My school offered me the opportunity to teach in the International Baccalaureate Programme this upcoming year (think gifted kids who are beyond gifted), and let me choose from several different locations for training. Amidst amazing places like St. Petersburg and Lake Tahoe, I noticed a new town in a new state I had never visited: Albuquerque, New Mexico. I decided that while I was learning how to become an effective teacher, I could also take some time to learn about and experience this hidden gem in the Southwest corner of the country.
The only things I knew about New Mexico before going were that my friend Karla lives there, there are probably aliens, and Bugs Bunny always said he shoulda taken a left at Albuquerque. I left with a newfound appreciation for the culture, landscape and cuisine, along with ideas on how to incorporate my hunger for travel and new knowledge into my essential questions for my lesson plans.
Albuquerque Analysis: How Does Understanding the Historical and Cultural Context Impact Our Understanding of a Work?
First things first, let’s address the Bugs Bunny thing. I always tell my students authors do EVERYTHING purposefully; nothing is ever written “just because”, it is written because there is definite significance. So why does Bugs Bunny always say he should have taken a left at Albuquerque? Well, ABQ is at the crux of Route 66 where a right takes you to the desert (harsh, unforgiving landscape), while a left takes you to California (the promised land). See? Everything means something.
Although a small city, Albuquerque is full of interesting historical sites, like Old Town and the Petroglyphs National Monument. By visiting these two places, one can determine how life continues to evolve in the southwestern melting pot of Native American and Spanish cultures.
Outside of the University of New Mexico is a small hip area, Nob Hill. Known for its breweries, restaurants and eclectic shops, it resides on an old stretch of Route 66. Visiting this area shows a contrast to the older architecture of Old Town, and the remaining neon signs and structures give insights to Albuquerque’s rich history for travelers zooming down the highway to their final destinations. I suggest dinner at Zinc (although every restaurant I passed looked absolutely mouthwatering), and grabbing a Queer Beer w/ Glitter at Tractor Brewing as you walk through the district!
Santa Fe Synthesis: What Defines “Art”?
We drove to Santa Fe via the historic Turquoise Trail, where we encountered several small mining towns, a much more enjoyable alternative to the highway. Be sure to stop in Madrid to see a unique collection of art that showcases the incredible ties to the past.
Local artists have built a weird, trippy museum/art collection/immersive experience just outside of Santa Fe, Meow Wolf. Visiting will expand your ideas of art- anything that inspires and makes the viewer wonder and think deeply about creation. Allow for about 2 hours, there’s always another corner to turn!
We met Karla (pictured below with my weird face creeping in the side) and her mans for dinner at Del Charro, where they gave us the rundown about New Mexico. The combination of antiquity through native art and landscape, combined with modern innovations of space and extraterrestrial study truly lends a unique perspective to New Mexico natives. It’s a state full of new juxtaposed with old, creating new criterion for artistic interpretation.
Assessing Alamogordo: How Are Creators Influenced by Their Environment?
About 3 hours south of Albuquerque, the landscape dramatically changes as you approach the Texas/Mexico borders and opens up to an amazingly huge and unique gypsum sand collection known as White Sands National Monument. The park is open until 9 in the summer (I highly recommend going in the evening because it’s hot…like really hot). Being an East Coast baby, I was intrigued by the massive sand dunes that flowed for miles without a speck of water in sight. We took a sunset stroll with a knowledgeable guide who explained how the dunes were formed, and how weather and droughts affect the landscape drastically. Sitting on top of a giant crystal dune staring off into the distance makes you realize our tiny yet impactful influence in our huge world, and inspires you to connect to the incredible forces of nature. Creators do not live in isolation; rather, they take in everything around them and synthesize it into a wonderful visual that helps give insight into our deepest thoughts and motivations.
On the way out through the town of Alamogordo, make sure to stop at Pistachioland and see the world’s biggest pistachio (and sample a fine array of nuts if they’re open!), and eat at the Rustic Cafe (don’t be deceived by the appearance, the food is to die for.)
Among many others, one of the traits of an IB learner that was continuously mentioned at my training and really resonated with me is being a risk taker. Our students are never supposed to be satisfied with taking the easy path; they should be constantly questioning, forming and defending opinions, and seeking new ideas that make them uncomfortable. Travel is a huge part of my life, but this trip made me realize WHY I love to travel. There is always something new to do, to see, to learn, to create, and we shouldn’t be ruled by time or money constraints, other people’s opinions or expectations; instead we should wake up every morning and think, what can I discover today? The answer is everything.