The Road Less Traveled to Ten 3

(Story by Amy Morton / Photographs by Liz Lopez)

It’s been three long years since High Finance—the hexagonally-shaped, wooden-paneled throwback restaurant once located atop Albuquerque’s Sandia Peak—was torn down. I say “long” as an avid hiker who also likes to eat and thus found great motivation in hiking to a restaurant sitting on a mountaintop to enjoy a meal I had most definitely “earned.” While this type of “backcountry hospitality” is a longstanding tradition in Europe, where hikers, cyclists and skiers have entire circuits of inns and taverns waiting to receive them, it was not something I had encountered until moving to Albuquerque’s East Mountains and discovering the astonishing network of trails available to me in the Cibola National Forest, just a short drive from my house.

Within a few years, with the help of a good trail map and some new hiking buddies, I’d identified several routes that would take me to High Finance, typically for a guilt-free green chile cheeseburger. (See the sidebar for my favorite loop hike.) Yes, the restaurant, built in the 1960s around the same time as the Sandia Peak Tramway, and later renovated in the 1970s, was dated. But I still loved the payoff of emerging from the meditative solitude of the forest—typically having passed more black Abert’s squirrels and mule deer than other Homo sapiens—and finding myself at a busy tram depot and packed restaurant, surrounded by all manner of mankind. That’s not to mention the stunning views and the opportunity to sit down, take a breather and tear into some hot food that certainly eclipsed my trail snacks.

Flash forward to August 2019, and imagine my pleasure at being able to do all of this once again, but in a sleek new building that cost a reported $7.5 million and, as promised by owner Benny Abruzzo (whose father Ben developed the original structure, as well as the tram and ski area, along with partner Bob Nordhaus), delivers views that are “ten times better.” That’s in part because this  larger reincarnation designed with an uber-modern sensibility by the San Francisco architectural firm Bull Stockwell Allen, a high-altitude specialist, sits even closer to the peak’s vertiginous edge. And unlike High Finance, which was oriented only to the Western views of the Rio Grande Basin (not to say anything negative about this remarkable 11,000-square-mile panorama), the new incarnation manages to up the ante by offering sweeping dual views looking both West and East. As Abruzzo said at the ribbon-cutting ceremony, it’s a forward-thinking destination built “for the next 50 years.”

Named Ten 3 in homage to Sandia Peak’s elevation of 10,378 feet, the new restaurant also offers two different dining areas: a sophisticated fine dining room that is reservation-only and dinner-only, and a more relaxed yet still surprisingly upscale walk-in bar that is open for lunch, dinner and in between. While most patrons of Ten 3’s bar/lounge arrive in waves via the tram—a 15-minute, 2.7-mile ride that is spectacular in its own right—we spot at least a few fellow hikers and trail runners when we arrive around 12:15 p.m. on a Friday and snag the last two spots at the hopping 16-seat central bar, which thankfully has comfy stools, footrests and bar hooks for our bags. As further evidence of our ilk being present, I soon overhear a fit fellow in a “Run Alaska” hat amiably discussing trail running shoes with our bartender—who’s clad in a hip black denim apron, gray button-down and dark jeans—while a bearded hiker is amusingly asked to check his large walking stick at the host stand.

While taking in the diverse mix of tourists and local outdoors enthusiasts, I am struck by the room’s decidedly industrial-chic décor, from the exposed ductwork in the ceilings to the metal-and-wire liquor display suspended over the bar to the black, gray and wood accents. Only a handful of nature paintings offer splashes of color, letting the wall-to-wall windows with expansive Eastern views of the ski slopes—still full of lush, knee-high grass—and beyond provide the true focal point. Surrounded by all this on-trend minimalism, I suddenly feel a tad grubby in my sweaty hiking attire. However, a British couple seated next to us assures me I look fresh as a daisy, while affirming that they too thought the place “fancy!” They share that they’re traveling the Southwest by RV and decided to take the tram up and spend their one day in Albuquerque at Sandia Peak—proving it remains the city’s top “must-do” activity for visitors, but happily, now with a significantly elevated dining experience.

And that, of course, brings us to Chef J. Steve Brockman’s bar menu, which comes in a few notches above casual fare. Yes, you can still get a burger, of course, but it will be grass-fed and served on brioche, for example.  (My new friends—the British RVers—both enjoyed their burgers very much, they’d like you to know.) Personally, I found myself most intrigued by the shareables, an eclectic array of offerings ranging from Puget Sound Oysters on the half shell to Crispy Brussels Sprouts with pumpkin seeds to Arancini with tomato jam. While pondering my options, I sipped on a Cynar Julep from the creative cocktail menu. Made with the unusual choice of cynar, an Italian bittersweet liqueur derived from artichokes, plus 13 plants and herbs, as well as a citrusy twist of grapefruit, it was delightfully refreshing, deeply botanical and unlike anything I’ve ever had. Ten 3 also has 12 beers on tap, including local favorites like La Cumbre, Bosque and Steel Bender, plus a host of wines on tap, too.

