Sandia Mountains – Above Albuquerque

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People who live in Albuquerque love the Sandia Mountains. The tall mountain range towers more than 5,000 feet above the city, providing an impressive backdrop and a nearby escape from the summer heat.

There are two ways to reach the top of the Sandia Mountains: Take the aerial tramway that lifts you up from the Albuquerque side, or drive to the top, by circling around the backside of the mountain range (From I-40, take NM Rte. 14–the Turquoise Trail Byway–to Sandia Crest Road). Choose the tramway, and you’ll climb 4,000 feet in 15 minutes. The drive takes much longer, but the curvy, steep Sandia Crest Road (12 miles long) is a lot of fun to drive–if you like curves!

There are plenty of fun facts about the amazing Sandia Peak Tramway, but since I chose to take the road instead, I can’t speak from personal experience about the ride. Check out the tramway’s website for more interesting facts, hours of operation, and ticket prices.

If you choose to drive up the Sandia Crest Road, your journey will end just below dozens of TV and radio transmission towers.

Your car’s alarm system and remote-control doors probably won’t work when you park at the Crest House, because of the abundance of radio waves from the nearby broadcast towers.

Also at the end of the road, the Sandia Crest House.  This gift shop and full-service restaurant (complete with green chile burgers!) is located at 10,678 feet, and provides a great place to warm up…

… just in case the temperature happens to be 27o.  That’s right, on this early April day, the mercury stood below freezing, and the wind was howling.  (Temperatures were in the 50’s and 60’s at lower elevations.)

Oh, and did I mention there was still snow on the ground in patches?

If you don’t mind the potentially blistering cold at the top of the Sandias, you’ll enjoy a fantastic view of the mountains as they trail off into the desert floor.

Check out the view of downtown Albuquerque from here!  While the urban sprawl stretches all the way to the foot of the mountains, the actual downtown core is miles away.  With my lens fully extended, this was a close as I could zoom into downtown.

Heading away (and slightly downhill) from the Crest House, you can follow a short trail that runs atop the mountain, giving you even more potential photo locations.  In the winter, this path will be very snowy, and even in spring, you’ll face plenty of mud as the white stuff turns to slush.

At the halfway point, the loop trail switches back, and climbs up these stairs, which were carved into the rock.

One more great view from along the trail.

On the way down the mountain, consider a stop at the Tinkertown Museum. This place is a classic roadside attraction.  It took Ross Ward decades to hand-carve the figures inside, many of which are animated to create a miniature western town and circus.  Admission is $3 for adults, $1 for children, and the museum is open April through October (give or take a few days on either end).  For the latest information, check out Tinkertown’s website.

In the summer months, the ski lifts on the eastern slope of the Sandias turn to bicycle lifts, allowing mountain bikers all the fun of riding downhill, without the chore of pedaling to the top.  Or, you can take a scenic ride up and down the mountain on the chair lifts.  This website has updated information as the seasons change.  (The lower end of the chair lift can be found along Sandia Crest Road, the upper end is near the tramway’s upper terminus.)

Note: This trip was first published in 2006.

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