Dawn broke and the passengers of the Southwest Chief began their morning ventures for coffee and breakfast options before heading to the observation car. I had a possible breakfast in the dining car joined by three other passengers eager for Albuquerque. I had never been there before and one of the folks at sat with told me I would love it, there’s no way not to. As the plains turned to desert, sun cracked earth, pastel views and open sky holding hawks, vast cattle ranches replacing corn fields, I began to see why this was referred to as the land of enchantment. There is an element of surrealism watching the heartlands give way to the southwest and experiencing this on the Chief is something I will never forget.
As we stopped for fresh air breaks in Colorado and northern New Mexico, I saw evidence of the importance of this crucial contributor to the national network. All around the station there was commerce. Restaurants, stores, boutiques, offices, banks. Much like the Wild West of old, industry framed the station. It’s pretty clear how the tourism and hospitality of the rail impacts these towns and the threat of that being replaced by bus service to cut costs also shows how that bustitution cuts corners. It is a slap in the face to communities that worked to build a friendly presence by the tracks.
Rolling into Albuquerque, I was welcomed by Lynn Aldrich, member of the Finance Board at RPA, fellow lady transit activist, environmentalist, and one of the nicest people I’d met thus far. The ABQ station plays host to a number of local craft vendors, cafes, bus station, and connecting Road Runner service utilized by thousands in the surrounding counties. I was a few minutes late arriving so we dropped my bags off and headed over to dinner. Lynn pointed out a number of lovely murals and told me to take them in as I made my way around Albuquerque.
One of my most anticipated stops, I had reached out a month before starting the trip to make contact with the folks at Pueblo Harvest, the restaurant located in the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center. Hosted by the 19 Pueblos, this kitchen features foods both pre and post contact highlighting the evolution of local and traditional food in the area. From Bison Carpaccio to Fried Kool-Aid Pickles, to Amaranth Cakes with Apricot, Lavender, and Pepitas, this was a menu both engaging and fascinating.
Chef Brent started out in California and made his way to New Mexico giving up his construction job for his true culinary passion. We were also joined by Joel Wigglesworth, marketer and staff writer for IPCC. As the four of us tucked in to the feast, Joel told us about growing up in the town, what has changed, and what he hopes the future holds. With the new BRT hitting the streets, stable ridership aboard the Road Runner, and strong local pushes to develop mixed use spaces, community programs, and bike lanes, Albuquerque is on it’s way up. Though New Mexico is not a highly populated state, the population present is driven to improve their infrastructure.
The following morning I was invited to have breakfast with Chef Marc of Hotel Andaluz and MAS. He’s been a food network darling and beloved ABQ influencer amongst the culinary scene. As we sat down to a beautiful plate of huevos Rancheros Christmas Style and a big mug of coffee, we talked over changes in the industry and how chefs could utilize rail for private events. I’ve stated before, it’s nice to be able to travel with tools of the trade and not have to deal with TSA and the exorbitant costs of checking baggage on flights. Having made multiple drives spanning LA to Houston, Chef agreed that it would be great to see a high speed rail network across the southwest. After we talked shop, tucked in, and evaluated all the things that make ABQ amazing, it was time to say goodbye and head over to the next destination. Though I only spent one night and breakfast at Andaluz, I definitely recommend it for anyone travelling to Albuquerque by train. It is just a few blocks from the station and this remodeled property is absolutely stunning. From the front desk tucked inside a coy office with grab and go options, to the rooms which are all timelessly decorated this is not just a hotel with a phenomenal restaurant, it’s a hospitality experience.
My next stop was Los Poblanos, a farm and resort experience hosting gorgeous lavender fields, farm tours, and farm to table restaurant Campo. I arrived a few hours before my reservation at Campo so I would have time to take in the experience at large. Best believe my first stop was the pool. On a gorgeous hot sunny day in the southwest, I was delighted to find an oasis. As I strolled through the gardens framing the walkway to the pool house, I breathed in the fragrance of a multitude of aromatics, herbs, and botanicals that left me wondering what would be in store come dinner time.
After changing, blogging, and gathering my devices, I headed over to Campo to see what wonders were in store. I’d only seen rave reviews and locals swooning over the experience. The hype was well-deserved. I started off with a House Margarita and Rock Shrimp Aguachile. I was surprised by both the presentation and portion size. Bursting with flavors of lime, cilantro, cucumbers and peppers, this was well balanced and came across with intention. Served with a basket of tostadas and a pinch of salt, this was a great way to start the meal.
Following the appetizer came a Smoked Carrot Tortellini with peas and turnips. The handmade pasta popped with high contrast and big flavor. The soft green pasta gave way to a rch dark orange carrot filling equally appealing to the eye and mouth. The smokiness came through but was not overwhelming and with the natural sweetness of the carrot and the salty pasta, this is definitely something I would recommend to vegetarian and omnivore friends alike.