Ultimately, we decided on the Gulf Shrimp and Blue Corn Grit Cake and the Green Chile Mac N Cheese from the shareables, as well as a virtuous Quinoa Salad—with kale, sweet potatoes and black beans—for balance. The Mac N Cheese, served in an oval skillet, popped with generous chunks of smoky green chile and crunchy bacon—a solid crowd pleaser that three or four people could tuck into. The Quinoa Salad was also everything we’d hoped for, with tender kale that was perfectly dressed. But our hands-down favorite was the incredibly flavorful and aesthetically pleasing Blue Corn Grit Cake, which was beautifully presented in an artisanal black bowl that highlighted all the colors in the dish: the soft, purple interior of the crunchy grit cake, the plump pink shrimp, the winsome handful of microgreens and the luscious reddish-orange sauce, made with Manchego, chorizo and red pepper. While richer than expected, we simply couldn’t stop eating this dish. But hey, we hiked here, right?

My Favorite Loop Trail to Ten 3 (Crest Spur-La Luz-Crest Trail)

Many people are familiar with the two most popular trails to Ten 3 and the upper tram depot: La Luz Trail (#137), which starts in the far-north Albuquerque foothills, and the Crest Trail (#130), which starts at the Crest House lower parking lot, located where the Sandia Crest National Scenic Byway (the twisty, roughly 14-mile road to the top of the mountain from the East Mountains side) ends. Ironically, they are the hardest and easiest ways to get there, respectively.

La Luz is a very strenuous, uphill, view-laden 7.5-mile hike for the seriously hardcore (you can then take the tram back down if desired). In contrast, the Crest Trail is an easy-to-moderate, relatively flat, mostly forested 1.5-mile hike across the top of the mountain. (You then typically take the same route back.)

But when it comes to impressing visitors and satisfying mildly adventurous hiking aficionados, I highly recommend a gorgeous, fairly easy loop variation that combines the Crest Spur Trail (#84) with the last, non-grueling stretch of the La Luz Trail (#137) trail, and then returns you to your car on the Crest Trail (#130). It’s only slightly longer than simply taking the Crest Trail back and forth—and it starts from the same parking lot—but it’s got breathtaking Western views as you essentially hug the edge of the lichen-covered limestone ridge that crowns the Sandias. That’s not to mention its otherworldly terrain full of wind-sculpted limber pines, Engelmann spruces, quaking aspens (which will turn bright gold come early October), white firs, shiny gambel oaks, neon-green ferns and myriad wildflowers, depending on the time o’ year.

WHERE IT STARTS: Many people don’t know this hike because the trailhead is a bit hidden. At the Western end of the Crest House lower parking lot, walk up the concrete stairs located right behind the Crest House building, and you’ll soon see the small sign for the Crest Spur Trail (#84). Here you’ll begin descending for a half-mile, with some steep and narrow downhill sections next to heart-pounding drop-offs, so watch your footing and go slow. Soon the limestone cliff will begin towering above you to your left, adding a staggering scale to an already vast perspective, and you may see peregrine falcons and cliff swallows circling the spiky formations in Chimney Canyon below.

WHERE YOU TURN: After roughly 30 to 45 minutes, you’ll reach a sunny clearing surrounded by massive ponderosas that is the junction with La Luz Trail (#137). During water breaks here, you might hear and see tanagers, goshawks, white-breasted nuthatches and other prized birds of the Sandias. When you’re ready to resume, veer left for the last 30 to 45 minutes of La Luz, which is rather pleasant, wide and gentle, comparatively. You’ll alternate between cool, shady sections and bright, jaw-dropping panoramas before you reach Ten 3 with a belly demanding attention.

HOW YOU RETURN: Follow the signs for the Crest Trail (#130) from the new deck on the lower level of Ten 3, which happily offers 24-hour public bathrooms and a water fountain complete with a bottle-filling feature. It’s pretty easy to make your way back to the parking lot except for one hard left turn you’ll have to make to stay on 130, right after Kiwanis Meadow, as well as a few uphill cardio sections. Just check the trail signs anytime you hit a fork in the trail and always stay on 130. For the last 10 minutes or so, the Crest Trail will emerge from the mossy forest onto a sheer cliff with killer views, a rock staircase and informational displays. (This stretch doubles as part of the Crest Nature Trail.)

TOTAL TIME ROUND-TRIP: This roughly 3.2-mile loop hike takes anywhere from two to three hours total (not including your refueling pit stop at Ten 3), but it all depends on your pace, conditioning and altitude acclimation. When you add in a meal at Ten 3 and the approximately hour-long drive from Albuquerque to the trailhead and back, you’re looking at about a five-to-six-hour adventure.

Note: Temperatures at the crest are about 20 degrees cooler than in Albuquerque, so dress accordingly and consider layers. It’s also a good idea to check the forecast in advance at Due to its steepness and high cliff edges, the Crest Spur Trail should be avoided during snowy, icy or muddy conditions. Also, proper hiking shoes with good traction are a must.

