In an off-limits, decommissioned tunnel at the Albuquerque International Sunport, nobody knows the origins of stunning mosaic artworks.
ALBUQUERQUE, NM—Depending on where travelers are tromping through the Albuquerque International Sunport terminal, they may be walking on top of a secret, inaccessible-to-the-public tunnel that contains largescale mosaic artworks on the passageway walls.
The mosaics, mysterious and beautiful, depict birds, geometric designs, and Native American figures, including one with a prickly pear cactus head. The work is all the more impressive when considering the exhaustive process of plastering tiny tiles down both sides of the decommissioned tunnel that’s more than a football field in length.
Nobody, not even Albuquerque city officials, seems to be privy to the origin of the artworks or even the name(s) of the artist(s).
“We don’t know who did this or why,” says Stephanie Kitts, a public information officer with the City of Albuquerque, which owns and operates the Albuquerque International Sunport.
The tunnel was part of the old terminal that opened in 1965, reports Hidden New Mexico. The main building was a staging and waiting area for passengers that included ticket counters and shops. To get to the aircraft, passengers would descend down to the tunnel, which would take them to a satellite building with four gates.
In the tunnel, more than fifteen mosaic designs, as well as thousands of solid-colored tiles approximately one inch by one inch, flank each side. (It’s a little bonkers to imagine someone standing there and mechanically placing each minuscule tile from floor to ceiling for more than 100 yards.) The tunnel also contained stalls for vendors and bathrooms at the end of the hall—today, those old restrooms are creepily pitch black and completely stripped of fixtures.
The tunnel—located underneath the current Transportation Security Administration checkpoint, the food court, and the junction area that takes travelers to either the A or B gates—was decommissioned sometime in the 1980s with the opening of the current terminal, according to City of Albuquerque personnel. A number of the mosaics are obscured by the new infrastructure, such as pipes and fiber optic cable, that helps today’s Sunport tick.
There have been talks of attempting to repair some of the damaged works, but the tiles are delicate and can basically crumble if touched. Due to security reasons, there are no plans to open the tunnel to the general public—only Sunport officials, maintenance workers, and the occasional member of the media are able to get a glimpse of the mosaics.
For now, the subterranean mysticism remains unexplained, obscured, and gorgeous.