Back on January 29th, I wrote about the Albuquerque Neighborhood Walking Tour Series and, specifically, the Pat Hurley neighborhood. I mentioned that there were five tours in the series and that I was finally “making an effort to polish them off.” Apparently I hadn’t been making enough of an effort because Pat Hurley wasn’t the only neighborhood I’d neglected. So, with the wind howling, I postponed a hike up La Luz and went to the somewhat more sheltered (and somewhat less steep) Los Duranes neighborhood, just north of I-40, nestled between Rio Grande Blvd and…the Rio Grande.
As with Pat Hurley, the walking tour led me to a charming neighborhood I never would’ve visited otherwise. Also like Pat Hurley, you’re going to meet a lot of dogs if you stroll around Duranes. But these dogs are different than Pat Hurley’s dogs. They’ll still notice you the instant you come around the corner and immediately take off at a run for the fence line. But then, rather than barking, they’ll kind of look at you a moment as if waiting to see how things are going to play out. Do they think you might have something to offer them? Are they merely conserving energy? Whatever the case, it gave me a few more seconds to take photos before getting an earful.
Los Duranes was settled along El Camino Real about 1750 by the Duran family. Perhaps this is why one of Albuquerque’s oldest homes is nestled on a street here. Built in the early 1800’s out of terrones (sod blocks), it’s said to have once been a trading place for both Native Americans and traveling gypsies. It’s also listed on both the National Register of Historic Places and the NM Cultural Registry, but if you want to know more you’ll have to pick up brochure #4 in the tour series. The Capilla de San Jose (built around 1890) is a little easier to identify.
Being so close to the river, acequias proliferate, as do trees. Massive cottonwood stumps sit on some corners. Happily, there are plenty of living cottonwoods, too. A beautiful alley of trees overhangs a road that seems to exist for no other purpose than to provide a way to travel beneath the shady canopy. Some stumps have been turned into shrines for uncertain reasons, but their mysteriousness only adds to the charm of walking along the canal as waterfowl rests and swallows dart back and forth. Nearby are the Albuquerque Water Gardens, a nursery open to the public in summer.
Perhaps the most striking thing about Los Duranes is that it seemingly encompasses every type of architecture imaginable. Ramshackle wood frame houses sit beside mansions. A home that looks more like a modern art museum is adjacent to a modest adobe. Well-kept, spectacularly adorned, or seemingly abandoned; Los Duranes has it all and more.
In fact, in the midst of what would seem to be a community garden, complete with handwritten sign advertising rabbit homes for rent, there’s a tower. Entirely unexpected, this tower might’ve been built in 1814, 1914, or 2014. It would be difficult to guess. And that might sum up my feelings about Los Duranes following this initial visit. A disproportionate chunk of New Mexican history seems contained in this collection of streets by the river and thus, as you walk, you can feel hundreds of years come and go and come again with each step. That is a rare and special thing indeed.
This Saturday, May 10, is National Train Day and lots of things are going on at the Alvarado Transportation Center and WHEELS Museum. A shuttle will run between the two all afternoon. I’ll be minding the store at WHEELS, selling lots of local artwork to raise money for the museum. I’ll have some of my own photos, as well. So come on out and say hello if you get a chance.
John Mulhouse is an Albuquerque-based frequenter of gravel roads, ghost towns, and empty buildings. His blog, City of Dust, features photos and hidden history from all corners of New Mexico and beyond. He publishes a NM-ghost-town-photo-a-day on Facebook.