On the Road October 2019

(Story by Sharon Niederman)

Cottonwoods don’t get enough love, in my opinion. Right after shimmering aspen leaves have turned and blown away, bosque-dwelling cottonwoods, which co-evolved with the Rio Grande, await crisp autumn breezes to burnish their leaves to brilliant gold, granting us a few “last beautiful days of autumn,” as John Nichols memorably titled one of his books. A favorite place to appreciate the beauty of these trees, which live 75–100 years but have enough character to seem much older, is the River Road, New Mexico State Road 68, that follows the Rio Grande from around Alcalde up to Taos.


Double—no, triple star this one. Tenth Annual Fred Harvey History Weekend, Oct. 25–28, travels north from its Santa Fe base to Las Vegas Sun., Oct. 27 for the official grand re-opening of trackside 1879 Castaneda Hotel, starting with talks by Allan Affeldt and Tina Mion and a tour at 1:30 p.m., free and open to the public. At 6:30 p.m. a grand re-opening dinner will be served at Kin, the Castaneda’s new restaurant. $75 per person. For reservations:; more info on Facebook.

For a day of fall perfection, journey to Wagners Farms, 5000 Corrales Rd., Corrales for the 6th Annual Apple & Pumpkin Fest, Oct. 12–13, starting 10 a.m. Hayrides, fresh cider, u-pick apples, pumpkin patch, live music. And it’s free! Separate admission for Farm Experience Corn Maze & Petting Zoo. Check it out on Facebook or call 505-898-3903.


This event’s been on my bucket list quite a while:  the Northern Navajo Nation Fair in Shiprock, known as the oldest and most authentic such gathering, this year held Oct. 3–6, noon-midnight, at Shiprock Fairgrounds, 101 Uranium Blvd., Shiprock. Admission is charged to rodeo only, but parking fees charged. Native market, traditional songs and dances, powwow, parade. Details at


The Buckhorn Tavern in San Antonio, New Mexico lives! Locals Ernie and Stephanie Sichler purchased the 76-year-old establishment from Bobby Olguin, and they are, after a summer of refurbishing and upgrading, serving the legendary Buckhorn Burger at 68 US Highway 380, lunch and dinner, closed Sundays. You may recall the Buckhorn Burger gained national fame when it beat Bobby Flay in a Food Network throwdown. Are the burgers still that good? We’ll just have to go and find out! (No reservations or takeout orders.) Visit

No better Sunday drive than heading out East Mountain way to Manzano Mountain Retreat and Apple Ranch—please see my story titled Manzano Mountain Retreat & Apple Ranch for particulars. Also visit

About a half-hour drive south of Mesilla on scenic New Mexico State Road 28, drive up to La Viña Winery in La Union. This wonderful vineyard and winery lays claim to being the state’s oldest, established 1977. Their Harvest Festival, featuring 20 wines, vendors, and live music on their gorgeous grounds, will be held Oct.19–20, noon–7 p.m. $20 admission gets you a souvenir glass and nine tastes. Check out

Calling all pagans, wizards, druids and ciccans: Come for the magic at Pagan Pride Day, Las Cruces, Oct. 5 10:00 am–3:00 pm, Pioneer Park, 500 W. Las Cruces. Las Cruces’ Pagan celebration is held in conjunction with the international Pagan Pride Project and timed with the autumnal equinox. Food, shopping, entertainment and more. More details on Facebook.

Really, really scary. That’s the word on McCalls Haunted Farm in Moriarty. Haunted Cornfield, Haunted Barn and Zombie Hunt are truly terrifying! These Halloween season activities go along with the fun to be had at McCall’s Pumpkin Patch, with a 16-acre corn maze, hayrides, pumpkin picking, and shoot a pumpkin from a cannon in the “Pumpkin Chunkin.” Warning: very, very popular. Tickets available online.  7–10 p.m. weekends through Oct. 26. Prices range from $4.95 general admission to $54.95 VIP passes. Check out


How far would you go for sausage? How about if the sausage was local kielbasa made from a generations-old recipe? Deming’s 91st annual Klobase and Barbeque Festival, celebrating the area’s Czech heritage is happening Oct. 20, at the Luna County Courthouse Park, serving from 11 a.m.–2 p.m. Sponsored by Holy Family Catholic Church, 575.546.9763.

Three days of workshops, panels, and performance are bound to entertain and stimulate both you and your muse at the Southwest Festival of the Written Word in Silver City, at various venues around town.  Whether your interest is poetry, historic fiction, occult, or YA, it’s all here at this gathering of outstanding writers presenting their craft. Oct. 4–6. Writing sin fronteras! Visit

See you on the road!

New Kid on the Block

(Story by Cullen Curtiss / Photography by Gabriella Marks)

If you were fortunate to grow up in a neighborhood, you might agree that the collection of streets and intersections, of stoops and sidewalks, of hoops and hopscotch is where it all begins, your sense of place and belonging. My husband’s childhood Garcia Street neighborhood has changed a bit from the 1960s and ’70s, but that doesn’t take away from the fact that he took his first steps there, in the only house his parents could afford. That he used to buy his mother cigarettes from Tito’s Food Line on the corner. That dogs and kids ran free over adobe walls and through the streets. It doesn’t matter what it is now, only what it was. It was his neighborhood and it shaped him.

