July 1, 2014
The fourth day of our vacation was spent in Albuquerque, riding the tram up to the crest of the Sandia Mountains and visiting the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center.
For our two nights in Albuquerque, I had selected the Hotel Andaluz downtown, right off old Central Avenue, which is the long stretch of Route 66 through the city. The hotel opened as a Hilton back in 1939 and the $700,000 ten-story structure was the tallest building in New Mexico when it opened and the first with air conditioning. Architect Anton F. Korn designed it in the New Mexico Territorial style, with earth tone stucco, brick coping along the roof line, and southwest-style woodwork and furnishings. Over the years it changed hands at least five times, with a major renovation in 1983 followed by another 30 million dollar renovation from 2005 until it re-opened in late 2009. The renovations decreased the number of rooms from 176 in 1939 to 114 in 1983 and now 107.
The hotel is conveniently situated near the revitalized arts and entertainment district; a Wikipedia photo by Asaavedra32, which I brightened up, shows the colorful murals in the area; the windows of our room at Hotel Andaluz are visible at the center right. I hate valet parking, so I was happy there was a fairly inexpensive public garage adjacent to the hotel; Wendy is fun to travel with, always willing to join me in schlepping luggage.
The hotel’s new name reflects the Andalucia region of southern Spain, and the renovated facility boasts of its Gold LEED certification, achieved in part by low-flow bathroom fixtures which did not impress Wendy. She wasn’t at all fond of the bathroom in our 8th floor Corner Vista Suite, with its door-less shower and no tub and a sliding panel between the sitting area and bathroom, instead of a traditional door or pocket door, which provided limited privacy. She said that a flimsy curtain separating the sitting and sleeping areas would better serve as a shower curtain.
Despite these drawbacks, the hotel was quite beautiful. The lobby with surrounding mezzanine was elegant, with a lit central fountain, striking glass panels shielding the elevator area, and a series of sheltered alcoves for private conversations and contemplation. We found it a welcome retreat at the end of a busy day, snacking on chocolate in an alcove which had a water wall lit by soothing patterns of light. The hotel staff were happy and helpful, pampering us. Our suite had its own pretty touches, with a Moorish arch between the sitting and sleeping areas and it lived up to its name, providing particularly nice views to the east.
Breakfast and Art Downtown
We began our day strolling around downtown and discovered that flanking Central Avenue were streets named Gold, Copper, Silver, Lead, Iron, and Coal. We were snooty and ate breakfast at the Gold Street Caffe, not giving one thought to dining on Lead, Iron, or Coal.
We passed a colorful and clever building mural, called The Mother Road / El Camino De Los Caminos, designed by Joe Stephenson in 1995. It repurposed a side vent as an airplane engine and cleverly blended with a rock wall on one end and a doorway on the other. A nearby building had its old window strips filled in by large artistic murals. Students of Gorden Bernell Charter School, which serves adults, had painted a Plant Your Futures mural on another wall.
The Occidental Life Building featured beautiful Venetian Gothic Revival architecture with striking white terra cotta. Built in 1917, it burned in 1933. But, like the Johnstone/Sare building in downtown Bartlesville, the exterior walls were left standing up to the roofline and the building was rebuilt behind them. The old Baum Building in Oklahoma City also featured Venetian tropes, but was lost in the misguided urban renewal which destroyed so much of my hometown’s central core. Thankfully the city finally woke up and tried selective re-use over wanton destruction in its successful MAPS projects.
Sandia Peak Tramway
On a couple of previous visits to Albuquerque I had ridden the tram which ascends 3,819 feet to a crest of the Sandia Mountains. But Wendy had never ridden a tram before, so after breakfast we headed over to the mountains, which are a ridge stretching 17 miles north to south along the eastern edge of the city. Their name, Sandia, means watermelon in Spanish. One tram operator said the name came from the appearance of the western side of the ridge, but she also mispronounced mountain as “mou-innn”. It is also said that the Sandia Indians believe that the Spanish who first visited the pueblo in 1540 mistook the native squash being raised there as watermelons and that led to the name.
One of the tram cars was coming into the lower terminal as we drove up. There are only two towers between the lower and upper terminals, which are 2.7 miles apart, so one clear span reaches 7,720 feet; that is the third longest such span worldwide. The tram has two cars, with one rising as the other falls. They can each carry 50 passengers at about 14 miles per hour, but must slow down as they pass each tower, so the trip to the top takes about 14 minutes.
The car windows were heavily tinted and the car operators pointed out various rock formations during the journey. We passed one section of rock which had to be blasted out of the way to provide clearance, and the ruggedness of the canyons and mountainsides made it apparent why one of the tram towers had to be built via helicopter.
The panoramic views up top were tremendous, but I was disappointed that the forest service had closed all of the trails due to the high fire danger. The trails would re-open a couple of weeks later, but we missed our chance to hike over to the stone Kiwanis Cabin built by the CCC on one peak. So we posed by the mountains, and I took telephoto shots of the cabin.
A car leaves the top every half-hour, so with the trails closed and part of the upper terminal razed for new construction, we just took in the scenery. I studied the double reversible jigback machinery and shot some video. Pretty cloud formations rose above the desert and a squirrel, and a chipmunk scurried about on the slopes below.
