Like much about New Mexico, the Rio Grande is modest, but it has its charms.
The bike is a great tool for the study of geography, because it allows you to cover sufficient ground to make generalizations, but at a sufficiently slow speed that you can get a feel for the thing.
Albuquerque started as just one of many river villages, some Anglo, some Hispanic and some Native American, strung along the Rio Grande through New Mexico’s midsection. Urban growth has mostly obliterated the rhythm of the old geography, but on two wheels and slowly, the shadows are still there.
Today I rode north with friends out of town past a string of those old villages, from Albuquerque to Alameda to Sandia Pueblo to Bernalillo, and finally up toward Algodones before we grudgingly looked at our watches and the wind direction and decided we needed to turn around.
The river once defined the place’s geography, until it was supplanted by the railroad. Today it’s the Interstate instead that serves as the anchoring feature on the landscape, and there’s a great stretch across Sandia Pueblo where there are farm fields and the river to the west, the train tracks to the east, then the Interstate up on the bluff.
Late this afternoon, I took Mom and Dad out for a drive and we ended up back in Alameda, where there’s an old highway bridge that they left for horses, bikes and walkers when the built a modern bridge to the south. It was in the 50s, the warmest day we’ve had in a while, and the place was mobbed – people fishing in the ditches on the west side, a steady stream of bicyclists, walkers, a couple of bird people with binoculars like me, all drawn to the river on a faux spring afternoon.
The late afternoon light made the reds and yellows of the plants’ winter plumage that much redder and yellower. (Sorry for the mediocrity of the picture, all I had was the cell phone camera. It doesn’t do the scene justice.) It’s not the river’s functionality any more that defines its sense of place, the way it did when generations from prehistory built their villages here. It was just a nice place for a walk on a warm January afternoon.
updated 1/18/2010: added missing “not” to penultimate sentence