As it celebrates a decade, New Mexico School for the Arts is so very pleased to have established their permanent home in the neighborhood where it belongs.

Co-founder of NMSA with Cindy Montoya, Catherine Oppenheimer nods Yes when I ask if she had her sights on the Sanbusco Market Center before it was even for sale. “When Borders left, the writing was on the wall,” she says as she opens the door to the yet-to-be-mirrored dance studio. She removes her shoes, and bounces in first position, ever the ballet dancer, and questions hard-hatted Nicholas, “This is sprung, right?”

We move through the remainder of the dance and theater space that was once Cost Plus World Market. There is so much light, a critical design element of the entire school. Walls glide to create separate spaces over a vast sprung floor that will be the one area able to accommodate the entire school, which now educates 250 students and promises 400. “We made an offer when Sanbusco first went into bankruptcy, and they laughed at us!”

Over the next few years, that team, including architects, contractors and lawyers investigated many other potential sites— St. Catherine’s Indian School, a building near the Department of Transportation, the College of Santa Fe, the Scottish Rite Center. “We figured out a way to make all of them work, but this was by far the best,” Oppenheimer says, opening the door to the Paseo, the former Sanbusco thoroughfare connecting all retail stores, and originally, a drive-through for lumber pick-up at the Santa Fe Builders Supply Co. The generous walkway allows a large circle of black-T-shirt-clad theater students to improv, hurrying cello-and guitar-bearing musicians to get to practice, and friends in quadruple to skip hand-in-hand. The former storefronts’ glass walls extend the footprint of each classroom, and convey a message of transparency and flexibility (most classrooms flip from an a.m. academic focus to a p.m. arts focus).

“After three years, they were putting [Sanbusco] on, and we decided to go for it,” Oppenheimer smiles. “It’s one thing to say, in theory, that we need a permanent building for our school. It’s another thing to raise $30 million.”

And yet they did, and the school is owned, debt free. “Now with this physical plant, this will be New Mexico’s school,” she says. “That, plus a great culture and a great track record, I do not have any qualms about the school continuing on a path to success.” That path is trussed with a mix of critical elements: to name a few, location, culture and resources (the academic program is funded through the state charter by the state of New Mexico; the private sector and foundations support the arts, the outreach and the residential component).

Oppenheimer (who was also NDI-New Mexico’s co-founder) had experience scoping out neighborhoods. She recalls the early days of sweeping up needles and broken vials from the parking lot of NDI’s permanent Santa Fe home at the Dance Barns, and similar situations at the Albuquerque Hiland location. “But these schools change neighborhoods,” she says. “They create a lot of traffic—people, ideas, movement.”

As Oppenheimer envisioned, NMSA buzzes in the Santa Fe Railyard district, just steps from the Rail Runner’s terminus and bus line connections, delivering students from all points. “It’s part of the cultural life of the city, embedded in the heart near museums.” Not your typical new-kid-on-the-block-who-has-trouble-fitting-in, NMSA had been building strong partnerships with its now-neighbors (and several other local arts organizations) for years, those being SITE Santa Fe, form & concept gallery, Warehouse 21, Jean Cocteau Cinema/Stagecoach Foundation, Violet Crown. These and others offer indisputable proof that art is important to people, meaningful to Santa Fe and its visitors, and that cultivating a child’s creativity and passion gives them a chance at a future as an artist.

Director of Communications Sean Johnson says, “Our arrival here is meteoric for the area. We can be an anchor in this community.” Johnson’s use of the term anchor comes with confidence. In the years spent building a case for a statewide arts school in Santa Fe, Oppenheimer and her founding team visited a wide variety of publicly funded statewide residential art schools in Alabama, Mississippi, California, Minnesota and North Carolina, and two private schools—Idyllwild Arts Academy and Interlochen Center for the Arts—and what they saw buoyed them. “North Carolina School for the Arts was built in the middle of the state, in the country, and a city has grown up around it in 75 years,” says Oppenheimer. “This model works.”

And the time seems right. The University of New Mexico Bureau of Business & Economic Research published a report in 2014 titled, “Building on the Past, Facing the Future: Renewing the Creative Economy of New Mexico”, in which it wrote: “Cities, states and nations across the world are embracing arts and culture, and creative industries generally as a foundation for the development of a 21st century economy. With a genuinely unique history, a creatively engaged population and a strong national and global reputation, New Mexico is well positioned to succeed in the development of its own creative economy.”

Also in the report, one of the five noted challenges reads: “Development of a workforce for creative industries, including creation of employment and training opportunities for individuals entering the field and the retention of skilled professionals.” Similar findings nearly 15 years ago lit a fire under Oppenheimer when NMSA was just an idea some NDI parents shared. “They came into my office and said, ‘Can’t NDI start a school? We’ll help you. The academics and the dancing can be combined.’”

