Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Paseo del Norte- Rio Bravo alternate route

Bosque Trail - Paseo del Norte - Journal Center - North Diversion Trail - Paseo del Noreste Trail - University of New Mexico - Sports Complex - Kirtland Community - Albuquerque International Airport - UNM Championship Golf Course - Rio Bravo
(20.1 miles)

This is an improvised route with a mixture of bike trail, bike lane and some street riding.It is good if you want an alternative route from north to south. It goes from the Paseo del Norte entrance of the Bosque trail out into the city and ends at the Rio Bravo Riverside picnic area. You may want to refer to the Bosque Trail blog or the trail map to get your bearings.
This trail is more urban and more hilly than the Bosque trail as are the rest of the trails in the city. However, most of the hills on the trail are confined to few areas on the trail. These hills can be uphill or downhill depending on which direction you are traveling.

Starting the route

The best place to start the route is at the Paseo del Norte parking at the end of the frontage road. The parking lot is accessible from Coors road by bicycle or automobile. Just exit Coors rd at the Frontage rd at the Southwest Indian Polytechnic Institute sign.The parking lot is only about a half a mile down the frontage road. Follow the bicycle route sign which makes a quick left just after the Diamond Shamrock station.
You will eventually pass a giant green dinosaur near a storage facility to let you know you are on the right road. The Frontage road has only a shoulder to ride on but there is very little traffic.

The Green Dinosaur

Parking Lot to General Mills - 3.4 Miles

The trail starts from the parking lot and travels along Paseo del Norte east towards the Sandia mountians. After about a half a mile you will cross the Rio Grande. The Paseo del Norte bridge is not as scenic nor as artistic as the Montano road bridge. You still have a good view of the river but there are no overlooks. Also, there is not much pedestrian or bicycle traffic on the bridge.

After you cross the river, you meet up with the Bosque trail, which was covered in the previous post. You can connect to the Paseo del Norte trail from the Bosque trail if you like. I started the route at the parking lot as a matter of convenience. You could also access the trail at Rio Grande blvd about a half a mile down the trail. The .pdf map does not show the parking lot at Rio Grande blvd. It may have been built after the map was published.

Paseo del Norte trail

The trail then crosses Rio Grande blvd at street level. There is no overpass or underpass but there is not much traffic and it is slow moving. Be careful when you cross.

The trail passes under Fourth street via a tunnel. Then the trail crosses high over Second street by a trail bridge. This bridge was built just a few years ago with a pink and blue color scheme. In just a few years in the New Mexico sun it has faded badly. There is a second overpass about a quarter mile down the trail which passes over the railroad tracks. Next you will then cross Edith blvd at street level. The section from the Bosque trail to Edith blvd is quite hilly especially at the crossings and bridges.

Fourth street underpass

Second street overpass

After you pass Edith blvd, the trail makes a steep, winding climb for the next quarter of a mile. This is the last uphill climb for a few miles.
When you reach the top of the hill, you will notice a blue and brown building across Paseo del Norte. It's hard to see across the high barrier walls but you may smell something sweet. This is the General Mills plant. Sometimes if the wind is blowing in the right direction, you can catch the aroma of cereal being manufactured. I think they make Frankenberry at this factory.

General Mills plant

From this point the trail makes a 90 degree turn south along an arroyo towards the University of New Mexico. You can also exit the trail here onto the Frontage road which will take you to Journal Center and Jefferson street. However, if you stay on the trail there is a new way to reach Journal Center.

Journal Center is now open to cyclists!

Jefferson street at Journal Center

About a quarter of a mile on the trail, there is a new bridge which provides bicycle access to the Journal Center business, retail and hotel area. Until now the only way to reach Journal Center was to exit on the Frontage road and ride about a half mile to Jefferson Blvd. Bicycle commuters have often complained about the lack of a viable bike route into Journal Center. Jefferson has no bike lane or trail and only a sidewalk that does not run the full distance throughout the Center.

The city has finished a bridge and trail that connects to Journal Center. This route puts you at Masthead drive and Jefferson street right in the middle of Journal Center.

