Albuquerque Botanical Gardens

Rio Grande Botanical Garden
Rio Grande Botanical Garden

The Albuquerque Biopark Botanic Garden is a 36-acre botanical garden, located about one mile west of Old Town on the historic Route 66.


The gardens showcase New Mexico native plants---such as yucca, agave, cholla, fairy duster, and apache plume---as well as many Mediterranean plants which grow well in our climate.


The gardens are open year-round, allowing visitors to see the full life-cycle of the plants, from dormant to magnificent leaves and blooms.

Most visitors will take in the Gardens, the Aquarium, and the Zoo all in one day, as they are close together. In addition, there is a train connecting all three attractions.


Many people---especially locals, given the time of year---visit the park in December for the River of Lights event, when the plants and sculptures are adorned with millions of glowing, sparkling lights, many of which are synchronized to music. 



On the day I took these photos, the parking area was so full, that I barely found a spot. Granted, not all of the visitors were at the gardens, as the Albuquerque Aquarium is right next door. In fact, you can buy a pass which allows you to see the gardens and the aquarium on the same day ... which is very do-able.


Even so, the gardens are so spread out that the park never felt crowded. There are numerous paths and trails, which allows for a feel of privacy, even in the midst of there being other visitors.


There are also small garden areas, with benches for sitting and lots of shade.




A popular attraction at the gardens---for kids and adults---are the miniature trains. In what would amount to miles a track--if put in real-life scale---these trains circle through trees, plants, and streams. They cross bridges, visit small villages, and many carry livestock, with sound effects of sheep and cows.



Throughout the park are tile murals and sculptures. One of the larger ones is titled La Curandera y Su Jardin [which translates to The Curandera and her Garden] completed by artist, Reynaldo Rivera in 1998.


A Curandero(a) is a traditional Native American or Hispanic healer. Curandera's are popular in New Mexico, but before you can use one, you have to find her. Curandera's don't hang out a shingle. Instead, they are found by word-of-mouth.


Curandera's were popularized in the 2013 movie (filmed in New Mexico), Bless Me Ultima, based on the 1972 novel by New Mexico author, Rudolfo Anaya.


A Curandera typically uses a lot of herbs in the healing process. Because of this, there are many medicinal plants in this section of the garden, such as Goldenseal, Osha, and Elkweed.



As you walk through the gardens, you will see two large structures. These are the Mediterranean Conservatory---which houses plants native to coastal areas with hot, dry summers but mild winters---and the Desert Conservatory---which highlights plants from the desert southwest, some of which would not be able to survive an Albuquerque winter without protection.


Both structures are filled with exotic plants, many of which bloom throughout the year. You will see plants from the nearby Sonoran Desert---such as Saguaro Cactus and Palo Verde trees---but also plants from the Baja region, such as Elephant Trees.



The Rio Grande Botanic Garden offers the visitor so much more than this. There is a Fairytale Garden for kids, with a 14-foot-high dragon at the entrance; a pond developed to attract dragonflies; an indoor Butterfly Pavillion; a lake with ducks and other native birds; secluded gardens which often provide the backdrop for weddings; nature talks; demonstration gardens; and a garden store.


You can see most of the gardens in about two hours, though you could easily spend a full day here. There is ample lawn area for picnics, though you will need to bring your own food.


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