, you can head into Boca Negra Canyon via bike paths to West Mesa, float over the hilly terrain of Unser’s bike paths, and descend Atrisco Hill before a flat finish. Petroglyphs carved into the basalt bear witness to the powerful presence of Native Americans long before the arrival of European settlers. This heritage, along with the influence of early Spanish and Mexican settlers, can be seen in every fabric of the city, from the architecture to the cuisine.
We went to Sawmill Market for lunch on the way back to our hotel. This artisanal food hall was a perfect place for three different appetites: those of two hungry cyclists and our faithful photographer (also hungry). But when it came to dessert, our appetites became one. To see! Neko Neko.
Despite the overwhelming number of choices for this Japanese-style froyo, the young lady working helped us arrange the most perfect combinations in the most positive customer service experience I’ve had in my life!
Day 3 – Sandia Ridge
Quite possibly the most epic road climb in the state, and possibly the entire Southwest of the United States? Sandia Crest! But first, the downtown farmers market!
True to local fashion, Robbie lined up straight for a buttery croissant from Blue Door Pâtisserie (also located in the sawmill market) and we came out on the other side with… salsa! Six pots between the three of us. When in Rome…
Back to riding. You have several options for starting points, depending on how tall you want to go. Gain 3,800 feet (1,160 m) in just under 13.5 miles (21.8 km) – starting at the bottom of Sandia Crest Road – or 5,880 feet (1,790 m) in 58 miles (93 km) – starting at Tramway and Central. Either way, you’ll find yourself traversing areas of changing vegetation as you make your way to the sky.
Sandia’s summit rises to 3,240 m (10,640 ft) and offers stunning views of the city below and beyond. What makes an ascent painful almost always guarantees a descent super fun, and this is no exception.
To close the loop; my enthusiasm to explore cycling in Albuquerque was anything but disappointing, and I had high expectations! 10/10 New Mexicans (and non-New Mexicans) would recommend. And the Last Supper? Tamales the size of our heads, of course.
See you at the ABQ!
What do you want to know
Note: In mid-May 2022, the United States Forest Service closed several National Forests in New Mexico due to dry conditions. Before you go, always check fs.usda.gov for the latest information.
Suggested restaurants and brasseries
● Sawmill Market – Large food hall near the historic old town with a large outdoor seating area.
● Bike In Coffee at Old Town Farm – Located next to the Paseo del Bosque bike path, this scenic spot is accessible only by bike and offers brunch/lunch, coffee and entertainment.
● El Pinto – Great New Mexican cuisine restaurant located on North 4th Street. The Tramway bike path connects to North 4th Street.
● 505 Central Food Hall – Located in downtown Albuquerque.
● Church Street Café – Located in a centuries-old adobe building in the historic Old Town.
● County Line – Accessible by bike from the bike path along Tramway Boulevard, located in the foothills just minutes from the base of the Sandia Peak Tram.
● Kickstand Café – Bicycle café that serves breakfast and lunch and sells/rents e-bikes, located near the Paseo del Bosque trail.
● Tractor Brewing – All three ABQ locations feature dog-friendly patios and over a dozen craft beers on tap ranging from ales and pilsners to porters, stouts and lagers.
● Rio Bravo Brewing Company – Refresh yourself with an award-winning local beer while listening to a band in the beer garden or playing cornhole, ping pong or a board game.
● Steel Bender Brewyard – Directly accessible from the bike/walking/horseback trail parallel to 2nd Street, Steel Bender offers a full lunch and dinner menu, covered patio and a wide selection of craft beers and ciders.
Bike tours, guides and local shops
● Routes Bicycle Tours & Rentals – A great selection of mountain bikes, road bikes and car racks available for hire. Also offers bike building services when people travel with their own bikes.
● Heritage Inspirations – Offers e-bike tours of Albuquerque neighborhoods.
● Free-to-Roam Ebiking – Offers excursions and bike rentals.
Suggestions for “must do” activities in Albuquerque
● Sandia Peak Aerial Tramway – The longest aerial tramway in North America.
● Electric Playhouse – Immersive games plus food and drink.
● Hot Air Balloon – Hot air balloon rides are available in Albuquerque year-round, and this year the city will celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta (October 1-9, 2022).
● Historic Old Town district, including area museums.
● ABQ BioPark System, including BioPark Zoo, Aquarium, Botanical Garden and Tingley Beach.
● Rio Grande Nature Center – Easily accessible from the Paseo del Bosque trail.
● Indian Pueblo Cultural Center – Discover the 19 Native American pueblos of New Mexico, watch traditional dance performances and dine at the Indian Pueblo Kitchen.
● National Hispanic Cultural Center – Art museum and one of the largest murals in North America (the 4,000 square foot Mundos de Mestizaje, located inside the Torreon).
Suggested places to stay
● Los Poblanos Historic Inn – Set in a historic farmhouse, the property features lavender fields, organic gardens and a wellness spa. The hostel provides bicycles so you can explore the surrounding area, including the vineyards of Casa Rodena Winery and the Paseo del Bosque bike path. Guided bike tours are also available.
● El Vado – Located on historic Route 66, the outdoor patio is surrounded by a faucet room, food pods, live entertainment on weekend nights,
● Painted Lady Bed & Brew – Instead of breakfast, this B&B specializes in local craft beers. It is located on the grounds of a former 19th century brothel and saloon.
● Hotel Chaco – Inspired and named after the Chaco Culture National Historical Park, this serene, art-filled hotel is the perfect place to unwind after a day of riding.
● Hotel Parq Central – Originally built in the 1920s as a hospital for employees of the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe railroads, the decor of this luxury hotel pays homage to its past with the Apothecary Lounge, a bar rooftop specializing in Prohibition-vintage cocktails.