Discover a lush oasis on the banks of Albuquerque's beloved river

Travel planner: what to do and where to stay

Fly into Albuquerque and for all the stark drama of the SandiaMountains and the surrounding high desert, the most strikingfeature from the air is the verdant, serpentine course of the RioGrande.

While the river physically divides the city, it's also one ofthe places that brings Albuquerque together. Home to the botanicgarden, aquarium, and zoo that make up the Albuquerque BiologicalPark, as well as to the natural areas protected by the Rio GrandeValley State Park, the river and its cottonwood forest are like along, meandering central park for the city.

Spend a day exploring highlights along the 20-mile stretch ofriver from near downtown to Alameda Boulevard and you'll discoverone of Albuquerque's most diverse summer destinations. Along theriver and the forest ― known locally by the Spanish word bosque (pronounced bohs-keh) ― locals walk, bicycle, fish, catchconcerts, and simply retreat into the shade on hot afternoons.

For out-of-towners who visit the bosque, it's always a surpriseto discover that Albuquerque is a river city. The Rio Grande is notjust central geographically; it is also close to the hearts of manyAlbuquerque residents. "As the world gets crazier and crazier,people need more of these natural places to stay healthy andhappy," says Beth Dillingham, superintendent of the Rio GrandeNature Center State Park. "And because Albuquerque has so manybarren and brown areas, a place that is lush and green takes on awhole new meaning. We have people who come just about every day― avid birders, bicyclists, and one woman who comes just towrite her poetry."

The nature center and the lands surrounding it offer the bestlook at the natural river and bosque environment. Designed byarchitect Antoine Predock, the center blends into its forest andwetland setting. You enter the half-buried building through aculvert-style tunnel. Inside, an observation room overlooks areed-lined pond busy with waterfowl, while the Sandias rise in thedistance.

Once the site of a dump and a slaughterhouse, the park isnow alive with wildlife and is an ideal place to reconnect with theriver's seasonal rhythms. Summer is prime time to observe fourspecies of hummingbirds, while in fall and winter, sandhill cranesmake the park their home. Trails wind lazily through the forest tothe river's edge, where tufts of cottonwood seeds drift through theair like giant snowflakes, and tiny spadefoot toads hop about themudflats.

For all the bosque's natural beauty, the forest and river haveundergone great changes over the years. Before upstream damming,the Rio Grande used to spread, providing water for the forest. Nowthe river largely remains contained within a defined channel. Withits natural cycle disrupted, the bosque has seen a reduction in newcottonwood growth and is aging. Conservation efforts are nowfocused on germinating new trees.

In addition to its riverbank habitat, the bosque, which extendsseveral blocks east and west from the banks of the Rio Grande,encompasses distinctive communities that retain a rural feelingeven though a busy and modern downtown is just a few miles away. Agreat way to get a taste of life beneath the cottonwood canopy isto stay at Los Poblanos Inn, a historic bed-and-breakfast andorganic farm in the town of Los Ranchos de Albuquerque on the eastside of the river.

Towering cottonwoods line the entry drive, which leads to a1920s-vintage courtyard building designed by master New Mexicoarchitect John Gaw Meem. Lavender brightens the fields next to apond thick with lotus blossoms and perfumes the air with its sweetfragrance. Like the bosque itself, Los Poblanos is a cool, greenoasis.

"It's so soothing to be near the river. That's the power ofwater," Beth Dillingham says. "In the desert, water is life."

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