The planners seemed to give very little thought to bicycle access eventhough the center was built just recently in the 1990's. The designers included mass transit in their plans as evidenced by the city bus stations along Jefferson. I started working at Journal Center last year and have wanted to try bicycling to work but was discouraged by the lack of access by bike trail. The new trail now makes it safe and I commuted to work by bicycle for the first time about several weeks ago.

Accessing Journal Center from the east across I-25 is still a problem. Right now there seems to be only a sidewalk on the south side of Ellison or by the Pan American Frontage road. There may be more work on the way for the east side. There is a sign on the trail that says the project will connect the Pino Arroyo and the Vista del Norte trails. The Pino Arroyo trail is the trail that starts just east of I-25.

Trail project information

General Mills to the University of New Mexico - 7.4 Miles

This section of the trail is straight and almost completely flat, except for the underpasses. Some of the intersections have underpasses and some are at street level. It runs mostly along the Diversion Channel arroyo to UNM. Most of this route, to be honest is not very scenic but you are higher in elevation than you were near the Rio Grande and can take in the vistas of the West Mesa and the Sandia mountains much better.

As you pass the Journal Center bridge there is a new trail entrance which provides access from the Vista del Norte neighborhood. When I started cycling about five years ago there weren't any houses here. As this subdivision was being built I wondered how these residents would be able to reach the trail. After you ride for a few years you begin to think in terms of which areas are accessible by bicycle. I would be great to live in this subdivision and work at Journal Center. It would only be a 15 minute bicycle ride. But then again, one could walk this distance in only a half an hour.

The next intersection is Osuna road, which you will have to cross at street level. Actually, the crossing is at the light at the intersection of Osuna and Chappell. Once you cross Osuna road the trail continues south towards UNM. The next landmark is the Big Tree. The trail was built around a large cottonwood tree. There seems to have been an effort by the trail builders to spare the tree by paving around it. This is one of the few shady areas of the trail since leaving the bosque. There are some benches fashioned out of logs under the tree where you can get out of the sun for a while.

The big tree

After the Big Tree, the trail runs behind warehouses along the North Diversion arroyo with cement and gypsum plants on the other side. There are several bridges you will cross on this stretch. The bridge surfaces are made of wooden planks and do get slick after a rain.
Just before you reach the Interstate 25 underpass, is the Albuquerque REI outdoor equipment store. It is accessible by the east side frontage road. REI (Recreational Equipment Inc.) has a great bicycle section. If you need an new innertube, energy bar or more sunscreen keep this intersection in mind.

I actually did have a flat tire along this section of the trail on Memorial day weekend and had to stop at REI to get it fixed. The bicycle service department was backed up but they let me buy a new inner tube and fix it there myself. I fixed the flat with using their tire irons and air hose and was on my way in a few minutes. I have to thank the people at REI for the great customer service. Bicycle repair shops do experience backups especially on busy weekends. They were able to find an alternative way to get the flat fixed and get me on my way.

You pass under Interstate 25 and a short distance later under Montgomery blvd. The Texaco station is a good place to refill your water bottle. There used to be some picnic tables in the front but they were gone the last time I stopped here. There are some grassy areas in front and next to the trail where you can sit and rest.

The next bridge over the arroyo is at the intersection of the North Diversion Channel trail and the Pase del Noreste trail. Actually, the North Diversion trail ends here and becomes the Paseo del Noreste trail. The Paseo del Noreste trail heads east towards the mountains.

This intersection has a chronic graffiti problem but the city is doing its best to clean it up as it happens. It usually shows up on the arroyo walls and on the bridge. Several years ago the city put a bench and a trail map at this intersection which are frequently defaced. They must have known both would have been regularly sprayed with graffiti but put them here anyway. But the city has been able to clean it up as best they can. The map is essential to cyclists as it is a major intersection of the trail system. It's good that the city has made the effort to put the map and bench here in spite of the graffiti problem.

This location is near the new Albuquerque F.B.I. office but you will have to contact the city if you would like to report graffiti for this location. The city has a graffiti hotline phone number at 768-4725 or you go online at the city website at

The next street crossing is at Comanche road, which is at street level as are the next few crossings. They all have an island in the middle of the street where you can cross half the street, wait on the island and then cross the other half when the traffic is clear. The crossings at Candelaria road and Menaul blvd. are the same way.

