The Albuquerque Aquarium: Small But Spectacular

by Nancy Johnson

My husband recently had a business trip to New Mexico, so I joined him for the weekend. It’s a long way to go for a weekend. There are no direct flights, and with the time change you travel all day. However, it was a neat place and nice to get away without the kids, which we haven’t done in many years.

One thing about New Mexico, as much of the west, is that you can drive 90 miles an hour and no one cares. The distances are long, so people drive fast. We paid $5 a day extra to list me as a second driver for the rental car and then my husband wouldn’t let me drive.

The first day we visited Santa Fe. It’s an old ghost town that came back to life as an artist colony some years ago. There are about seven historic sights that take about five minutes each to see, including the first known house in the nation-basically a clay cave that until recently had a chest with the corpse of a man beheaded by a witch who lived in the house. The ghostly head supposedly rolls down the street on occasion. It costs $1 to see (the house, not the head).

The most impressive artifact there is a beautiful old church that has a magic spiral stairway. When the church decided to install the stairs a few hundred years ago (because the nuns had a lot of trouble with the ladder) a mysterious man arrived, built the stairs at no cost to the church, and just as mysteriously disappeared. The wood has been tested and does not match any other known wood in the world, and no one knows how the staircase is supported. The speculation is that the mysterious builder was either Joseph, the carpenter from Nazareth, or his son. Truly awe-inspiring.

After seeing these sights, you shop and shop and shop until you drop, which doesn’t take long at 7,000 feet.

On to the Aquarium

The second day we went to Albuquerque and my priority was to see the aquarium, which is located within a botanical park that costs $5 to enter. It’s only a few blocks from the heart of the city, which is Old Town.

We actually liked Albuquerque’s Old Town better than Santa Fe. Things were a little more down-to-earth, if you know what I mean ($$$). Albuquerque also has an incredible museum that goes into painstaking details of the entire history of the area. It includes fabulous examples of real armor and weapons used by the conquistadors. If you like ancient military history, you’d love this place. I don’t like ancient military history, and I was very impressed. The museum is so big that we pooped out and couldn’t get through the whole thing.

That was because we had already walked all day in the town and at the aquarium, which was as impressive as Baltimore’s, albeit on a much smaller scale.

The centerpiece of the aquarium is an enormous saltwater tank that supports a wide variety of sharks, rays, turtles, schools of Lookdowns and reef fish. One end of that display backs up to the restaurant, which is very cheap and has great food. In addition to a huge viewing panel from the big tank, the restaurant has two smaller saltwater tanks with little aquarium fish such as clowns and damsels, not to mention at least four eels that I could find, and a large freshwater tank of the local endangered trout.

As you enter the main aquarium, there’s a small "petting" pool straight ahead, and a movie theater. The movies were very good, except that the sound system literally shook the entire room. I got up to complain and I guess they turned down the bass somewhat, although by that time I was too deaf to really figure it out. The screen also had a big yellow dot, to the left of center. I complained about that too, but they said it was permanent. I asked for some Windex and the keys to the projection room, but they pretended they didn’t hear me.

Inside the aquarium were a variety of salt and freshwater tanks. They were in good shape and the fish seemed healthy, but unfortunately many of the specimens were not identified.

Around the corner was the most spectacular jellyfish tank I had ever seen. It was a floor-to-ceiling round tank, about six feet in diameter, lit with black lights, and absolutely chock full of floating, pulsing moon jellies, bigger than dinner plates. At least I think that’s what they were. Again, not specifically identified.

In that same area the huge salt tank had a curved floor-to-ceiling curving panel about 30 feet long. A few nice specimens of reef fish hid and picked among the fake coral at the bottom, which you can’t see from the restaurant.

Several small displays of seahorses were interesting. Lots of information about ‘horses, but again the specimens were not identified. I wished I lived in Albuquerque; I’d volunteer to go in there and punch up some of the descriptions.

For a small city and an inexpensive fare, the Albuquerque Aquarium is well worth the visit. New Mexico is simply a spectacular place, cheap to get to and inexpensive to visit. I highly recommend it.

This article first appeared in PVAS’s Delta Tale, Vol 32, # 3