“And then I sat next to Stuart Ashman when he was Cabinet Secretary of the New Mexico Department of Cultural Affairs, and he said, ‘The truth is that New Mexico is increasingly importing its artists and middle and senior managers in the arts. We are known for our arts and culture and yet we are not nurturing and developing our own youth to participate.”

The fire was set aflame. Oppenheimer ran with the idea brought to her by the NDI moms, one of whom was co-founder and current president Cindy Montoya, whose 10-year-old daughter, now a professional dancer with Stephen Petronio’s company in New York, was Oppenheimer’s student. Serious and committed students like Montoya’s daughter spent 20-25 hours a week at NDI, and then traveled home to all points north to tackle homework and chores, and to eat dinner.

As we walk past the soundproof practice rooms, Oppenheimer says, “Cindy built the school—the culture and community, the data and assessments, the mindfulness. It is reflective of who she is in the world—deeply kind, caring, gracious, funny, with a never-give-up attitude. She’s created a culture like that.”

While obtaining her master’s degree in education with a focus on English-language learners and at-risk students at the College of Santa Fe, Montoya became even more sensitive to the different kinds of kids that make up a classroom. She says, “At the end of the day, all parents want is for their children to be safe and supported, and that’s all that students want as well. This is where our cultural values begin.”

We stop at the intersection of lockers and each say hello to someone as students jostle past and teachers weave and smile. It feels like a bottleneck. NMSA’s former home at St. Francis Cathedral School was approximately 32,000 square feet, and its current home will be more than double that once the money and the phased plans of dorm, cafeteria and performing arts center align. Oppenheimer says, “Part of our culture was built on being on top of everyone, and the artistic collisions and creativity. Now, music has its wing, dance has its, etc. So we were conscious to put all of the lockers in this space so there has to be a collision.”

And conscious with everything else, it would seem. Teachers and students were consulted in the programming-inspired architectural and design decisions. What do you need in order to teach and learn well? (One peek at the science lab, and it’s clear that a science teacher was asked for input.) The school practices a “non-punitive” approach to academics, based on the concept of learning in the arts, which is always reiterative. Oppenheimer says, “Any kind of artist expects to do another rendition, and get lots of critiques. We start where you are. We take the shame away. We help you reiterate and get a deeper understanding.” This approach is ideal for a great number of NMSA’s students who hail from 67 communities/pueblos in 15 counties and many of whom enter behind grade level. Montoya says of the ultimate goal, “Everyone can grow, but this is how you close that gap.”

Another gap-closing methodology “to make things obvious and transparent,” according to Montoya, are the grade-level academic seminars. Students can get help with a range of issues—executive function, social-emotional, time management, exam preparation, academic aptitude. Oppenheimer says, “Early on, we realized we were asking artists to be open and create, and this brought up a lot of challenges.”

Students are encouraged to intentionally explore their personal identity and cultural history to emphasize that “we value different perspectives. We learn from our unique dimensions of race, gender, family and home,” Montoya says. “We all have something to learn.” I read a quotation from a student: “If I hadn’t come here, I would have given up on my passion.”

Oppenheimer and Montoya nod—they say that sentiment represents most of the kids. “Part is passion and access to lessons, but mostly, they found their people. It’s about belonging. They are the common culture here,” Oppenheimer says.

With the location right and the culture working, a 98-percent graduation rate and 95-percent college acceptance rate, the next steps are to just plain fly. Certainly the City will be flying as a result: an economic impact analysis conducted in 2016 found that NMSA’s recurring contribution to the City over the next 10 years in their Railyard neighborhood is estimated to be $8 million annually.

Of course, there’s still quite a bit of money to raise to launch the subsequent phases. And that committee is the only one Oppenheimer still chairs, which is meaningful for a person who has been chair of every NMSA committee. “It’s time to step back,” she says.

But her last words make me wonder if she will or if she can. “I am in the midst of a culture that is inspiring. It gives your life purpose and meaning. I was there for the kid who wouldn’t move, who slumped and dragged his feet and then all of sudden busted out and let their body have space.”

Regardless, Montoya will be there. “Having the opportunity to lead NMSA has been the golden ticket,” she says. If you’ve not already, you’ll see those NMSA kids walking around in their new neighborhood someday soon, where they are happy to belong.

To learn more about the New Mexico School for the Arts, go to

Manzano Mountain Retreat & Apple Ranch

(Story and photographs by Sharon Niederman)

“With an apple, I shall astonish Paris,” said Paul Cézanne And he did—with his many still lifes and such. But you don’t have to book a flight to Paris to find astonishing apples. The best of the best are available much closer to home. Whether you’re on the hunt for pre-Civil War heirlooms, the most flavorful fruit for Grandma’s apple pie recipe, or just longing for a bite so crunchy you hear it resound off the canyon walls as juice dribbles down your chin, the apples of your dreams are only a short road trip away at the Manzano Mountain Retreat & Apple Ranch.

