As we pulled into the parking lot adjacent to the train terminal in Bernalillo, a school bus pulled up and Wine Festival attendees piled off. It was mid afternoon on Labor Day and Chris and Barb and I weren’t there to attend the festival, but to ride the train – from the northern end of its route in Bernalillo to its terminus in Belen, and back again as a birthday treat for train-buff Chris.
The New Mexico Rail Runner, while primarily a commuter train, experimented with weekend hours during the summer. Hoping to be the ‘designated driver’ for wine samplers, this was the final day of the summer schedule.
When the train pulled into the station, they put out a ramp that allowed families with strollers or people with mobility limitations to board the train without having a big step. Nimble Barb scurried ahead to save three seats on the upper level. When the train pulled away from the station, it was 90 percent full.
Our first stop near downtown Bernalillo was only minutes down the track. We then traveled through the Sandia Pueblo farm lands where Barb and I kept our eyes peeled for birds. A Kestrel flew by and Western Meadowlarks flushed as the train whizzed by. Before long we were at the Journal Center stop. We admired the artistic etched glass scenes backing the waiting area – different at each station.
It was interesting to observe aspects of the industrial area approaching downtown that are not visible while driving down the street. Chris, the architect, was particularly fascinated with different roofs.
By time we reached Alvarado station in downtown Albuquerque, most of the festival passengers had disembarked. New passengers, who had spent the day in town, got on the train for the ride back to Valencia County.
“Notice how slowly the train is traveling,” Chris pointed out as we left downtown? “That is because we are still in the ‘yards.’ They extend quite a ways south of town.”
About the time we started picking up speed, we arrived at the South Albuquerque stop. ABQ Ride’s Bus 222 connects this Rail Runner station to the International Sunport, although not all trains are met by the bus. However, all Rail Runner trains arriving at the Downtown Albuquerque station are met by ABQ Ride’s Bus 50, which also provides a direct connection to the International Sunport. A Rail Runner ticket allows bus passengers to ride free.
As we rode through the Isleta Pueblo, we could see families picnicking, fishing and camping at Isleta Lakes. Canada Geese lounged by the water trap on the golf course. The water was high and running swiftly under the bridge as we crossed the Rio Grande. In the fields outside of Los Lunas, opportunistic Cattle Egrets followed grazing cattle to pluck the insects they stir up as they move.
Leaving Los Lunas we saw the plane ‘garages’ adjacent to the houses built along the small airport. Pretty soon we were in Belen. We dug out our granola bars and water to tide us over, while we watched a freight train assembling itself and marveled at the flatbed cars that transport truck beds.
We were the only passengers making the round trip; however, new passengers got on the train.
At the South Albuquerque station, a small group of bicyclists boarded the train with their bicycles. They evidently had spent the afternoon riding along the Rio Grande bike trail, and were riding the train back to where their cars were parked.
“I hope we pass the Amtrak train bound for Los Angeles,” Chris said wistfully. “It should be passing through Albuquerque about now.” It was waiting for us in the station in downtown Albuquerque. The Rail Runner’s tracks are owned by the state, so it gets precedence over other trains.
“Let me show you the hole in downtown,’ Barb pointed. “I discovered it by accident when I was at the convention center. It is an underground parking lot that you enter as if you are descending into a cave.”
It was 6:00 p.m. when we pulled into the station at Bernalillo. What a wonderful day trip. However, it was not over yet. A trip to Bernalillo is not complete without eating at The Range.