We watched a tram car making the climb to pick us up, riding on a pair of cables which are 40 mm in diameter, pulled in by a 32 mm diameter haul cable. These are not the massless ropes we use in physics class; a track cable weighs 52 tons!
Indian Pueblo Cultural Center
After descending the mountain, we drove across town to the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center, which was created in 1976 by the 19 surviving pueblos of New Mexico. It has 10,000 square feet of museum space and a courtyard where dances are performed. We weren’t in town on the right day for dances but enjoyed the contrasting displays of the artwork produced by each pueblo.
The center is part of a 44-acre site which once was home to the Albuquerque Indian School. Thousands of Native American students attended the boarding school from the 1880s to the 1980s, with a peak enrollment of 1,400 students in the 1930s. The school specialized in vocational training for both Indian boys and girls. In 1982, school programs were transferred to the Santa Fe Indian School, and the Albuquerque school structures eventually fell victim to fire and were razed in 1985. The property was transferred to a council of the 19 pueblos, which has constructed two office buildings on the site and has dreams of much more.
Out front was Matthew Panana’s sculpture, Warriors in Battle, depicting Indian warriors of very different eras. Inside was a sculpture of Po’pay by Cliff Fragua. Po’pay, or Popé, was a religious leader who led the Pueblo Revolt in 1680 against Spanish colonial rule. The sculpture has a knotted cord in his right hand used to determine when the revolt would begin. A bear fetish in his left hand symbolizes the Pueblo religion, while the drum in front symbolizes Pueblo songs and ceremonies. He has medicine bags around his neck, and a broken crucifix represents his proclamation:
The God of the Christians is dead. He was made of rotten wood.
A side gallery had a nice tribute to Esther Martinez Blue Water. She was a teacher at Ohkay Owingeh Pueblo and worked to preserve her own Tewa language and helped other bilingual teachers in preserving their own languages.
The highlight of our visit was taking the time to watch a slow-paced but fascinating 1972 documentary about the potter Maria Martinez from the San Ildefonso Pueblo. She worked with her husband to invent a technique of black-on-black pottery. They were inspired by Edgar Lee Hewett, who urged them to create pottery of the style found in his archaeological digs. Martinez discovered that using dry powdered horse manure to smother the fire during the outdoor firing process would change the pottery from its usual red-brown finish to black. Horse manure has a high carbon content, and the smothering allows the smoke to be trapped and deposited into the clay by vacuum induction.
Maria’s discovery and refinements transformed the economy of her pueblo, which has about 525 residents today. After watching the video, Wendy and I eagerly looked for her pieces in the collection. For the rest of our trip we would repeatedly spot her work.
The Frontier Restaurant
New Mexico is renowned for good food, and my friend Joe Falkner wrote to us, “If you don’t eat at the Frontier, I will hunt you down. You too, Wendy.” I trust Joe implicitly, so we made sure to drive over on Central Avenue to the University of New Mexico district to sample the offerings at the restaurant which Larry and Dorothy Rainosek have operated since 1971.
Wendy and I gorged ourselves on delicious New Mexican dishes with wonderful hot tortillas. The restaurant has expanded to occupy multiple rooms, and ours had the restroom. That attracted a large shirtless guy from the street, who at first was accosted by a small restaurant worker but then allowed to go about his business and leave. Later, an unintelligible bum wandered by, trying to chat with us about some nonsense. Wendy, irritated, told him to leave or she would call the cops. She was intent on enjoying the sweet roll, which was made from a recipe by a World War II German prisoner-of-war survivor who ran a restaurant in San Marcos, Texas. The local characters were pretty entertaining, with another woman who was standing in line eagerly awaiting the delivery of a batch of hot tortillas to take home. Oh, and the unintended John Wayne theme of this trip continued, with the restaurant abounding in representations of The Duke.
It was the golden hour when we returned to Hotel Andaluz, with the buildings to the east aglow in the setting sun. The view north up 2nd Street, with the city’s ziggurat-like office building rearing up one side, reminded me of an Aztec causeway at Teotihuacan leading past a pyramid.
Thunder and lightning prevented us from venturing out very far by foot, so we relaxed in the lobby and decided to retire to our room to watch an old movie. I wrestled with the hotel television to hook up the DVD player I had brought along so that I could introduce Wendy to Hitchcock’s silly but fun Spellbound, a psychoanalytical thriller starring Ingrid Bergman and Gregory Peck. Just like Brad Brevet, I love the flourishes in it such as the Salvador Dalí dream sequence, the point-of-view shot of Peck drinking a cup of milk, and the shocking finale with its brief burst of red after almost two hours of watching black and white (don’t read about that last shot if you don’t want to spoil the ending of the movie). Wendy agreed with me that Michael Chekhov stole the show with his memorably charming portrayal of Dr. Brulov, delivering wonderful lines from Ben Hecht, who worked on eight of Hitch’s films:
Good night and sweet dreams… which we’ll analyze at breakfast.
My dear girl, you can not keep bumping your head against reality and saying it is not there.
Women make the best psychoanalysts until they fall in love. After that they make the best patients.
Only after the movie ended did Wendy and I realize that we had held hands throughout. Either we’re in love or we both need analysis. We might just be nuts, judging from the crazy photo she took of me down in the hotel library before we watched the film.
The next day we would visit Albuquerque’s Old Town before heading northeast to Santa Fe, stopping along the way at the ruins of the Kuaua Pueblo.