I can’t say that Albuquerque was ever on my travel bucket list, but there are few places I would not visit if the reward involved a puppy.
Let me preface this travel diary with a bit of background info. Earlier this year, I decided it was time to pursue my true calling: being a fur mama. It had been a quiet three years in our house after my family’s old collie passed away, and I felt ready to bring a new puppy into our lives.
I spent several months researching different breeds. I wanted a herding dog that would be active enough to keep up with my own fitness interests. Emotionally, though, I wasn’t sure if another collie was the right choice. It seemed too much like “replacing” the dog we had lost to cancer.
Eventually, my research led me to the Australian Shepherd. I’d always admired this breed, and all the traits matched what I was looking for in a dog. After poking my nose into a few online communities to express my interest in becoming an Aussie owner, I was contacted by Theresa of Desert Willow Aussies. She mentioned that she’d just had a litter born and there were puppies still available. Plus, each puppy came with a health guarantee and detailed contract. Less-reputable breeders claimed they “didn’t give health contracts because they’d never had complaints.” It sounded a little fishy to me, so in comparison, Theresa was a breath of fresh air!
Before I’m called out for “shopping”: trust me, I wanted to rescue. I searched dozens of shelters, but every dog that fit our household had significant health concerns. I didn’t feel comfortable with caring for severe health issues, due to lack of experience and my career change. Of course, I wanted to bring all the blind and deaf dogs home with me. However, because this was my first dog and not a family pet, I felt it was wiser for me to learn dog ownership via a new puppy with an accessible background. This way, in the future, I’d have the necessary skills to care for special needs animals.
After a call with Theresa to determine my compatibility with her puppies, I signed the paperwork and paid my deposit. Then, I began preparing for my new life as a fur mama. It involved a lot of “nesting.”
(For future puppy parents, nesting involves obsessively scouring Amazon for the best toys and “must-have” pet products. I also took it a step further and ordered custom collars and tags from Etsy. And sewed a bed. And clothing. I’m insane, I know.)
There was just one challenge to overcome: I’m in Michigan, and the breeder was located in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Neither of us wanted to shove the puppy in a cargo crate and hope for the best. Alternatively, a week-long road trip wasn’t an option with my work schedule.
And so, the beginning of summer saw me flying to Albuquerque to meet my new fur baby and bring him back home.
It would be a six-hour trip from Albuquerque back to Michigan, so I flew in the night before the pick-up. I arrived at 5 o’ clock, which meant I had a solid 18 hours to kill before I had to be at the airport in the morning.
Like I mentioned, Albuquerque wasn’t a must-see destination for me, but I was nonetheless thrilled to be visiting somewhere new. The only downside was that, subtracting time to shower and sleep, I would only have a few hours for sight-seeing. I wanted to be sure I would see something that captured the spirit of the city, so I asked the folks at /r/Albuquerque for their recommendations. They told me about a few different restaurants, bars, and clubs, along with hiking areas and historic landmarks. I wish I’d had enough time to take the Tramway to see the sunset, but as it happened, it was a rather chilly and drizzly evening anyways.
I wanted to be near the airport so I wouldn’t have to worry about traffic in the morning (or super high Lyft fare), so I stayed at the Best Western near the Sunport. It was a Best Western, so not particularly grand, but it was spotless, the bed was comfortable, and the service was impeccably friendly. As far as airport hotels go, it’s certainly been one of my better experiences!
St. Clair Winery & Bistro
Once I had checked in and freshened up, I hailed another Lyft to reach my first destination: St. Clair Winery & Bistro.
This blog is still young, so my passion for wine may not be apparent yet. But believe me, if it involves wine, I am there. (Disclaimer: this does not mean I have a refined palette. I’m terribly basic; the more it takes like Adult Juicy Juice, the better.) So when the /r/Albuquerque folks recommended a winery to me, it was an immediate “must-see.”
