We were supposed to be in Albuquerque in time for dinner, fireworks, and an earlier bedtime than the previous two weeks so we could get an early start in the morning and head to Palo Duro Canyon State Park in Texas.
When we woke up to a crooked camper on July 5, we had phone calls to make before any decisions could be made. By the time the mobile technicians had confirmed our worst fears (a broken axle), we knew we were stuck until Monday at the very earliest.
Suddenly we had to turn a one-night stay into a four-day mini-vacation.
Summer is blockbuster time, but we intentionally left for a vacation away from it all just when some of the most anticipated films of the summer came out. Our first stranded day, after getting a couple items that we needed to accommodate our situation, we took the kids to see Spiderman. The levity of the film helped us temporarily forget that we were stranded, and we headed back to the camper for a game of mini golf at the KOA and a late dinner of hot dogs before making decisions for the next day.
Our second full day was just more of the same. We played some mini golf, the kids played at the playground and swam, we waited for news that never came, and then we took the kids to see Toy Story 4, which again offered some much needed levity while also hitting a little too close to home (something that those who have seen the film and who have followed our story will understand).
By the end of our second full day in Albuquerque we were getting a little concerned. We knew the city for two things: the balloon festival and Breaking Bad. Unbeknownst to us, Jeff still had the Waze on his phone set to taking us around highways, necessary when we were limping our camper into town but not necessary once we were “safely” parked. This meant that we were seeing all of Albuquerque, not just the charming old city that is meant for tourists. During our first two days in the city we saw a lot that reminded us of Breaking Bad, suddenly making the show all the more believable. There were a lot of broken down and boarded up houses and buildings and lack of evidence of a thriving economy. It wasn’t scary; it was sad. We really didn’t know what to think of the city where we had found ourselves for the unforeseeable future. It didn’t help that on our way home we experienced a desert thunderstorm with a downpour that surprisingly temporarily rivaled rains we frequently experience in Houston. Hamburgers would have to wait. We ordered Dominos and called it a night.
By our third day, we decided it was time to become tourists. We started with heading to Los Pollos Hermanos of Breaking Bad fame. We figured we needed to eat lunch anyway, so we might as well make that a stop. Interestingly enough, Los Pollos Hermanos is actually Twisters, a New Mexico fast food franchise that sells Mexican and New-Mex fare. While it took us to the outskirts of town and we had to wait for awhile for our food, it was really good and well worth the stop. Judging by the number of people taking pictures inside the restaurant, we weren’t the only ones making a fan pilgrimage while in town.
Next on the Breaking Bad fan list is a stop in Old Town Plaza to visit The Candy Lady shop, where they sell bags of actual prop candy from the show. Our arrival in Old Town Plaza finally revealed the charming Albuquerque that the travel guides promote. It reminded us a lot of Old Town Santa Fe, which makes sense since they are both New Mexico cities founded around the same time. Our initial stop in Old Town was quick; we had plans to visit another NPS site and the timing window was tight.
Since Petroglyphs National Monument is quite literally in Albuquerque, we decided that it was worth checking out. Besides, the prospect of another Junior Ranger badge was enough to convince the kids that maybe being stuck for a couple days wasn’t that bad. We picked up trail guides and Junior Ranger books and drove the fifteen minutes to Piedras Marcadas Canyon, which is located on the backside of a more upscale and newer Albuquerque neighborhood. It was interesting to hike a trail showing up to 400 petroglyphs created between 400 and 700 years ago by the ancestors of today’s Pueblo people and other native groups traveling through the area. The fact that these drawings in volcanic rock are so well preserved on the edge of a residential area is unreal. While this isn’t a side trip that we would have normally intentionally put into our trip itinerary, it was a cool addition to our passport books and the kids’ Junior Ranger vests, even though it was a race to the finish to make sure they got their books done in time before the visitor center closed.
We headed back to Old Town Plaza, shopped for pottery and jewelry made by local artisans, and generally enjoyed the atmosphere. If we had to become tourists, we were going to make the most of it. Since it was Sunday night, most things were closing by 6, but it was ok. We still got a good taste for what was in the area and since our son had found something that he really wanted in The Candy Lady shop and nothing else would suffice, I knew the kids and I would have to make a return the next day while Jeff did his best to work from the camper.
Our last full day in Albuquerque was a mix of figuring out our situation, Jeff trying to work, and me trying to entertain the kids away from the camper. We headed back to Old Town so that we could get our son’s desired souvenir, ate a quick lunch, and then headed over to Explora, the hands-on children’s museum in town. It was fairly cheap (they even gave me a teacher discount) and it kept the kids entertained for a couple hours before we needed to head back “home.” It was a really fun place to visit and well worth the side trip.
We didn’t want to become accidental tourists in Albuquerque, but we eventually found the charming side to the city and enjoyed it while we were there. While we would have preferred to have been on the road, it is a worthwhile stop for those who are driving through. It wasn’t in the plan, but we got to extend our vacation just a little more before making the final decision to go home.