Travel: 5 Free Things to Do in New Mexico's Largest City ; 5 Free Things to Do in New Mexico's Largest City

Article excerpt

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. - Really, it's not that hard to spell. Just remember, there are three Us and a couple of Qs.

Albuquerque, New Mexico's largest city, has a history that stretches back to the days of the Spanish conquistadors. They were responsible for its name, and their influence persists 300 years after they founded the community. Straddling the river banks of the Rio Grande and in the shadow of the Sandia Mountains, the city is more than just a pit stop along the road to New Mexico's art meccas and other better-known tourist destinations.

Albuquerque hosts an international fiesta that draws hundreds of hot air balloon pilots each October (this year, Oct. 5-13). You have to pay to stake your spot on the launch field, but the colorful spectacle can be seen for free from nearly anywhere in the city. And alhtough you can pay for a balloon ride any time of year, a good pair of hiking shoes, a bicycle or a car can get you a free look at everything around town, from neon signs along historic Route 66 to the dormant volcanoes and lava escarpment that border the city's west side. And be sure to enjoy the mild climate, sunsets and starry nights while you're exploring.

Rio Grande Bosque

A 16-mile recreational path runs from one end of Albuquerque to the other along the cotton- wood and willow forest that borders the east side of the Rio Grande. The path is accessible from many points. In some spots, dirt trails lead to the river's edge, providing opportunities to see migrating cranes, geese and other wildlife. The riverside forest - known to residents as the bosque - changes colors with the seasons.

Sandia Crest

From Albuquerque, you can take a scenic drive up to Sandia Crest, an overlook at the top of the mountain range that faces the city. …