Hello and welcome to I Went Somewhere!
Today, we're headed down to New Mexico with MacKensie Cornelius from Portland when she visits Albuquerque and spends a day in Fort Sumner, New Mexico.
Here we go!
Hello! Tell us a little bit about you and where you traveled to...
Hello, I’m MacKensie Cornelius. I’m an archaeologist and freelance writer based in Portland, Oregon. I’m originally from New York and have lived all over the United States and a five other countries. I’m most active on my Instagram page. and you can read more about my professional background on LinkedIn.
This trip is about a short excursion I took to New Mexico for a project. I typically work alone and in this case needed to take photos of some historic buildings in Fort Sumner, New Mexico to do a visual analysis relating to a proposed construction project. When I saw the work was in Fort Sumner it immediately rang a bell as being related to the history and lore of Billy the Kid, so I knew I was going to want extra time to look around while visiting the area.
I flew in on a Friday, did Fort Sumner as a day trip on Saturday, and hit up Downtown Albuquerque that night. The next day I checked out Nob Hill and Old Town in Albuquerque before catching a late afternoon flight home.
How great was the trip?
I didn’t do any activities Friday night, other than grabbing a bit to eat, since I had some work to finish up and I wanted to get a good night’s sleep.
I hit the road early the next morning, driving straight to Fort Sumner (2.5 hours) and set to work. I almost always arrange my trips so I do my work first, before any sightseeing. You never know when you might hit a snag and need more time to finish a project. After work’s done, then I can relax and enjoy the rest of my time.
Downtown Fort Sumner is small but is worth a walk around for it’s historic structures and murals depicting its storied past. Aim for Addison Drug Store at 323 Sumner Ave in Fort Sumner where you’ll find an old fashioned soda fountain and drug store with a friendly owner/operator, Bob, who can tell you the history of the town.
There are two museums, the Old Fort Sumner Museum and Billy the Kid Museum, which were both closed at the time as I made this trip right after the New Year, in January. Even though they were closed there was plenty to see on the outside of the museums and some nice photo ops.
Five miles south of the town of Fort Sumner is the Bosque Redondo Memorial and Park. I had never heard of it before, but it turned out to be the highlight of my trip. To quote their mission statement:
“The Bosque Redondo Memorial mission is to respectfully interpret the history of two cultures, the Diné (Navajo) and the N’de (Mescalero Apache) during the United States government’s military campaign of ethnic persecution in the 1860’s.”
The beautifully designed space tells the stories of these two tribes and the events that led to them being forced to this area and imprisoned in the 1860s and how this event has affected them to this day. There are several parts to their exhibit but the one that really moved me was a winding hallway painted with life-sized figures, on your left the men, women, and children being marched toward imprisonment, and on your right the soldiers glaring down at them. The mural called “Long Walk” was painted by Shonto Begay.
The memorial includes a nature and interpretive trail out the back, dotted with signs that tell the story of different events at the site and memorializes the people who suffered here. I have to admit I don’t usually expect to see much actual nature on these types of trails but came upon a herd of deer right away. Several signs warn of snakes but it was too cold for them while I was there. You can check out an audio tour for the trail or take a paper map.
After taking my time at the memorial I began to head back, stopping at the Old Fort Sumner Cemetery to see one of Billy the Kid’s grave sites. If you’re a fan of the 80’s movies, Young Guns, you’ll recognize it.
After that, I made my way back to Albuquerque for some city sightseeing. I won’t go into a narrative about it here, as I mostly just rambled around the Downtown, Old Town, and Nob Hill neighborhoods, but describe some details below. All three areas are distinctive and worth some time to explore.
It was a lovely quick escape out of a grey January in Portland and into the bright and dusty southwest. I learned something, and became acquainted with a city I can’t wait to visit again.
How did you learn and prepare for this trip?
I always have to research the history of my sites before I visit them, so usually get tipped off to interesting spots as I work. When I’m researching further just for things to do, I check out the state, county, and town tourism info sites. Some are better than others but you’ll usually see a good array of tips on where to go and what to do in the area. I also check Roadside America for quirky stops I might pass along my route. In this case, it gave me the locations of two graves attributed to Billy the Kid.
How did you get there?