As you likely know, “manzano” means apple, and legend has it that the first apples grown in this country were planted here by Spanish missionaries in the 17th century. Another theory says they were planted by settlers in the 1830s. It’s said their descendants growing wild in the village of Manzano thrive here still. That might even astonish Cezanne.

The Champagne apples of Dixon’s Apple Orchard fame don’t grow here, but the good news is this East Mountain orchard stands ready with 2,500 trees and 36 varieties to become your new fall pilgrimage site. They even serve tamales, enchiladas, posole, burgers and hot dogs, on weekends. Thursday and Friday, it’s just hot dogs. Plus, on weekends there’s live music in a shady grove. And they are especially proud of their cider, blended from three varieties, different on each pressing, and quick frozen. This is not a u-pick operation. You’ll find the current crop bagged for sale in the Apple Store.

In addition to heirlooms and hard-to-find varieties, like pre-Civil War Prima and Fameuse Snow, there’s a cornucopia of familiar varieties such as Winesap, McIntosh, and Granny Smith. The names alone are enticing, names like Candy Crisp, GoldRush, Splendor. “We want to be known for variety,” says resident orchardist and apple man Randy Simmons. Apple consultations are ongoing in the Apple Store as to which are best for baking, apple butter, making candy apples, or eating fresh. And they don’t mind at all if you call 505.384.4467 to see if they have what you’re looking for.

Simmons says his favorite pie apple is the tart and juicy Idared. “The colder you keep them, the longer they last,” he says. “If you wrap them in paper and store them in a cool dry place, they will keep indefinitely. The skin may shrivel, but the flavor matures and is great.”

While the orchard was planted during the 1970s, it was given a boost in 1996 when purchased by Scott Garrett, an owner of sports and wellness centers. Garrett hired locals, improved the facility and added buildings to create a retreat that rents to non-profits, reunions and wedding parties up to 200 from April–October; and offers private, off-the-grid getaway cabin rentals the rest of the year. Phylicia Nunez, assistant retreat director, says their kitchen will customize a group’s dietary preferences. The apple season is only three weeks, running through Balloon Fiesta and fall color at Fourth of July Canyon, Thursday through Sunday from Sept. 26–Oct. 13.

Along the Way to and fro the Astonishing Apples

Leaving Albuquerque from Tramway and Central NE, take the scenic drive by staying in the right lane, NM 333 (actually old Route 66), as opposed to hopping on I-40 through the canyon. Watch for the “Musical Highway” sign, about five miles before Tijeras. On this segment of Old Route 66 driving at 45 mph, the road itself plays “America the Beautiful,” one of only two such roads in the US, designed to slow traffic. Exit at Tijeras, then turn right to go south on NM 337, following the Salt Missions Trail.

At 14.5 miles from Tijeras, see the tiny settlement of Escoboso; continue another 4.4 miles to the Chilili Land Grant. Each of these tiny roadside settlements is built on land grants given to petitioning families to occupy and protect this frontier from Apache raiding, and they were likely built on pueblo sites. Many were abandoned and then re-occupied in the 1800s.

NM 337 dead ends at a stop sign. Go right at junction 55 to Tajique, 13.3 miles from Chilili, the oldest village along this route, then see the sign to Fourth of July Campground (about 7 miles of gravel off the main road), famous for the blazing red of the state’s largest stand of big tooth maple. Tucked away at 2.7 miles beyond Torreon (watch tower), be on the lookout for a sign on the right for the Manzano Mountain Retreat & Apple Farm. Follow the signs to find the Apple Store.

To extend the pleasures of the day following your visit, return to NM 55 and journey on to Punta de Agua, the site of an ancient spring, go right about two miles and arrive at the first Salinas Pueblo site, Quarai.

Prepare to be thunderstruck by the three-story monumental red sandstone edifice before you. The sophistication of the architecture and construction is dazzling. It’s best to walk the straight path toward the seventeenth-century Franciscan mission, Nuestra Senora de La Purisima Concepcion de Cuarac.

Return to Punta de Agua and proceed 13 miles south on NM 55 to Mountainair, once a center for homesteading, ranching and farming. Its New Mexico folk art treasure, the Shaffer Hotel at 103 Main St. West re-opened in August, with a café and the stylish La Galeria @ The Shaffer. The gate beside the hotel is embellished with fanciful and ferocious animal forms of local stone by the hotel’s founder, Pop Shaffer, an early twentieth-century entrepreneur, mechanic, and jack-of-all-trades, who designed and painted his art deco café ceiling with primary color paints he used to repair Ford trucks.

From Mountainair, head 9 miles west on US 60 to Abo. The mission of San Gregorio de Abo is built on a site occupied for at least 500 years, starting in the twelfth century CE, by Tompiro Indians.

There are innumerable ways to enjoy apples, but arguably the most popular is baked with sugar, so here’s one simple method for you.

Manzano Mountain Retreat & Apple Ranch Apple Crisp

6 large apples (about 2.5 lbs.)

