We moved to Albuquerque almost eight years ago from Alaska and, before that, Oregon. We knew we were in for a bit of a culture shock, since we were coming from the wet coastal Northwest to a high desert. We planned to stay in the Albuquerque area at least until retirement, and gave thought to staying here even after retirement. In recent months, as our retirement date approaches, we have made the decision to move away.
I'd like to give what I think is a balanced view of life in Albuquerque and NM, from a non-native point of view.
The weather, the vivid blue skies, the magical light that plays on the mountains at sunset are all astoundingly beautiful. I love that there are four distinct seasons; fall, with the brilliant yellow cottonwoods along the Rio Grande, being my favorite.
I love that Albuquerque is a hot air balloon mecca. The annual Balloon Fiesta is a sight to behold, and the morning skies are dotted with balloons throughout the spring, summer and fall.
The multi-cultural atmosphere has its charm. The history, and the ancient pueblo ruins in the area, are fascinating. Hiking trails and biking trails abound.
Shopping is pretty good here. There are a couple large malls and one new outdoor marketplace (ABQ Uptown). The smaller, family owned shops seem to come and go, but all of the common big-box stores are here.
And now for the negative. Financially, we have not found the pay scale to keep up with the cost of living here. Even though we are both well-educated and experienced, I have taken jobs below my abilities and my husband has opted for working through consulting firms, which seems to be the norm here.
Education in New Mexico, including Albuquerque, is sad - high rate of drop-outs, poor test scores, large classrooms, problems with gangs, drugs, etc.
Although many people claim Albuquerque has "wonderful restaurants," we haven't bought into that, ourselves. Maybe it's just that our taste hasn't acclimated yet. For one thing, do NOT come to Albuquerque looking for great Mexican food. The restaurants here serve "New Mexican" food, which is a combination of Mexican and Pueblo Indian cuisine. I miss the Tex-Mex style of Mexican food that I grew up with (even in the Northwest).
The multi-cultural charm has a flip side - the poverty in the pueblos, the discrimination based upon surname, the "manana" mind-set.
New Mexicans don't seem to have any desire to keep their environment clean. Trash lines the streets and roads, city streets are littered with debris. With the exception of the beautiful Sandia mountains to the east and the forested Bosque along the river, much of Albuquerque is made up of brown, dusty, scrubby vacant lots, many behind barbed wire.
Corruption in government is rampant. I think this has been the one thing that astounded me most about living here. How can people let this go on?! The crime rate, in general, is high, as well. I have to say, though, that in our eight years here, we have not been the victim of crime. However violent crime, even murder, is common; drug crime is commonplace. There is a high rate of drunk driving, and even the sober drivers seem to not know or not care about traffic laws. Albuquerque drivers are downright rude. I sometimes wonder if they are just ignoring traffic laws or whether they truly are ignorant of them.
I haven't hated living in Albuquerque. But our decision is to leave when we retire in just over a year from now. There are certainly better places to live, with lower cost of living, less cliquishness, and where the citizens take more pride in maintaining their surroundings and in holding their government officials to standards. It's been an interesting and, in many ways, fun few years here, but we're ready to move on.