A Walk Up to Sandia Crest

Recently I went to Sandia Crest with intrepid fellow explorer Bosque Bill to photograph hummingbirds and do a bit of hiking in the area. After Bill managed to drag me away from the hummingbirds, we went for a short hike in the Sandia Mountains.

Rufous and Broad-tailed Hummingbirds.

It was very difficult to tear myself away from watching the hummingbirds.

The walk is easy, and the trail is well-marked. Because of the drought conditions this year, there were many fewer wildflowers than we saw last year. However, we did see pretty purple Spreading Fleabane …

Spreading Fleabane (Erigeron divergens)

Spreading Fleabane (Erigeron divergens)

… and Indian Paintbrush.

Indian Paintbrush (Scrophulariaceae Castilleja)

Indian Paintbrush (Scrophulariaceae Castilleja)

The stunning view from Sandia Crest affords an 11,000 square mile panorama of the State of New Mexico.

View to the west from Sandia Crest, showing a partial view of Albuquerque, across the Rio Grande to Mount Taylor.

View to the west from Sandia Crest, showing a partial view of Albuquerque, across the Rio Grande to Mount Taylor.

View to the southwest across the city.

View to the southwest across the city.

View across the more gentle eastern slope to the plains to the east.

View across the more gentle eastern slope to the plains to the east.

View to the south along the Sandia and Manzano mountain ridges.

View to the south along the Sandia and Manzano mountain ridges.

Common Ravens flying overhead.

Common Ravens flying overhead.

Looking to the southeast we watched one of the Sandia Peak Tram cars ascend to the upper tram terminal. The Sandia Peak Tram is the third longest tram in the world, and the longest in the United States, rising from 6,559 feet at the base and traversing 2.7 miles to the 10,378 foot summit. Mid-span, the cables are 900 feet above the mountainside. At that point, if a passenger were to fall out of a tram car it would take the passenger eight seconds to hit the ground.

There is a restaurant at the top of the tram, and the upper terminal is at the top of the Sandia Peak Ski Area. Because the base of the tram is at the northeast edge of Albuquerque, it is possible to leave Albuquerque on the tram at 9:00 a.m. and arrive at the ski area fifteen minutes later. At the end of the day, you ride the chairlift to the top and then catch the tram for the ride back to Albuquerque.

Tram car, upper terminal and restaurant.

Tram car, upper terminal and restaurant.

Tram car, upper terminal and restaurant, a closer view.

Tram car, upper terminal and restaurant, a closer view.

The trail from the upper tram terminal to the Kiwanis Cabin first goes through the forest and then goes along the edge of the escarpment. The views from the trail are lovely.

A view of the hiking trail.

A view of the hiking trail.

The Sandia Mountains are a fault block range on the eastern edge of the Rio Grande Rift Valley. The Sandias were uplifted in the last 10 million years as part of the formation of the Rio Grande Rift. There is an impressive, moderately sheer drop of approximately 4000 feet on the east side of the Sandias. Climbing up the west side of the mountains, there is a gain in elevation from approximately 5,500 feet on Tramway Boulevard to 10,678 feet at the Sandia Crest rest. The Sandias encompass four different life zones because of the elevation change.

Trees at Sandia Crest, showing flagging from the strong winds.

Trees at Sandia Crest, showing flagging from the strong winds.

We walked up to Kiwanis Cabin, a rock structure built on the very edge of the crest by the Civilian Conservation Corps in 1936. What you see in my photo is the third incarnation of the structure, as the first two were destroyed by fire and wind.

Kiwanis Cabin and intrepid explorer.

Kiwanis Cabin and intrepid explorer.

At one time there was another rock cabin at the base of the Sandias at the start of the La Luz Trail. It was an extremely popular party spot for local high school students, who would occasionally get into accidents when attempting to negotiate the winding road back to the city after a night of partying. I believe that the Rock House was demolished in the 1990’s, but a similar structure exists at another trail head in Elena Gallegos canyon.

On our way back from Kiwanis Cabin we again saw the lovely wildflowers in Kiwanis Meadow. I saw this beautiful Question Mark butterfly on some Spreading Fleabane.

Question Mark Butterfly on Spreading Fleabane.

Question Mark Butterfly on Spreading Fleabane.

Here is a closer look at the butterfly …

Question Mark (Polygonia interrogationis)

Question Mark (Polygonia interrogationis)

… and of the punctuation on its wings that gives the butterfly its name.

Question Mark (Polygonia interrogationis)

Do you see the question mark?

The Crest Trail between the parking lot for the Sandia Crest House and the upper tram terminal is an easy hike with spectacular views. To find out more about this hike, you might enjoy this website. You might also keep in mind that a hike at 10,000 feet can be strenuous for people who are used to sea level elevation.

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6 Comments

Filed under New Mexico flowers, Sandia Crest

6 responses to “A Walk Up to Sandia Crest

  1. Cindy

    Beautiful views..& I love it when you ‘talk dirty ‘.. fault block range indeed! Great to actually see the question mark on the eponymous butterfly. Thanks for sharing your exhilarating day..

    • Thought I might as well slip some actual information into that post.😉 You have no idea how long I chased that butterfly in order to get a photo of the punctuation.

  2. Wow, now those are some awesome views … from all sides! Thank you for taking us along on your adventure. I learned a something new today. This wonderful post is filled with terrific images and interesting information.

    • Thanks Julie. Happy you enjoyed the blog post. We’re fortunate to have these mountains right outside of town. Always fun to go up there for birds, hiking and views, views, views!

  3. Miriam

    I am so happy to see a picture of the Question Mark Butterfly amongst your photographs. I took a picture of one of these beautiful insects while atop Sandia Peak in August, but could not find it in my Audubon guide. Thank you! Now I can finally label this properly. Loved your other shots, as well.

  4. Happy to assist with butterfly ID. I think the Question Mark is truly beautiful!

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