¼ cup water

Juice of one lemon

2 cups rolled oats

2 cups all-purpose flour

2 cups packed brown sugar

2 Tablespoons cinnamon

11/4 cups melted butter

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Combine apples, water and lemon juice in an 8 x 8 greased baking pan. In a bowl, combine oats, flour, sugar and cinnamon. Pour in butter, and stir to make a crumbly mixture. Spread topping in an even layer over the apples. Bake for 45–55 minutes, or until topping is browned and crisp.

A Wondrous Wetland

(Photographs by Stephen Lang)

The best-kept wetland preserve secret is located in plain view, right off I-25’s frontage road in La Cienega. A spring-fed, 35-acre oasis, Leonora Curtin Wetland Preserve hosts a great diversity of plants and wildlife and features three distinct zones—riparian/wetland, transitional, and dry uplands. It has long moved to serenity photographers, writers, and many a group of students.

Leonara Scott Muse Curtin arrived in New Mexico from New York as a young girl toward the end of the 19th century. Though she became somewhat of a world traveler, she seemed to find her true home in Santa Fe. Spanish-speaking and interested in nature, archaeology, and the cultures of New Mexico, through her long visits she learned the skills of the curanderas, explored the land and its people, producing two books about her research titled Healing Herbs of the Upper Rio Grande and By The Prophet of the Earth.

In 1932, she and her daughter, also Leonora, purchased El Rancho de las Golondrinas (the Preserve lives on this property). Family members today still participate in maintaining the vitality of our living history museum.

The Santa Fe Botanical Preserve, which lovingly manages the Preserve though invasive species eradication and revegetation, invites you to visit this marshy marvel during Cottonwood Celebration, October 26. Enjoy the Preserve during its most colorful. Visit for details.

“The…people of New Mexico live on the soil; they live simply and they have long memories…The ever-present earth supplies the needs of its children here, as elsewhere; it is the grocer and the druggist for those who belong to the earth.”  –Leonora Curtin, from Healing Herbs of the Upper Rio Grande

“My first visit was to simply explore. How something so unique pastoral and natural was so close to the highway? I went super early in the morning and was amazed at the solitude and sounds. I simply sat on the dock staring out at the large pond and listened to the bullfrogs trying to connect with one another and the buzzing of dragonfly wings. I have shot a lot of nature over the years and this was a real treat. All that you see feels like it belongs only there and as you walk through it you realize that as a guest you are privy to what nature is allowing you to see if you just look and listen. There may be other people there at times, but it can still be your own personal private place. You feel as if you are discovering something for the first time. It’s not a huge place but it gives a sense of universe.” –Stephen Lang, photographer





The Art of Seeing

(Story and photography by Charles Mann)

There is always something fabulous to photograph in New Mexico, at any time of the year. But some seasons are better than others. My favorite time to be enchanted in the Land of Enchantment is late summer and the autumn months of September and October. There’s still so much to see and capture, long after the August monsoons have filled the skies with thunderheads and when cottonwood and aspen leaves begin to turn, when the landscape speaks out loud. It’s the time of village harvest festivals, red chile ristras, pueblo dances, Zozobra and Fiesta in Santa Fe; when yellow-flowered chamisa, sunflowers and snakeweed, along with purple asters, burnish the landscape with a gold and azure patina. It can be magical.

Photography is often called the Art of Seeing, learning how to capture something special that’s just sitting there in the environment. A favorite oracle of mine once described it as, “the placing of a frame around a collection of objects.” In placing the frame just so, one creates a new object that, in and of itself, conveys a completely unique feeling, insight, dynamic or aesthetic.

I call the discovery of that special placement of the frame the Ah.

I became addicted to the hunt for the Ah, whether in landscapes, portraits of people, cultural events or abstract patterns. The Ah is everywhere and anywhere—found whenever the light, the subject and the seer converge. Seeing a composition (or envisioning frame placement) in the viewfinder that reveals the Ah to me is a genuinely emotional experience.  I think this is what drives most photographers, whether they know it or not. It is actually (don’t laugh) a lot like the game Where’s Waldo? There is a special treasure there in front of you, should you be able to find it. When you do find it, it is a revelation.

An opportunity for such is in October, conveniently also the month for the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta, a happening that surpasses all others in the category of finding Waldo. Promoted as the Most Photographed Event in the World, some estimate that as many as 25 million photos are taken at the Fiesta over its nine-day run. Beyond documenting the personal experience of immersion into happy chaos, however, most of those 25 million photos are forgettable. The Balloon Fiesta is akin to a huge kaleidoscope, overwhelming and dazzling, like swimming within a school of gigantic colorful fish. With a camera. Being able to see an Ah picture here is a true test of one’s seeing eye; the ultimate photographic challenge. It’s a highly aerobic exercise in photography to play Where’s Waldo? here, in no small part because of the enthusiastic crowds. Everyone can walk, wade and plunge into the field of inflating, bulging, fire-blasted balloons to mingle, gape and rub up against the experience. And they do. It is an exhilarating, sensory feast, and it’s a real opportunity to hone your skills in the Art of Seeing.