Last course I asked my server to choose for me. They have been with the restaurant since they opened and I asked for whatever they thought was an essential Campo entree. A few minutes later Iwas presented with a lovely glass of Tempranillo and a signature menu item – The 12 oz NM Beef Ribeye Ranchero with glazed vegetables, and a hearty Bellamy blue cheese topping. The combination of roasted green chilies, Bellamy blue, and the gorgeously marbled ribeye was a show stopper. As I carved into the deliciousness, I was joined by the Sous Chef who inquired as to my opinion of the experience. For me, Campo is peak farm-to-table dining. Their commitment to not only using their own farm but their tight radius of local farm suppliers, menu integrity, and product transparency is a standard other farm-to-table joints should expect of themselves. My night was made perfect by the work of the whole Los Poblanos & Campo team and the next time I have a big achievement to celebrate, I will absolutely plan on returning here. If you have a long weekend in the southwest or in need of a vacation relaxation destination, this should be your first choice.
My last day in ABQ held two agenda items before my departure. First up a farm tour with Wesley, the farm manager. Second, a meeting with Lynn Aldritch and Adrian Gurule to get the local impression of the regional rail and its connectivity to the national network beyond. After a mug of lavender infused black tea and a quick rosemary roll at the store onsite, I went to meet my tour guide.
Wesley took a small group of guests on an early morning walk spanning the property. As we strolled through the various fields, he clipped off samples of different herbs and answered the many questions our group had. While the lavender fields are immensely popular, the staff here is dedicated to diversifying, growing, and learning. With alpacas, chickens, honey bees, and discussion of additional builds and program extensions, this farm will begin to change the model for future eco-resorts and farm-to-table concepts.
As my time at Los Campos came to an end, I found myself with a little downtime before my afternoon meeting. Joel from IPCC had offered to take me for tacos if I had free time so I sent him a quick text and 20 mins later we were on the way to Sharky’s. I should preface this by saying I love mexican food. Coastal, Interior, Tex-Mex, New-Mex, all of these flavor profiles warm my heart. Having lived in Austin for 5 years, I never say no to tacos.
Joel held the door for me and as I crossed the threshold into Sharky’s, the immediate smell made my mouth water. We were greeted by the owner Carlos who told me to “order extra everything, go relax, and have a michelada”. Not only is Carlos incredibly friendly, he makes incredibly good food. Did we order an insane amount for a light lunch? Yes. Was it worth it? Yes. The bacon wrapped chiles caribe were the first up in this feast, followed by a shrimp quesadilla, and fish tacos with accoutrements from the heartily stocked salsa bar.
Carlos joined us as we snacked. He told me about how a number of local businesses struggled during the BRT construction as traffic was re-routed. Still, he was hopeful that with the BRT expansion, he would see not only a return of regular business, but an increase as well with the nearest station in walking distance. While it’s not light rail, it is a start.
My last gathering in Albuquerque was with Lynn Aldritch and Adrian Gurule to discuss the rail scene in New Mexico, what was changing, their plans to defend their access, and how to better coalition build in less densely populated areas. Adrian is young, driven, and passionate. Lynn has made space for women in both the scientific and transit communities. We wound through a multitude of questions and as we discussed engagement, I asked Adrian questions I’ve been trying to answer with this trip. How do we engage people that might not understand the allure of train travel? For those who are not considerate of the environmental or community impact of changing their mode of transportation, how do we draw them in?
Adrian’s solution is art. Thorough his instagram account @southwest_railroad_photography he tells the story of the passenger. Yes, there’s the occasional meme and jab at Amtrak higher ups, but the content he creates is something people identify with. With a variety of portraits, shots of the train, enchanting landscapes, and well timed commentary, he is opening up the conversation and showing the importance of the services provided in the region.
Lynn spoke to me not only about saving the Southwest Chief, but the need for camaraderie amongst the southwest. There’s so many smaller communities along the routes connecting the region and without passenger rail service, their access to employment withers. It is obvious that many of these towns were first founded along the train tracks and to replace that service with bus routes is insulting to those that worked to develop and enrich these towns. Hearing both Adrian and Lynn describe trekking to the closest access point from some of the northern towns in New Mexico, I was taken back to my conversations earlier in the trip about better connecting Appalachia and the Gulf Coast. Here is another community in need of rail, desperate to expand services and longing for the economic incentives passenger rail can provide.
Saying goodbye to Albuquerque was difficult. It is an enchanting place full of rich history, culture, amazing food and strong community. Seeing a town where so many valued their community and wanted to continue its enrichment in a way that is accountable to the land and its elders is absolutely inspiring. While I looked forward to the end of the trip on the horizon and returning to my home. I know I will be finding more reasons to be In New Mexico moving forward. They deserve real advocacy here and they will need our support to keep their rails running.