The state's largest institution of higher learning stretches across an attractive 70-acre campus about 2 miles east of downtown Albuquerque, north of Central Avenue and east of University Boulevard. The five campus museums, none of which charges admission, are constructed (like other UNM buildings) in a modified pueblo style. Popejoy Hall, in the south-central part of the campus, hosts many performing-arts presentations, including those of the New Mexico Symphony Orchestra; other public events are held in nearby Keller Hall and Woodward Hall.
I've found the best way to see the museums and campus is on a walking tour, which can make for a nice 2- to 3-hour morning or afternoon outing. Begin on the west side of campus at the Maxwell Museum of Anthropology. You'll find parking meters there, as well as Maxwell Museum parking, for which you can get a permit inside.
The Maxwell Museum of Anthropology, situated on the west side of the campus on Redondo Drive, south of Las Lomas Road (tel. 505/277-4405; www.unm.edu/~maxwell), is an internationally acclaimed repository of Southwestern anthropological finds. What's really intriguing here is not just the ancient pottery, tools, and yucca weavings, but the anthropological context within which these items are set. You'll see a reconstruction of an archaeological site, complete with string markers, brushes, and field notes, as well as microscope lenses you can examine to see how archaeologists perform temper analysis to find out where pots were made, and pollen analysis to help reconstruct past environments. There are two permanent exhibits: Ancestors, which looks at human evolution, and People of the Southwest, a look at the history of the Southwest from 10,000 years ago to the 16th century from an archaeological perspective. It's open Tuesday to Friday 9am to 4pm, and Saturday 10am to 4pm; the museum is closed Sundays, Mondays, and holidays. From the Maxwell, walk east into the campus until you come to the Duck Pond and pass Mitchell Hall; then turn south (right) and walk down a lane until you reach Northrup Hall.
In Northrup Hall (tel. 505/277-4204), about halfway between the Maxwell Museum and Popejoy Hall in the southern part of the campus, the adjacent Geology Museum (tel. 505/277-4204) and Meteorite Museum (tel. 505/277-1644) cover the gamut of recorded time from dinosaur bones to moon rocks. Within the Geology Museum, you'll see stones that create spectacular works of art, from black-on-white orbicular granite to brilliant blue dioptase. In the Meteorite Museum, 550 meteorite specimens comprise the sixth-largest collection in the United States. You'll see and touch a sink-size piece of a meteorite that weighs as much as a car, as well as samples of the many variations of stones that fall from the sky. Both museums are open Monday to Friday 9am to 4pm.
From here, you walk east, straight through a mall that takes you by the art building to the Fine Arts Center. The University of New Mexico Art Museum (tel. 505/277-4001; http://unmartmuseum.unm.edu) is located here, just north of Central Avenue and Cornell Street. The museum features changing exhibitions of 19th- and 20th-century art. Its permanent collection includes Old Masters paintings and sculpture, significant New Mexico artists, Spanish-colonial artwork, the Tamarind Lithography Archives, and one of the largest university-owned photography collections in the country. This is my favorite part. You'll see modern and contemporary works, and some striking images that you'll remember for years. It's open Tuesday to Friday 9am to 4pm, Tuesday evening 5 to 8pm, and Sunday 1 to 4pm; the museum is closed holidays. A gift shop offers a variety of gifts and posters. Admission is free.
By now you'll probably want a break. Across the mall to the north is the Student Union Building, where you can get treats ranging from muffins to pizza. Campus maps can be obtained here, along with directions. Once you're refreshed, head out the north door of the Student Union Building and walk west through Smith Plaza, then turn north by the bus stop and walk to Las Lomas Road, where you'll turn right and walk a half-block to the intimate Jonson Gallery, at 1909 Las Lomas Rd. NE (tel. 505/277-4967; www.unm.edu/jonsong), on the north side of the central campus. This museum displays more than 2,000 works by the late Raymond Jonson, a leading modernist painter in early-20th-century New Mexico, as well as works by contemporary artists. The gallery is open Tuesday to Friday 9am to 4pm and Tuesday evening 5 to 8pm. From the Jonson you can walk west on Las Lomas Road to Redondo Road, where you'll turn south and arrive back at the Maxwell Museum, where your car is parked. Touring these museums takes a full morning or afternoon.