It was pouring rain when I was dropped off at the winery, but I was instantly charmed. The manager (or owner, I wasn’t sure) held the door open as I dashed inside. A warm, comforting atmosphere enveloped me. I’d obviously never been there before, but it somehow felt familiar. The hostess offered for me to take my pick of either a booth in the dining area or a seat at the bar. Commandeering an entire table felt selfish, so to the bar it was.
To my slight disappointment, the gentleman sitting next to me had no interest in conversing; apparently the creme brûlée was incredible enough that it demanded his full attention. Fortunately, the bartender’s hospitality more than made up for it! She was an utter delight. After explaining that it was my first visit to Albuquerque, she made it a priority to tell me a bit about the city, She also provided her personal recommendations for what I should do with my remaining time that evening. (I wish I’d caught her name… but if a manager is somehow reading this, whoever was on bar duty on the evening of May 31, 2017 deserves a raise.)
I can’t speak to the dining menu since I was horrendously irresponsible and didn’t order any food. (Honestly, jet lag kills my appetite every time I fly.) If it counts for anything, the silent gent next to me really enjoyed his spaghetti. And once that creme brûlée was placed in front of him, he didn’t resurface until the plate was clean.
What I can speak to is their wine flight service. St. Clair carries award-winning wines from their family-owned New Mexico vineyard. You can order individual glasses, but for the full experience, I recommend ordering a flight so you can sample a variety of their offerings. As with any flight service, there’s risk involved, as you may end up with a glass of something that isn’t quite to your tastes. Thankfully, St. Clair anticipates this, so they categorize their flights by several taste preferences: dry wines, sparkling wines, red wines, white wines, sweet wines, and so on. If you’re lucky like I was, your bartender may also listen to your personal wine preferences and customize your selection.
I’m not sure if it’s their general policy, but I will share that my bartender did not charge me for the two wines I happened to dislike. (They were ice wines and just a bit too sweet, even for me.) If that is their general policy, that’s some A+ customer service. And, if not… well, it definitely made a positive impression on me as far as Albuquerque hospitality is concerned!
The wines themselves? Divine. Being from Michigan, I’m no stranger to fruit-based wines, and that’s typically what I gravitate towards. I tried a Gewürztraminer and Lescombes Ratafia, both of which were quite satisfying. But it was the Malvasia Bianca that made it into my bullet journal’s wine log. It was a white wine with hints of peach and honeydew. What I enjoyed most is that, while sweet, it wasn’t sickly so. There was a crisp after-note to it that accented the flavors, rather than smothering them.
Seriously, this wine was so unique and memorable that I’m tempted to order a bottle of it the next time Treat Yo’ Self Day rolls around.
By the time I finished my wine, the rain had passed, leaving behind overcast skies and a faint chill to the air. I grabbed my camera and took a half-mile walk to the city’s historic Old Town district. I’m sure there are more exciting ways to spend an evening in Albuquerque, but again: I’d never been here before. I wanted to do some solo exploring to see some of the history, and it was a good excuse for experimenting with landscape photography.
There was a family and a few other tourists, but for the most part, I was alone. Framed against the dreary skies, exploring Old Town felt like walking through a ghost town from an old Western.
It was eerie, but it was charming, too. Everything was closed by that time; still, I thoroughly enjoyed taking myself on a walking tour through the district.
Eventually, I felt cold from the damp air, so I called it an early night and returned to the inn, where I fell asleep after a solid two hours of HGTV. Again, I’m sure there was something more riveting I could have done if I’d felt like going to another bar or clubbing, but GrubHub and the Property Brothers were calling.
After a restless sleep due to excitement, I woke up, had a pleasant 6 A.M. breakfast at the nearby Village Inn, and returned to the airport. And there…
I finally met this precious little guy. (Don’t worry, you’ll see plenty more of him around these parts!)
Though a brief trip, I loved my stay in Albuquerque. I hope I’m able to visit again in the future — maybe for a dog family reunion? I’ll hope the weather is more pleasant, too, so I can venture up into the canyons for some hiking.
With grad school starting soon and a puppy on my hands, I don’t have any major trips planned for the rest of the year. That being said: are you interested in travel diaries for Midwestern destinations or day trips? Leave a comment or let me know directly!