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Petroglyph National Monument is the world's largest accessible collection of the tribal rock carvings.
Petroglyph National Monument is the world's largest accessible collection of the tribal rock carvings.
Verna Wood
ALBUQUERQUE

A Cheap Vacation? You Can Bet on It.

Petroglyph National Monument is the world's largest accessible collection of the tribal rock carvings.
Petroglyph National Monument is the world's largest accessible collection of the tribal rock carvings. (By Verna Wood)

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By Andrea Sachs
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, October 14, 2007

It might be uncouth to say how much one spends on vacation, but for Albuquerque, I have no shame.

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Here's a sampling of my budget:

* Petroglyph National Monument: $1.

* Pumpkin empanada at Golden Crown Panaderia: 85 cents.

* Tango dancing at Kelly's Brew Pub: free.

* Gambling at Santa Ana Star Casino: $1 down, $50.15 gain.

AAA wasn't kidding when, a few months ago, its annual vacation costs survey ranked the central New Mexico destination as the least expensive American city in which to spend your recreational dollars. With an average hotel room rate of $97.41 and an average food cost of $67.64 for a family of four, the Duke City's $165.04 daily expenditure beat out Wichita ($168.97), Oklahoma City ($181.02) and Omaha ($193.63). (For sadistic spenders, Honolulu topped out as the most expensive locale, with an average daily cost of $583.66.)

"Anyone traveling on a middle-class budget can still afford to treat themselves, without breaking the wallet," said Sean O'Loughlin, a 24-year-old Marylander I met on the Sandia Peak tram. The quick ride up the conifer-carpeted mountain offered us priceless views of Albuquerque and its environs -- without having to dig too deep into the purse.

O'Loughlin, a cash-crunched student in town for a job interview, was floored that his hotel lunch -- "chips, salsa, appetizers, the full meal" -- ran less than $10, that bars did not charge covers and that mixed drinks cost about the same as a domestic beer in the District. "It's ridiculous," he said.

Yet, while Albuquerque is cheap, it's more than generous with its attractions.

* * *

For many visitors, Albuquerque is merely a landing pad for Santa Fe. The Turquoise Trail/Highway 14 is rutted from rental wheels high-tailing it 65 miles to that overpriced city, where silver-bedizened tourists snap up Southwestern art at SoHo gallery prices, then boast of their finds over hyped-up New Mex-Tex cuisine. But don't be so quick to follow the northeast-bound caravan: Albuquerque may not have the cachet of Santa Fe, but it possesses many of the same cultural and aesthetic attributes, minus the pretense and price hikes.


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