The dance of a city and its river

Moonset over the Rio Grande, Albuquerque, New Mexico, Feb. 16, 2022

I woke up super early yesterday, couldn’t get back to sleep. To calm my spinning brain, I layered on some warm clothes and my dayglo construction worker safety vest, grabbed the bike lights off of their charger, and went for a ride.

The moon was full, or close to it, sinking into the western sky as I rode toward the Rio Grande. I can still remember the morning some years ago when I realized I could get to the river on an hour-long morning ride – half hour down, half hour back, plus whatever bonus wandering happens along the way – and I’ve done it hundreds of times since.

It never gets old, engaging my mind in a sort of mindful flow that slips me away from everything else – through downtown, past Albuquerque’s Old Town, and out to the river.

Yesterday’s ride was special (aren’t they all?). My demons were unusually large, and the ride rose to the occasion, offering me a pre-dawn chase of a setting full moon, a gift up to the task.

Over Albuquerque’s icononic pointy building, then the Old Town cathedral, the moon.

But at the river. Oh my.

The new book I’m working on with Bob Berrens is an ambitious effort (for me it feels ambitious, it’s stretching my storytelling muscles) to understand and then explain the complex back-and-forth between Albuquerque’s Rio Grande and the human communities around it.

Place has always been central to my writing, and for me Albuquerque’s Central Avenue Bridge is a mental geographic anchor. It is where Route 66 was shifted in 1937 to become Albuquerque’s primary highway gateway from the west. (Our drafts are sprinkled with comment tags – doublecheck the date!) Look down from the east end of the modern bridge when the river is low and you can see pilings from one of its ancestors.

Bridge and river are inseparable pieces of the same story. Who built it and why? How did its construction change the river flowing beneath it? And bridges are the least of it – the levees flanking the river, the drains beyond, swamp turned golf course and neighborhood and city park.

In their dance, the river and highway both bend there in a way that the view upstream yesterday left a trail of reflected moonlight. I hopped back on the bike and trailed south, to a viewing platform built some years back that is a favorite, special family river spot. We call it “the posole platform” after graffiti scrawled on a railing.

They city recently strung lights across the bridge, and their light joined the moonlight, dancing across the river.

As an old reporter friend liked to say, you can’t make up shit that good.


  1. John,
    Absolutely beautiful photo and prose! I would love to tell you a story about the development of that “posole platform” when you have a minute…John Kelly and I worked with the Corps, City Open Space, State Engineer to help “right size” what was going to be a much larger impact to the Bosque.


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