07 Sep Saturday Spotlight: The East Mountains
Rodeos, Pinto Bean Queens and Drones
The East Mountains outside Albuquerque is one of the fastest growing area in New Mexico. Since 2000, the area’s population more than doubled. The convenience of nearby Albuquerque with a country lifestyle explains part of the area’s appeal, but I suspect that the warmth and southwestern hospitality of the residents accounts for a generous portion. One long-time local estimates that nearly 30% of the residents make the workday trek to Sandia Labs, the University of New Mexico or the University’s hospital.
Boomers have also retired to the area, adding to the population rolls. It’s easy to see why. Housing is plentiful, the cost of living is below the national average, and summers are moderate. Temperatures tend to be 10 degrees lower than the Rio Grande Valley, but the area also historically gets more precipitation.
Bounded on the West by the eastern slope of the Sandia and Manzano Mountains and opening up onto the high plains, the Eastern Mountains refers to the communities loosely arrayed along I-40. Tijeras, Cedar Crest, Sandia Park, Edgewood, Moriarty and Estancia are some of the more recognizable place names.
The area’s friendly, laidback attitude and sense of community also makes it welcoming to newcomers. No one claims that there’s much to do in the way of night life, unless you have a taste for hay rides and Blue Grass. (Many do. Rumor has it that central New Mexico has a thriving underground Americana and Blue Grass scene.) The area has a number of active farmer’s markets, and what might seem like cultural incongruities elsewhere are met here with a shrug. That an art gallery resides next to a state-of-the-art indoor shooting range is all part of the relaxed live and let live attitude.
Despite the growth, nothing about the East Mountains conjures up “urban sprawl,” at least not to the uninitiated eye. Sprawl yes, but only in the 4-H sense of the word: wide open spaces (once you’re out of Tijeras Canyon), majestic mountains, big skies and long stretches of two-lane paved roads.
Shiny new shopping centers, sleek modern-looking school campuses, and residential neighborhoods popping up between the ranches provide evidence of the area’s prosperity and growth. The appearance isn’t deceptive. Topping $63,000, the median income is one of the highest in the state and handily exceeds the national figure of $55,935.
Rather than become an extension of metropolitan Albuquerque, growth has allowed the community to become less dependent on Albuquerque and develop its own identity. More shopping options have reduced the need to drive through Tijeras Canyon into the city, and some industry has even moved out into the area. Falcon Industries has operated out of Moriarty since 2000, and Google has its drone development and operations headquartered in Edgewood.
For outdoor activities, the area’s hard to beat. A vast trail network winds through the Cibola National Forest accessed off the Turquoise Trail in Tijeras. Further up the road, Cerrillos Hills State Park offers guided tours, horseback riding, and programs throughout the summer and fall. Rock climbing, mountain biking and single action shooting (also known as “Cowboy Action Shooting”) are all popular activities. A vast network of mostly unexplored caverns is believed to run underneath Edgewood, and the same town now boasts a booming cage-fighting seen. “If you’re lucky enough to see some ripped and torn bodies in the aisles of the Super Wal-Mart, chances are they’re cage fighters,” one waitress told me. I was not so lucky.
Rodeos, Pinto Bean Queens and drones almost begins to sum up the hard-to-pin-down nature of the East Mountains. There’s a lot more to the area than I could take in on a single weekend, but a single weekend was all it took to convince me that I need to explore the area more. Hopefully next time I won’t make the mistake of stopping off for what I thought would be a quick lunch and spending hours talking to locals and the wait staff during the lull between the breakfast hour rush and “Prime Rib Night.” The food at Katrinah’s East Mountain Grill in Edgewood was great, the prices less than what you pay for a meal at a fast food joint, but the friendliness of the folks is what made the experience.
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The Edgewood Caverns cave system as reported in the 2005 piece in the Albuquerque Journal