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I returned to Albuquerque from Phoenix too late yesterday to participate in the Tricentennial opening day celebrations -- but my DVD recorder taped the morning news highlights for me (and I watched details of the later events on this morning's news). It looks like the 18-month birthday party got off to a grand beginning with a half-marathon, a 100-balloon mass ascension, lots of mariachi and marching bands, a parade, and enough cake to feed over 5,000 people (early accounts said it would be one HUGE cake -- the largest ever baked -- but the reality was 55 cakes each cut into 96 slices).Roberto E. Rosales/Journal<br />Aztec dancer Jorge Garcia is a member of a group that took part in the

The weather was nice for most of the events as well -- a bit breezy in the morning but it turned sunny and warmed up to the mid-70's by afternoon. However, by the time our plane landed the weather had turned nasty with severe thunderstorms; I just learned that a funnel cloud touched down at Mountainair -- southeast of Albuquerque -- and continued airborne over the city all the way to another possible touch-down near Rio Rancho to our northwest. Tornadoes are extremely rare in the Rio Grande Valley; the only other one I can remember in the almost eleven years I've lived here occurred last June during the Rio Rancho Celtic Festival.

In my effort to track the activities of Albuquerque's 300th birthday celebrations, here's the account of the opening day ceremonies from this morning's Albuquerque Journal online edition:

Sunday, April 17, 2005

City Launches Tricentennial Celebration at Balloon Fiesta Park

By Lloyd Jojola
Journal Staff Writer

The birthday cakes were early— a year early, in fact. But by 11 a.m. Saturday, 55 big vanilla- and chocolate-flavored cakes had been sliced into enough pieces to serve about 5,300 people.

In grand fashion, thousands of Albuquerqueans gathered at Balloon Fiesta Park in the North Valley to launch an 18-month celebration marking the city's 300th birthday, which is next April.

Saturday's activities began near Bernalillo as about 450 registered participants took off in a half-marathon that ended at fiesta park.

Then, the first of about 100 hot-air balloons rose at 7:30 a.m.— creating the colorful sight that is most associated with the city.

"I think it was inevitable," Albuquerque resident Oliver Shaw said about the launch. "After all, we have this incredible balloon field and the city's noted for the balloon fiesta."

Mayor Martin Chávez told the crowd as festivities began, "It doesn't matter whether your family's been here for thousands of years or hundreds or if you just got here three months ago.

"All together, what a magnificent place we are."

A smorgasbord of events, from festivals to dedications, tours to art exhibitions, aim to highlight the Duke City's culture and beauty over the course of the celebration, which begins with the "Heritage" theme this month.

"Albuquerqueans seldom need a real reason to have a party, but this is a real reason to celebrate," said Jerry Geist, the chief organizer of the tricentennial.

"And it's celebrating something real, not artificial," he said. "To talk about the natural beauty of the place, the friendliness of the people, and 71 different cultures."

The city's true birthday is April 23, 2006, three centuries after then-governor of New Mexico, Don Francisco Cuervo y Valdes, wrote to the King of Spain: "I certify to the King, our Lord and to the most excellent señor viceroy (the Duque de Alburquerque), that I founded a villa on the banks and in the valley of the Rio del Norte in a good place as regards land, water, pasture, and firewood."

The place was named the Villa de Alburquerque.

Ross Dimas, a 79-year-old North Valley resident, slipped on a bolo tie with a polished piece of turquoise and bought himself a commemorative tricentennial license plate.

He remembers celebrating the 250th.

"I'll never forget," he said. "I went down to old Mexico and I got a bullfighter's uniform for that particular occasion and I had a big mustache, a huge mustache."

Spectators by late morning had shifted their gaze from the skies to a park stage. It was along a route that featured the "Parade of Eras."

A blessing and the sounds of drums, rattles and dancing launched the "Native American Era" and proceeded into periods detailing the Spanish, Mexican and territorial eras, and statehood.

The sights moved from horse-mounted conquistadors with pikes to sombreros and mariachi music. Covered wagons, hoop dresses and Buffalo Soldiers represented the territorial phase, while the statehood era was represented with a string of cultural groups and images, from Chinese dragons to Scottish pipes and drums.

Fourteen 15-foot-tall puppets, which were hoisted on the shoulders of people, concluded the colorful presentation.

"There is so much in the different cultures. It's wonderful Albuquerque has so many different ones," said Deluvine Baca. "You don't have to go all over the country. You can just come to Albuquerque."

Baca was part of a dance performance put on by Sociedad Colonial Española, and was peering from behind the stage to see the other participants.

People will be "dazzled" by what they see in the coming months, Mayor Chávez said.

"They're going to have a much deeper understanding of what Albuquerque's all about and who Albuquerqueans are," he said. "There is a richness in our history and culture that is unsurpassed."

The lesson about Albuquerque could come in handy.

Larry and Karen Elkin moved to the area last October, though they've lived and vacationed here in the past. But a long time ago, the name 'Albuquerque' might only have been heard in the movies and conjured images of the Wild West, Larry Elkin said.

"My wife's great aunt once asked us, when we were initially leaving New York to come out here ... 'Do you need a passport?' And I think you've heard that comment from others."

Of course, organizers believe the tricentennial is a great opportunity to pitch the city.

"This is a rebranding of Albuquerque," Chávez said. "I say all the time ... if you want to find the greatness of this city, you reach into our history and our traditions and our cultures.

"You relish that, and you express and articulate that in a modern context. And that's what's happening in Albuquerque these days."

© 2005 Albuquerque Journal
And now a bit of commentary:

I find it rather odd that there are no books scheduled for publication detailing Albuquerque's rich history. It seems like this would have been a great opportunity to update the few previously-published works -- in fact, the last truly comprehensive study of our city's past was Marc Simmons' excellent Albuquerque: A Narrative History, published in 1982 and out-of-print for many years (a reprint of part of the book, titled Hispanic Albuquerque, 1706-1846 was published a couple of years ago).

I do have a rather extensive collection of newspaper and magazine articles detailing various aspects of our city's history. From time to time, I'll be reprinting some of those (as well as portions of Simmons' books) here on the blog or on my main website. It's an interesting story and one that I'd like to preserve and share before I move away from here sometime next year.