After you cross Candelaria blvd you will see the headquarters of a New Mexico tradition, Blake's Lotaburger. Like Bueno Foods, Blake's is a homegrown corporation. Blake's is a hamburger restaurant chain with 75 locations in New Mexico. Blake's is a classic old time hamburger restaurant chain. They have a no nonsense style with their stainless steel counters, order takers who write your order on a paper bag with a pencil and cooks who don't begin cooking your hamburger until you order it. The Blake's green chile cheeseburger is a favorite among New Mexicans.

Recently founder Blake Chanslor helped found the Blake Chanslor New Heart Center on Lomas blvd. The center will focus on prevention of heart disease and provide telemedicine services to rural areas around the state.

The trail crosses Menaul Blvd next with another street level crossing. and then the trail passes under Interstate 40. It then runs parallel to the Interstate for about a half mile when you come upon the largest intersection in the state of New Mexico. The intersection of Interstates 40 and 25 is locally know as the Big I. There is a bench on the trail where it curves on its way to the University of New Mexico. This is a good place to stop about mid way on the trail and take in the view of the Middle Rio Grande valley and ponder Albuquerque's place in the world.

The Big I

The Big I

The Big I may look like just another tangled mess of Interstate highway even with its new pink adobe and blue trim colors but there is more to this intersection than one would imagine. The Middle Rio Grande valley is a crossroads of local, national and world history.

In ancient times Indians would have traveled through here on their way to trade with other tribes. In Spanish colonial times, the first settlers traveled north along the I-25 route on their way to the capital of Santa Fe. The actual route was closer to 4th street about one mile west of here. This route was known as el Camino Real (the Royal Road). It began in Mexico City and ended in Santa Fe.

In the automobile age, dust bowl refugees from Oklahoma and Texas traveled along the I-40 route on their way to California. They actually traveled on Route 66 about 1/2 mile south of here.

During World War II, some of the scientists traveled through here on their way to work on the Manhattan Project in Los Alamos. They would again travel one hundred miles south of here to test the bomb at the Trinity site.

Also about one hundred miles west of the Big I is Acoma. This is the home of the Acoma Indians who live in what may be the oldest city in the United States. The Pueblo was built on a mesa nearly 900 years ago and is still inhabited today.

The Big I is one of the most interesting freeway interchanges in the country. It was completely redone from 2000 to 2002. The citizens got to vote online on the final color scheme. I believe the losing colors were a light brown with turquoise trim scheme.

After you have had your rest at the Big I, you will continue south on the Paseo del Noreste trail on it's way to the University of New Mexico. The Paseo del Norte trail ends just on the northern edge of the campus. From this point on you will be riding on bike lanes and streets. However, I have found the area around the University to be very bike friendly. The University has many young cyclists and drivers are used to having them around. The side streets in the University area are especially good for cycling.

There is some construction in the area north of Lomas blvd near UNM hospital but you can avoid it by going up the hill on Tucker ave and going around the Observatory to Yale blvd. Just cross Lomas blvd on Yale and you will be on the main UNM campus. Yale blvd reaches a dead end here and resumes on the other side of the campus at Central avenue. If you choose to ride through the campus be aware of the bike dismount areas especially when school is in session.

If you would rather avoid riding through the campus, you can take Redondo dr to Yale blvd on the south side of the campus. Redondo drive is accessible by making a right turn at Las Lomas rd (not Lomas but Las Lomas) near the fraternity and sorority houses.

The University of New Mexico

UNM campus

The UNM campus is known for it's Pueblo Revival style architecture as well as the many public art displays. The campus is surrounded by some of Albuquerque's more interesting neighborhoods. Along Central Avenue are many coffee houses and restaurants like the famous Frontier Restaurant. The big yellow barn that stretches almost a whole city block is where students can spend all night studying with a plate of huevos rancheros and coffee and a sweet roll. The campus area near Central and Yale is a good area to stop for lunch or to refill your water bottle.

