My trip to Albuquerque was fun, with stops in Prescott, Jerome, and a trip through the Zuni Pueblo, but the fun was over and the mission had begun. The management of this fine magazine had only one thing on its mind: Meth, and the manufacture thereof. The surprising success of the AMC show Breaking Bad, with its antihero protagonists Walt and Jesse, has cast a new, sordid spotlight on the city of Albuquerque as a capital of the destructive meth trade … or at least the poster child for desperation and rash acts.
It wasn’t always this way. Despite having the gang issues that most good-sized towns are plagued with, Albuquerque is a hub for learning with the University of New Mexico a centerpiece of a vibrant city that has more architects per capita than anywhere in America. But that side of Albuquerque was not my mission, the underside was: searching for hints and signs from Breaking Bad. To be sure I had my mission covered, I resolved to try to get to every corner of Albuquerque and surrounding area, looking for the city and desert depicted in the series.
One problem. I’m only on season two.
Looking for the Paradigm
I did have an ace in the hole for this assignment—a local gal who’s lived her whole life in Albuquerque offered to show me around town. Downtown is called Downblock by locals, due to its diminutive size. We started there. Downblock is what happened when Americans decided to make a city of this old Spanish Colonial town, so it’s all turn-of-the-20th-century brick architecture; not all that appealing when I rolled through on a weekend morning.
My pal, Brenda, took me on a little cruise through some of the more interesting neighborhoods of Albuquerque, lined with trees and parkways and flanked by an array of interesting houses. The houses in the show are fairly bland compared to some of the creations around town, especially Walt’s ranch house. In fact, “ranch style” is considered derogatory around these parts. With one of the nation’s largest concentrations of architects, it should come as no surprise.
Remember Tuco’s office? Obviously it survived the blast after Walt annihilated its structu
A place you don’t see often on television is Old Town Albuquerque, and that’s a damn shame. Sure, I could see the ABQ authorities being up in arms if there were images of thugs slinging meth to tourists in front of 300-year-old churches, so I guess I understand. But for me, the trip was worth the detour.
Old Town isn’t real big either, but it makes up for it in pure beauty with old exposed beams in adobe surrounded by windowbox flower gardens and lots of brickwork. There’s also a lot of art, both old murals, as well as more modern sculpture around the square that surrounds San Felipe De Neri Church. Other than finding the Doghouse near downtown, which I recognized from the episode where Jesse is dealing out in front, I was striking out in Albuquerque proper, so it was time to motor on.
You might see some familiar spots from Breaking Bad cruising around downtown ABQ.
Check out La Hacienda in Old Town for some proper New Mexican grub. The Enchiladas Nuevo M
Madrid is a neat little town about an hour away from ABQ proper.
The World Famous Doghouse (where Jesse buys a gun to kick off season two)
You might find Skyler here laundering Walt’s profits while doing her best to keep up her c
Walt’s signature blue crystal found its way into Rebel Doughnuts’ newest tasty treats. Sto
Looking to the Sky (and Down)
I tried to take a tight loop around the outside of the city, which is both easy and hard. Easy, in that it’s not too hard to get out of town. While it’s got sprawl like anywhere else, Albuquerque is limited by mountains, the Rio Grande Valley, and the huge Kirtland Air Force base to how sprawly it can get. There’s also that annoying habit of states to skimp on the asphalt in this part of the world. Anywhere you go in Albuquerque, there’s the high ridge of the Sandia Mountains looking down at you, I wanted to go there, but as any self-respecting motorcyclist would do, I looked for the long way. East on I-40 wasn’t going to cut it.
Unlike most parts of the world. A quick trip to Google isn’t going to help you here with what appears to be a network of good roads twisting throughout the Sandia Mountains. This is a lie. NM-165, despite looking like a real road on Google, is dirt most of the way. Sandia Peak road, despite looking small (and possibly dirt) is actually quite nice. I spent 13 miles on 165 since it looked like a real road on the map, but it goes gravel right where it gets twisty and treacherous. While it is probably a beautiful road, I like to lean when I ride, not slide. Heading back to I-25 for the next promising road led me to NM-301. While paved, it’s an annoying mix of washboards and potholes that conspired to get me to turn around again, this time faster. It took going all the way to NM-14, most of the way to Santa Fe, to get on a good road that ended up back at Sandia Peak.
Valles Calderas is a great view of the New Mexican countryside.
I also got to take in a popular biker and tourist destination in Madrid. An old coal-mining town, Madrid has turned to tourism to keep the gold rolling in. Artist cottages and galleries line the street, while the old mine has been turned into a restaurant. I’ve heard that the movie Wild Hogs ended here, which may have added to the biker contingent, but I didn’t care. I’m pretty sure it’s not the sort of place either Walt or Jesse would be caught dead in, so I moved on.
Despite looking like a goat trail on the map, the road up to Sandia Peak is a well-paved, relentless series of switchbacks. Zip up your jacket vents, or throw one on if you weren’t wearing one, as it’s going to get chilly. Sandia Peak sits roughly double the mile-high elevation of Albuquerque itself at more than 10,000 feet. The view of the valley is simply stunning, and so close by, as the sprawl comes right up to the base of the mountain. I probably don’t need to say: I took the freeway back that night.
My close-in explorations of the surrounding countryside were beautiful and exciting, but far too close and crowded to be anywhere Walt and Jesse might have cooked meth, so I resolved to get out a little more.