Monday, March 3, 2008

Albuquerque Aquarium & Rio Grande Botanical Gardens

Spring was definitely showing her slip on a recent visit to Albuquerque’s Botanical Park. Delicate snowdrops dipped their heads to the breeze, and saffron and purple crocuses showed their true colors.

Although it was very early for garden tours, children of all ages were out enjoying the early March warmth. Toddlers staggered through the Children’s Fantasy Garden, whizzed down the tree trunk slide, watched the G-scale model railroad threading its route through miniature landscapes, and in general attempted escape from parental control. Ducks and geese made a noisy confusion at pond edge. Older couples walked arm and arm, checking out plant varieties and wondering when the flowering trees would pop.

Activity at the Heritage Farm was just beginning. A lazy Jersey heifer and a couple of somnolent sheep stretched out in the weak sun. The vegetable garden had been plowed, and the vineyard looked ready to leaf out. A single white Peking duck nibbled new green shoots, and in the chicken coop a few hens tentatively tested the weather. Lazy pigs, too exhausted to move from the barnyard door, made small moan.

In addition to the Gardens, the Farm and the Japanese garden (which we shall cover in another visit), the Park is the site of Albuquerque’s Aquarium. Don’t expect another Atlanta extravaganza. The floor plan is considerably more modest, but it takes visitors on a journey down the Rio Grande from Albuquerque to the river’s mouth in the Gulf of Mexico. Special highlights include an eel tunnel, luminous jellies, and a 285,000 gallon ocean tank where sharks swim alongside reef fish, sea turtles, and open ocean species. On the day of our visit we saw several new-born black tip shark pups.

A perfect end to our visit was lunch at the Shark Reef Café with its multiple aquarium windows and broad wall backing on the Aquarium’s shark tank. Children love this place, and it was packed with kids, parents, and grandparents, all taking in the constantly moving panorama swimming by. We found the food excellent, well above the usual burgers and fries. My Shark Reef Breakfast plate was a mélange of home fries, sausage, bacon and ham topped with cheese, chile and an egg. The half serving ordered was enough for two! My husband’s guacamole burger was tasty, well presented, and served with a crisp green salad. Breakfast is served all day.

Those with shorter time frames can view much of the Biopark, which includes the Zoo, by hopping aboard the narrow guage ¾ scale Thunderbird Express which travels between the Zoo and Aquarium/Botanic Garden with a stop at Tingley Beach. The Biopark is handicap accessible, and both stroller rentals and wheelchairs are available.

Albuquerque Biopark
2601 Central Ave. NW
Albuquerque 87104
(505) 848-6200
Hours: Monday through Sunday, 9:00 AM to 6:00 PM; Saturday & Sunday (June-August only) 9:00 AM through 6:00 PM

The Reef Café, (505) 646-7182
Hours: 9:00 AM to 6 PM Saturday and Sunday in summer: 9:00 to 5:00 rest of the year.

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