Statue of dancers near Popejoy Hall (Luis Jimenez)

The campus is a quiet place to ride through on weekends or when school is not in session. It's not very crowded then and is a good time to look around the campus. I like the statue of the Lobo, the UNM mascot in a pine grove on Redondo overlooking the intersection of Central and University.

The Lobo

So, if you ever have enough time on your ride in the UNM area, spend some of it on and around the campus of New Mexico's largest university.

UNM dorms

UNM to Rio Bravo 9.3 miles

The best way to proceed from UNM is by Yale blvd from Redondo drive. You will be riding in the street here but only for a short distance. There is a bike lane that begins at Silver and Yale across the street from the Annapurna Chai House. The bike route actually hops over the sidewalk onto Silver avenue. Follow the bike trail signs about a quarter of a mile west to Buena Vista. This is a designated bike route to Avenida Cesar Chavez. It is a much better route than Yale blvd south of Central avenue.

Make a right turn on Cesar Chavez to the sports complex at the intersection of Cesar Chavez and University blvd. The complex is made up of the UNM football stadium, the UNM basketball arena (the PIT) and Isotopes Park, which is the AAA minor league baseball stadium. There are track and field and tennis facilities as well.

Isotopes Park (northeast corner)

The PIT (southwest corner)

UNM Stadium (southeast corner)

This can be a crowded area on game days. There is no bike lane on Cesar Chavez and cars do speed on it. You will only be on this road for a half mile and will make a left on University blvd. University blvd has a bike lane south of Cesar Chavez but traffic can get heavy. Some of the pavement is uneven and riddled with debris so caution is need on this section.

University blvd crosses Gibson blvd into the Kirtland Community, Albuquerque's only mostly African-American neighborhood. After a half mile, University blvd ends at the Tom Bell Community Center and Kirtland park. There is a mural on the wall near the community center about black history and the civil rights struggle.

Kirtland community mural

Although University blvd.ends at the community center, it actually continues to the Albuquerque International Airport. You will have to jump over the curb near the community center building and you are back on University blvd. That's something you can't do in a car.
Once you are back on University blvd, you are now headed to the Albuquerque International Airport also known as the Sunport. You are actually bypassing the airport where the long term parking, air cargo and rental car return areas are. Although traffic is not very heavy here, you may want to be especially alert in this area. There is some truck and rental car traffic in this area but generally it is quite safe. A bike lane starts just after Sunport blvd and the street is good condition.

There is an aircraft viewing area which can be reached by either Access rd, Clark Carr blvd, or Spirit drive. I'm not sure of the location. I have followed the signs but have been unable to find it. There was some road construction in this area recently and it may not be open right now.
The general aviation area is the current home of Eclipse Aviation which will be manufacturing a small, inexpensive corporate jet. The small jet may well be the next big trend in commerical aviation. Eclipse will be relocating to the Double Eagle II airport on the west side.

The next landmark on the trail is the beautiful UNM Championship golf course. It overlooks the western horizon and is one of the most challenging courses in the city, so I am told.

UNM Championship course

The bike lane ends at the golf course and the road deteriorates significantly on its way down a big hill into the South valley. However, traffic is very sparse from the golf course to the I-25 intersection. I have heard some talk of future road construction on this section of University blvd to provide better access to the Journal Pavilion concert venue. But for the time being, just take this hill slowly.

University blvd becomes Rio Bravo blvd just west of Interstate 25 and the end of the journey is near. Rio Bravo blvd will bring you back to the Bosque trail where you began at Paseo del Norte. Rio Bravo blvd has a shoulder and is safe for riding but traffic is heavy and there is some debris on the road. If you prefer, you can cross Rio Bravo and ride the Rio Bravo loop trail back to the Bosque trail. You can safely cross at Prince street at the Lovelace medical building. If you do stay on the street you will have to exit Rio Bravo blvd at Poco Loco and the frontage road will take you back to the Bosque trail. You can then take the Bosque trail back to Paseo del Norte. The total mileage would be abut 33 miles.

This route and the Bosque trail are both mostly north to south routes. The next post will cover an east to west route. Once you become familiar with the direction of routes and where they connect, you can begin to make routes of your own.

Thanks for checking back.