I flew Alaska Airlines to Albuquerque from Portland and rented a car from Enterprise at the airport. I drove to Fort Sumner and back in one day, which was a long day of driving (about 5 hours) but was adequate for the activities I planned.
I booked a late flight out on Sunday so I could spend the day checking out Albuquerque before flying back. This is a strategy I often use but it can be exhausting. Since you have to check out of your hotel, usually by 11, you have nowhere to relax if you get worn out and you’ll arrive home late at night. But, hey, you can sleep on the plane.
Where did you stay?
I aim for low cost and utility when I travel for work, so in this case I stayed at a Sleep Inn near the Albuquerque airport. I find Sleep Inns and Comfort Inns, in particular to be pretty consistent in quality and they’re usually under $100 a night. They include breakfast and are part of the Choice hotels network, where I save up points for free stays when I’m actually on vacation. This time, I had an unusually low rate of $55 a night.
I would advise travelers to do a little research on the different parts of Albuquerque if you’re exploring town as different areas, like Old Town and Nob Hill, are both great destinations but with totally different vibes.
In general, New Mexico has tons of options for camping as well.
Where and what did you eat?
On my first night in Albuquerque I was tired from a day of travel and work so opted to try whatever was in walking distance from my hotel. My expectations were low being in a cluster of hotels and chain restaurants near the airport but I was pleasantly surprised to find a brewery with a great food cart nearby. The 377 was a nice place to kick back and try a flight while waiting for my food (according to their website they now have their own kitchen, and it looks like the food cart has moved on).
I recommend you go to the Downtown Arts and Culture District in the evening to get photos of their iconic neon signage and then grab a drink, some food, and some music. I particularly enjoyed the live music at the Launchpad.
Old Town Albuquerque is a great place to spend an afternoon just walking around and enjoying the ambiance. There are loads of shops and places to eat. You’ll also see that many group tours frequent the area, so it’ll be more crowded and touristy here. I wouldn’t skip it, though. I grabbed lunch at the Church Street Cafe, a lovely nook in an adobe building a few steps away from the main square.
How much did it cost?
I flew in on a Friday morning (arriving at around 2pm) and left on a Sunday evening.
I stayed at the Sleep Inn near the ABQ airport for two nights at $55 a night. This is cheap for a Sleep Inn and it’s likely more expensive during the summer or when conventions and other events are going on in town. Albuquerque is a popular destination so there are tons of lodging options in and around town.
Three days of a car rental from Enterprise came out to $150, not including insurance, which I had through work. I drove approximately 350 miles and only spent $40 on gas. On Saturday night I took an Uber downtown and back which was less than $30 round trip.
I opted for drinks and meals that were the average prices you would find in my current hometown of Portland. Breakfast was included at the Sleep Inn.
Would you go back and do it again?
I would definitely visit Albuquerque again and I’m glad I made it out to Fort Sumner on this trip.
Advice for people planning to do something similar?
I couldn’t be flexible with my dates for this trip as it was for work, but a warmer time of the year would have been nicer and the museums would have been open. If it’s warm out and you do this trip, you can stop by the Blue Hole near Santa Rosa for a swim on the way back from Fort Sumner.
Albuquerque deserves more than a day and a night of exploration and it’s a great base for day trips all over New Mexico. Fort Sumner works as a day trip or a side trip if you’re driving between Albuquerque and Clovis.
Important note if you’re visiting the Bosque Redondo Memorial-- I had trouble finding it on Google Maps, it kept wanting to take me to Bosque Redondo Park which is a few miles away. The memorial is on 3647 Billy the Kid Rd, Fort Sumner. You will pass the Old Fort Sumner Cemetery and Museum 1/4 mile before you reach the entrance to the memorial.
Any other experiences or businesses you wish to mention that made your trip better or more comfortable?
I’m on the road a lot and sometimes run errands in different towns you would usually do at home. I had my hair done at Laru Ni Hati Salon and Wine Bar which is a hip-as-can-be spot in the Nob Hill neighborhood. You can sidle up to their bar for a beer before or after getting your hair done.
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New Mexico sounds like a great place! Thanks for the detailed story MacKensie!
Hey readers, thanks for reading about this great trip. We interview every day people and businesses with extraordinary travel stories, tips, and suggestions to make your next trip amazing.
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Catch you next time. Happy travels!