I live in the desert but I can see forests of Ponderosa Pine and Aspen off in the distance. It’s not too far away and when I get enough of sagebrush and cactus I can be in the pines in in hour or less. I live at about 5,400 feet in elevation and my local mountain, Sandia Peak, is about 10,700 or so. I can be among the old Cottonwoods along the river in about ten minutes but I sometimes need the high mountain pines.
I had visitors this past week…my cousins from Sausalito. They saw a lot of desert on the way here at Monument Valley and Canyon de Chelly and northern Arizona. we decided to spend the day up on Sandia Peak. There are three ways to get to the top of the Sandias: walking the trail for about five hours up the steep western slope; driving the 40 miles or so to get to the east side and the forest road that will get you to then top; or take the Sandia Peak Tram. We opted for the tram.
The tramway was constructed in the 1960s and is one of the longest and most spectacular mountain tram rides you can take. The tram cars are hoisted up some 4,000 feet or more to the top on a cable system. There are two cars…one goes up while the other goes down and you pass in the middle. We had a chatty conductor who enjoyed his job of pointing out all of the things to see on the way up. This is not for people with a fear of heights. If you have claustrophobia it might be a little tough, too.
The round-trip ticket costs about $20. You do want a round-trip ticket unless you will hike down, which many people do….but plan ahead because you climb down to a place that’s not close to your car. There is a nice restaurant at the top of the mountain with a full food and drink menu. Some folks have trouble with the elevation…the air is thin at almost 11,000 feet so alcohol can hit you harder than usual. The tram ride is usually very smooth except on windy days. There are a couple bumps and dips when the tram car passes the two towers. Happily, the conductor doesn’t talk much on the way down.
We had a lunch on the mountain top restaurant and decided to take a hike along the trail from the tram station to the mountain crest…about a three mile round trip. It was warm in the valley but cool on the mountain. This was late April but we walked through quite a bit of snow in places. Pines provided shade but the Aspens and deciduous trees were not yet leafed out. There were a lot of early wildflowers in protected spots.
It was an easy hike and we met about eight or ten other hikers enjoying the day. The trail is close to the mountain’s shoulder at times and provides some great views of the Rio Grande Valley and Albuquerque. The route is fairly flat and not very difficult except for some of the snowy parts. There is a gift shop and small café at the crest house — which is where the road comes up from the eastern side of the mountain. There is a large antennae “forest” at the crest that can be seen at night from the valley thanks to the flashing red beacon lights for approaching aircraft. When I look at the mountain at night the red lights are noticeable but fairly dim from my vantage point, probably 20 miles away.
It was an enjoyable day and my visitors liked being up in the cool pine-scented air after several days in Arizona. We saw plenty of desert in the next few days of the visit and spent some time up in Santa Fe and they made a side trip to Taos.
My visitors made it back home, safe and sound. We have had a lot of rain here, which is unusual for this time of year. Some of the accessible desert areas are starting to break out in wildflowers.
Today looks like a good day for another walk in the desert.