Wandering into a Surprise in Albuquerque

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Last week the dogs and I drove a little over three miles to the other side of the Rio Grande to check out an acequia ditch in the “Pat Hurley” neighborhood of Albuquerque. We found a place to park near the ditch and started walking. Five minutes into our walk, it became very obvious to us that walking along this ditch was not going to work. The ditch path was full of goat heads.

We had hoped to wander along this ditch.

We had hoped to wander along this ditch.

If you are not familiar with goat heads, they are a seed from a spreading ground vine and are about the size of dried pea. The problem is that they have a vicious thorn. They are the only thing in the entire world that can stop a dog from walking.

I spent so much time pulling goat heads out of the dogs’ paws that it took us ten minutes to walk less than two hundred feet.

We bailed out of the ditch trail as soon as we could. Ironically, we found a small stairway leading to a nearby street where we bailed out. At the time, I thought that it was probably the best that Albuquerque could offer us in the form of a public stairway.

This small stairway and footbridge allowed us to escape the goat heads on the ditch path.

This small stairway and footbridge allowed us to escape the goat heads on the ditch path.

We continued walking along a series of residential streets at the base of an escarpment on the west side of the Rio Grande. I kept thinking that if Albuquerque were an older city, this would be a perfect place to find a public stairway.

When we reached Pat Hurley Park at the base of the escarpment, I had to rub my eyes. I thought that I had spotted some stairs. And when I looked again, there were stairs!

I thought I was seeing things when I spotted these flights of stairs scattered on the hillside.

I thought I was seeing things when I spotted these flights of stairs scattered on the hillside.

It was not a traditional stairway like you would find in Los Angeles or Bisbee. It was more like a network of trails interspersed with flights of steps all the way to the top.

Here is a Google Earth view of the steps. You can climb a flight of stairs at almost every turn on the route.

Here is a Google Earth view of the steps. You can climb a flight of stairs at almost every turn on the route.

The complex of stairs was an extremely attractive and well-planned public space. The dedication sign at the bottom said that the stairs were opened in 2009.

As you can see the combination of stairs, path, and landscaping is quite attractive. It is a great example of the potential of public space.

As you can see the combination of stairs, path, and landscaping is quite attractive. It is a great example of the potential of public space.

The dogs and I took the southernmost route up. We climbed a total of 157 stair steps before reaching the top. Once on top, we found incredible 360 degree views. We could see clear across Albuquerque and see mountains in almost every direction. If it had been night we would have been looking out at a sea of lights.

Looking across Albuquerque to the east. Can you imagine what this would look like at night?

Looking across Albuquerque to the east. Can you imagine what this would look like at night?

Along with the views there was also this monument to the "Victims of Homicide" at the top!

Along with the views there was also this monument to the “Victims of Homicide” at the top!

What a surprise! I have traveled all across the country searching for stairways and have climbed them in seventeen different states. And here, right in my own backyard, was one that I didn’t even know about! But it is a surprise like this that makes wandering so great! Whenever you allow yourself to see what is already there, you will always make amazing discoveries no matter where you are!

Who would have guessed that these stairs have been sitting under my nose?

Who would have guessed that these stairs have been sitting under my nose?

After taking in the views, we then descended down the stairs on the north side of the park. Halfway down we came to a gazebo where the route split. Depending upon which route you take, there will be approximately 125 or 140 stair steps from the top to the bottom.

I’m not sure if everyone would consider the Pat Hurley steps to be a public stairway since they are confined to a park. But they do connect houses on top of the escarpment with houses below. And they are a definite short cut. If you were to drive to the bottom, you would have to drive one mile to get there. So from the point of view of providing a good walking route, it may be legitimate to consider the Pat Hurley steps to be a public stairway.

When we reached the bottom of the stairs, we resumed our walk by following a city street. When we reached the next street, we spotted a path leading into the bosque (cottonwood forest) along the Rio Grande and followed it. Right when we reached the river, a bald eagle flew immediately in front of us and we watched it land in a nearby tree. We waited until the eagle took off again and watched it fly down the river. Its wing span was enormous.

This footbridge and path took us into the bosque.

This footbridge and path took us into the bosque.

Can you imagine having a network of trails, like this bosque path, right in the middle of the city?

Can you imagine having a network of trails, like this bosque path, right in the middle of the city?

The path took us right to the river.

The path took us right to the river.

And this is the eagle that flew right in front of us.

And this is the eagle that flew right in front of us.

We stayed on the bosque path until we reached the Central Avenue Bridge. From there we followed Central back to our car. While walking on Central we passed a Los Altos Ranch Market.

Los Altos Ranch Markets are large “big box” grocery stores that cater to Mexican Nationals. They are worth a special visit on their own. But since it was on the route, I went in for a quick walk through. The inside was like a Mexican village. There was a tortilla factory, a food court, a bakery, and items that you would be very hard pressed to find outside of Mexico.

Here is the Los Altos Ranch Market. A tour of the inside would be worth a blog post of its own.

Here is the Los Altos Ranch Market. A tour of the inside would be worth a blog post of its own.

On this day, January 6, the Ranch Market’s bakery was literally pumping out Three Kings Cakes and had stacks of them ready for sale. Everyone entering the store, except me, was buying one. When I got home, I looked up Three Kings Cake and learned that they are for celebrating the Epiphany (January 6). I also learned that the cakes have a tiny baby Jesus doll baked into them.

Until I stepped into the Ranch Market, I had no idea that Three Kings Cakes existed. But learning something new is also part of wandering. In fact, The Gentle Art Wandering book has a small section on how much you can learn by wandering around a grocery store. Next year I’ll know better and get a Three Kings Cake on January 6th.

After leaving the store, we soon reached our car and headed home. For a walk that started out as a bust, it turned out to be just great. We found a staircase that I didn’t know was there, saw an eagle, learned about Three Kings Cake, and had a wonderful walk to boot. This walk is a perfect example of how the multidimensional combination of streets and natural areas, learning and new discoveries can make walking in a city every bit as wonderful as walking in the wild.

5 Comments

  1. The City of Albuquerque has a series of leaflets of neighborhood walks, and the Pat Hurley neighborhood is one of them. I’ve explored this area and had experiences similar to yours. Good to remember this area is close by when we Valley dwellers need quick access to some vertical walking.

    • Thanks for mentioning the city’s leaflets of neighborhood walks. I think I have most of them. My edition of the Pat Hurley was published before the stairs were built. Do you know if there is an updated version that includes the stairs?

  2. As soon as I saw that shot at the top I thought, “Hey, I know right where that is!” I don’t believe there has been an update to the neighborhood walk guide to include the steps. I did a piece on the neighborhood itself about a year ago which followed the walking tour. You might find of interest. It’s at Duke City Fix.

    Great post!

    JM

  3. I live near here, it is wonderful to be able to climb the stairs to the top of the escarpment or head the other way to the river.

  4. I live 3 blocks away, with similar views. I rent guest space and regularly recommend they take a walk to the park. Often, I see buses there with tourists or prople taking wedding, prom pics.

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