Yesterday, we visited Albuquerque's Old Town Plaza, taking a midmorning stroll just as the merchants were opening up, and before the first tourist buses (where DO they all come from?) arrived. The plaza, together with surrounding side streets and courtyards, was quite charming, with craft and souvenir shops everywhere. We window-shopped happily, enjoying the typical New Mexican flavor (even the freeways are painted sandstone and turquoise colors.) Silver and turquoise jewelry was spread out on rugs under a shady overhang, each vendor occupying a few feet of space. Pottery, rugs, storyteller dolls, sculpture, paintings, and assorted "junque" filled the stores. The church is the oldest in the city, with light whitewashed walls inside, and adobe outside. The sign said that it was staffed by "secular priests." We guess that means priests who are not associated with a particular order -- corrections welcomed! The white wall is covered with paintings of halo-wearing icons; a tower with a blue onion dome stands behind. Gloriously painted with saints

We drove through several neighborhoods, getting to know the area, which is reminiscent of San Antonio, and, strangely, of Bakersfield, California (modest houses, a proliferation of auto-and-truck-related businesses, an identifiable barrio). So many homes had chain link fences and barred windows that it was a bit dispiriting. Albuquerque is also a military center, with the Air Force Materiel Command located at Kirtland Air Force Base, which shares the airport with the city. The airport, by the way, is called the Albuquerque International Sunport!

Along Historic Route 66, alias 4th Street, we encountered a blue and white adobe motel proudly advertising it had been in business for 67 years, and a Russian Orthodox church in a tiny street corner building gloriously painted with Orthodox Saints.

We visited the Albuquerque Botanic Garden and the Aquarium but we came at quite the wrong time. The place was crawling with workers who were setting up for the month-long Rivers of Light show in December. Everywhere we looked there were light sculptures - of animals, plants, buildings, Santa, anything you can imagine - made out of flexible colored tubing bent and tied with electrical tape. Today the workers were hooking up the electrical cords; no doubt it will take a week or more to check out all the illuminated displays. Large bushy grasses, shrubs, and cacti, with one blue sign showing along the gravel path Botanical garden, overgrown

The Biology Park would appear to be intended primarily for children and as a venue for planned activities. There's a large underground children's "garden" path passing through the interior of a giant pumpkin, then past huge mockups of carrots and ants and worms and radishes and showing the roots protruding down, even an oversize garden hose and sprinkler can. This, too, was overtaken by the light show team. One of the structures, with an overhead trellis, and dozens of badly cared for plants with piles of unraked leaves, featured commercial advertisements for an English horticultural supply house.

Another structure featured inscribed marble plaques inset in a surrounding wall. At first we thought we had stumbled on a mausoleum, but it was just a way of displaying the names of major donors.

In a while we came to two small enclosed conservatories, one with Mediterranean plants, the other with cactus and succulents. The light sculpture people confined their decorations to the outside of these buildings.

Some of the plants, like some saguaro cactus which probably can't handle the cold winters, had evidently been dead a long time, and parts of the garden were terribly overgrown and unpruned.

We detoured to visit the Butterfly House, which (besides the light show Looking like a rock garden, with desert buildings surrounding the tracks, colored orange and terra cotta and green, the model train disply would be attractive when it is running Scenic outdoor model trains sculptures) was embellished only with the sign "Closed." Similarly, the workmen were setting up light show sculpture in the model train display, so the trains weren't running.

The aquarium, too, was filled with workmen, as several of the exhibits were being renovated. We had hoped to see an eel tunnel, shark tank, and jellyfish, but what we remembered most was a tank filled with debris and some local fish, designed to teach youngsters about the ugly effects of polluting the Rio Grande. True, there were some nice ship models on display in the basement.

When we asked the ticket seller for a map, she said "There's only one path through the garden." The path we eventually found was to the EXIT.

As for the Biology Park, we think they have sufficient money, but if ever there were a place designed by a committee, this is it!

We have become aware of two food service companies in Albuquerque. One, Blakes, operates a chain of Lotaburger stands, which we have avoided. The other, Dee's is right up the street, with a loading dock that can handle an eighteen-wheeler. Inside, they dish up their specialty - New York Cheesecake, which was probably better than you can find on Broadway. Dee's is on the corner of Menaul and Wellesley, and it's worth finding if you get to Albuquerque. The sandwiches are made with home-made rolls and fresh, tasty meats and cheeses, the Chile Stew is wake-up spicy, and the cheesecakes are serious -- dense and rich and sinful and available in a dozen flavors.