By Amanda Nyren, Travel Correspondent
High-Desert Casino Resort with Rock ‘n' Roll Edge
Somewhere on the sixth floor of the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Albuquerque, tucked away in one of the hotel’s Deluxe rooms, there is a post card from the King of Rock ’n’ Roll. Behind the glass of the post card’s frame, scrawled in Elvis’ blocky hand, the message reads, “Philosophy for a happy life: someone to love, something to look forward to, and something to do.” Outside, where the Hard Rock’s adobe-colored breezeway juts out against Albuquerque’s bright blue sky and a soundtrack of classic rock and Motown trickles through the dry desert air, the promise of what guests have to look forward to couldn’t be more evident. Beatles lyrics emblazoned in metallic letters stretch across the clay-red exterior wall, and to the left, a guitar-shaped handle in sparkling silver adorns each of the main-entrance doors, none-too-subtle heralds of the rock ’n’ roll glitz within.
Branded as a Hard Rock property in June of 2010, the hotel was built three years ago on the site of an Isleta Pueblo–owned resort and casino, and the newness of the construction is reflected in the Deluxe king room’s modern styling and amenities: oversize bathtub, deep-pile chocolate carpeting, crisp, white bed linens. Photography of musicians such as Bruce Springsteen, Sheryl Crow, and Brett Michaels perpetuate the rock motif, competing for attention with the 40-inch flat-screen TV and the views of the desert landscape surrounding the hotel.
A true oasis, the Hard Rock boasts six restaurants, with venues suited to casual, elegant, or—in the case of the casino’s recently minted Lucha restaurant—tequila-fueled meals. Among the four restaurants clustered just beyond the airy lobby, 505 Fusion lures hotel guests as well as locals with its modish interior, live music, and global fare, and TIWA sates cravings with steaks, chops, and plates of chicken fajitas. At the pool, sprinklers rain down from the small doorway between the pool’s indoor and outdoor sections as kids splash and play and parents lounge on the indoor deck or sun themselves outside. In-house La Bella Spa & Salon’s centerpiece is a giant gourd-shaped pavilion where guests can sip drinks in a jacuzzi while listening to the trickling of a nearby waterfall. At the hotel’s tiny tattoo parlor, skin-art enthusiasts and amnesiac grocery shoppers can enjoy the sweet, buzzing serenade of the tattoo gun.
Stage costumes donned by Janet Jackson, Elton John, and Steven Tyler stand sentry at the entrance of the casino, open 20 hours a day. Beneath a matte black ceiling dotted with a constellation of pinpoint white lights, the 100,000-square-foot space sprawls out in a cacophonous mélange of slots, poker, roulette, and bingo. Amid the thrum of the crowd, gamblers can play blackjack with one of a bevy of beautiful “Baby Doll” card dealers—suggestively clad sirens at the helm of various table games—then sip drafts of Fat Tire in front of the 360-degree television tower at the center of the casino floor.
Albuquerque and the Sandia Mountains: Enchanted Landscapes and Historical Intrigue
The Hard Rock Hotel & Casino sits approximately 20 minutes south of Albuquerque’s historic Old Town, a charming enclave of jewel-toned art galleries and quaint restaurants. Among these is the Church Street Cafe, a New Mexican eatery serving up frothy margaritas and toothsome chili rellenos within the rustic, rambling spaces of Casa de Ruiz, a roughly 300-year-old adobe with multiple dining rooms and arched doorways. The neighborhood’s low-slung adobes and Pueblo Revival–style buildings all seem to have a claim on a piece of local lore. With Old Town Tours' daytime history or nighttime ghost tours, tourists can wander the plazas and placitas learning about unearthed burial plots and a Civil War battle squelched by angry local wives and mothers.
The Sandia Peak Aerial Tramway—the country’s longest tramway—makes year-round ascents to 10,378-foot-high Sandia Peak, hoisting travelers through the air much like a ski-resort gondola. As tram operators share historical facts, passengers sail over the mountain's rugged granite spires and cliffs dotted with hardy pine and scrub oak, laughing when the car gently sways over a supporting tower. Named for the Spanish for “watermelon,” Sandia emits a magenta glow in New Mexico’s painted sunsets, the light reflecting off the mica, feldspar, and quartz embedded in its surface. At the top, the outdoor picnic tables and concentric rings of indoor seating at High Finance Restaurant & Tavern allow visitors to dine on seafood and chops while savoring the views or yodeling the alphabet.
Nearby Bernalillo is home to the Coronado State Monument, site of the Kuaua Pueblo ruins, which include an original kiva and murals as well as several pleasant riverfront ramadas for picnicking. Coronado is just one stop along Jemez Mountain Trail, a 120-mile National Scenic Byway that merits a full day’s excursion. Tourists can meander along slowly, stopping to wander through Tent Rocks’ narrow corridors, soak in Spence mineral hot springs, or taste wines at Ponderosa Valley Vineyards and Winery.