Over the years I have gathered a few strategies and observations that I think make it more likely that I might come home with a picture I really love. Here are some of them:

If you have limited time, go to a Mass Ascension.
The first and last Saturdays and Sundays are reserved for Mass Ascensions, when all balloons are required to launch. There are other interesting events, like the Balloon Glow, but there is nothing to equal the sight of 500-plus balloons going up in the air all at once.

Get there early and stay late.
Getting into Fiesta Park is always a bit traumatic. I like to arrive super early. Trying to park while the balloons start flying is very frustrating, but being set and feeling prepared long before the dawn begins to appear is always a great start. Later in the morning, things continue to happen on the field even after all of the balloons are launched, so hang around a bit. I’ve found favorite pictures when the crowd is thinning and the last crews are just going up or coming down.

Leave your camera bag in the car.
I’ve made the mistake of toting a camera bag full of gear. It is cumbersome and it gets in the way, especially when you are trying to maneuver through the crowd. I long ago converted to a vest, in which I can stash a couple of lenses, a flash, and any needed extras like batteries or business cards. It’s a lot easier to walk, talk and shoot with a vest, and a lot more comfortable over the two hours or so that I am carrying that gear.

Forget the tripod.
Tripods are great for landscapes. But they are awkward, take up a lot of room and are not built for a busy crowd that is moving around you like a buffalo herd. When I see someone carrying a tripod here, I feel as though they have burdened themselves unnecessarily. Instead, take that tripod to the evening Balloon Glow, where it will be indispensable.

Learn to love your wide-angle zoom.
If I could only carry one lens onto the field, it would be a wide-angle zoom. For most serious 35 mm shooters, this means something in the 25 to 100 mm range. My Canon 24-105 mm is the lens for me most of the time. It can really cover the territory. I also carry a super-wide, maybe a 16–35 mm zoom or even a 14 mm ultra-wide, but these are generally good for a select few shots only. Telephoto? I see people at the Fiesta carrying very long lenses and I know they will not get much more than an isolated picture of a solitary balloon up in the sky. A telephoto can come in handy, but generally at the expense of not capturing more dynamic, all-encompassing scenes. I prefer the Big Picture to tell the whole story.

Pack a flash.
I always have my flash ready to go along with a battery dedicated to the unit. A flash can fill in dark shadows and give highlights a pop. I can turn it on or off whenever I analyze the scene, but more often than not, it is on. Experience is the best teacher here. Sure, you can do some of this work in Photoshop, but we all have to admit, a great original capture is the most rewarding goal.

Consider a polarizing filter.
I like to have a polarizing filter on my camera. It is a love/hate relationship. On a day with a clear blue sky, the filter can ruin your photos, but at times, when popping out clouds and colors, it makes all the difference.

Be ready at around 7 a.m.
When the sun appears over the edge of Sandia Peak after 7 a.m., it blazes down like a laser and signals the beginning of the best moments of the day for shooting memorable photos. The gathering light on the inflating canopies can result in wonderful silhouettes, glowing colors and great drama. As the sun continues up, the light flattens, and soon it is not as fabulous. There are still great photos to be found afterward, but the early morning light is precious.

Be prepared for bad weather.
Sometimes winds or stormy weather prevent the launch. Or it is overcast above. The photos you came for will have to wait for another day, but there are still Ah pictures to be made. Remember Where’s Waldo?

Be curious about other aspects.

-The launch officials, called Zebras, are dressed in black-and-white stripes. They can be a colorful element.

-When a balloon is laid out on the ground, it is a field of color surrounded by the crowd.

-The flames in the balloon canopy can be dramatic, especially when there are silhouettes.

-At the moment of lift off, the crew and passengers are sharing a peak highlight of their ballooning career. All balloon pilots want to fly Albuquerque—it’s like the Balloon Olympics.

-Kids are a source of potential charm.

-Special-shape balloons create whimsical and often funny scenes. There are dragons, dinosaurs, stagecoaches, locomotives, giant cows, aliens and much more.

Look for things that speak to you.

This is the heart of the matter. More personal. This is where the journey really depends on you, on what you are feeling and what you find compelling. Listen to your inner voice. Remember the Ah lies closer to the heart than the head. Do you love chaos and motion and spectacle? Are you moved by contrasting colors and shapes and patterns? This is your opportunity to be honest with yourself about the art you want to make.

Know your camera.

Knowing how to use your camera is paramount to capturing the Good Stuff. Keep the shutter speed up above 125th of a second and try not to overexpose any part of the shot. Check your memory cards and batteries.

Experiences are everything in life. Capturing a great photo embellishes and enhances our experiences, and a picture often becomes the kernel of the memories that we emotionally archive and reflect on. Carrying a camera always heightens my ability to look more expectantly and thoughtfully at any situation. Moreover, those Ah photos can embody an archetypal, underlying Platonic beauty that transcends the moment and resonates with our inner-knowing. Discovering this truth led me to a lifelong passion of placing the frame just so.