Sandia Crest • Highpoint: Bernalillo County
• Range Highpoint: Sandia Mountains

Date: (1) March 14, 2000; (2) September 21, 2003 • Elevation: 10,678 feet • Prominence: 4,098 feet • Distance: 3.5 mile hike in 2000, drive-up in 2003 • Time: 90 minutes for the hike • Gain: 300 feet • Conditions: Hard snowpack in 2000, nice weather both times • Teammates: Beth Cousland in 2003

Beth and I visit the top,
September 2003

Sandia Range

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Sandia Crest is the highpoint of the Sandia Mountains, an uplifted range with sheer west-facing cliffs overlooking Albuquerque, and gentler slopes covered in forest on the east. The effect is particularly noticeable when viewed from the airplane, descending into Albuquerque's airport. The word "Sandia" is Spanish for Watermelon. The range looks like one big gently-rounded blob, reminiscent, I suppose, of a watermelon. I am surprised that whoever named it thought of watermelons, this being New Mexico.

Being so close to Albuquerque, the Sandias draw all sorts of visitors all year round. A paved road leads to the top from the east side, while the La Luz Trail starts low on the west side, a long and steep seven miles to the summit. An interesting third option is via an aerial tramway, which lets out on the ridge a little over a mile and a half south of Sandia Crest.

I have been to the summit twice, once via the tramway and the second time with Beth, via the road, as we were flying out that night.

First Visit, March 2000: I was on my Spring Break from teaching, so I decided to spend it in New Mexico visiting various county highpoints. I left home at 4 a.m. and eight hours later, arrived in Albuquerque, with Sandia Crest on my immediate agenda.

There was still a lot of snow up high, so the La Luz Trail seemed out of consideration for the time being. I chose the tram option instead. I found the tram station, paid my fee and got onto the tram with a whole bunch of others. The tram ride is fun, and gains 4,000 vertical feet before letting off at the range crest, about 1.5 miles south of the highpoint at Sandia Crest.

Most people were happy enough to hang around the upper tram area and make short walks, but I took off, following a series of muddy and goopy trails, and eventually just snow, until I arrived to Sandia Crest itself. The hike was easy, gaining about 300 feet. There were a number of people at the top, most having driven up. I stuck around for photos and to relax, then walked back to the tram. On the way I stopped at the Kiwanis Cabin, a small stone cabin about three-quarters of a mile south of the summit, and visible from the tram as it sits on a promontory overlooking the cliffs. It's also an outside contender for the highpoint as it is listed as 10,640 feet elevation.

The whole adventure took just a couple hours and I had a lot of fun, even getting exercise after eight hours sitting in my truck. Back in Albuquerque, I ate lunch then got moving again, following Interstate-25 toward Las Vegas (NM). The next day, I would visit a whole series of high plains county highpoints, starting with a remnant volcanic plug called Sugarloaf Mountain in Harding County.

Second Visit, September 2003: My wife Beth and I were spending the weekend in New Mexico, hiking Little Costilla Peak the day before, and driving to the top of Elk Mountain earlier today. Once off of Elk Mountain, we toured downtown Santa Fe, then followed a scenic back by-way, state highway NM-14, toward Albuquerque. The highway is called the Turquoise Trail, and it runs through a few small settlements that came into being during the mining booms of the 19th and early 20th centuries. Turquoise was mined here, as was gold (pre-dating the California Gold Rush), and coal. Nowadays the towns are in a state of arrested decay, and many of them, especially Madrid, have become artist's colonies. We had fun walking around the shops.

From Madrid, we found our way to the east side of the Sandia Mountains. Highway NM-536 runs 14 miles up the forested slopes to top out at the visitor's center near the summit. We strolled to the top and snapped a couple photos. The highpoint rocks are within feet of the viewing platform. On this crystal clear day, we could see miles in all directions. After we drove down, we headed into Albuquerque for a dinner, then flew home that night, the end of a fun weekend.

(c) 2000, 2003, 2016 Scott Surgent. For entertainment purposes only. This report is not meant to replace maps, compass, gps and other common sense hiking/navigation items. Neither I nor the webhost can be held responsible for unfortunate situations that may arise based on these trip reports. Conditions (physical and legal) change over time! Some of these hikes are major mountaineering or backpacking endeavors that require skill, proper gear, proper fitness and general experience.