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A Life Less Ordinary

Day Trips around Santa Fe, NM – Sandia Mountains, Albuquerque

During the weekends, Mark and I always face a dilemma: do we take it slow and enjoy our precious time off relaxing, or do we take advantage of being in an incredible area and go sightseeing? Usually, we opt for a combination if the weather cooperates. So, this particular Sunday morning, we took our time getting up, making breakfast, packing lunch and storing the bed and the table in our camper. Then, around 10:30am or so, we backed out of our free campsite in the woods near Albuquerque, New Mexico, and drove the 20 minutes to the base of the Sandia Mountains. We anticipated a big hike and – once the wheels were rolling – were antsy to get started.

The plan: take the tramway to Sandia Crest and hike down for 10 miles. Usually, we don’t like spending money on things like ski lifts or trams when we can get to places on foot, so this proved a special, yet pricey occasion. It was Labor Day weekend, the weather was beautiful, and, apparently, we were not the only ones having a tram ride in mind. Our late start soon bit us in the butt. The line to buy tickets was immense and doubts about our grand plan almost made us abandon it. But, what was the alternative? Strolling around hot and busy Albuquerque? We had both looked forward to this hike in nature, so we hoped for the best. After an hour of waiting (luckily mostly in the shade), it was our turn to join 48 other visitors in the tram car.

The almost vertical ride up took about 15 ear-popping minutes. The view was incredible, especially when we “soared” above the rocky outcrops. At over 10,000ft, Sandia Peak is high – the temperature much cooler, the air thinner and the crowds plentiful. Most of them would ride back down.

After taking some customary photos, Mark and I located the trail head for La Luz Trail. By then, it was 12:30pm; quite late to start a long hike. But, hey, it was all downhill. How hard could it be?

Turns out, plenty hard. The forest trail started by gently sloping down for a mile or so. A deer was watching us from behind the trees. Then, due to a massive rockslide, we scrambled over uneven, tough terrain, multiple times, switch backing down the hill for miles. I regretted wearing my hiking sandals. Shoes would have been more comfortable and sturdy. Mark was the wiser of the two this time. Our surroundings were spectacular and we sat on a shady rock ledge to eat our sandwiches, gulping water to replace the sweat. Minutes earlier, we had given a quart (liter) of our water supply to an older man, who had run out and was suffering on his ascend of the mountain. I wanted to give him more, but Mark said this amount should do. It was the beginning of our hike, the trail was often shady, and my energy level was still honky dory. Mark – being the smarter one, remember – suggested we would need all the remainder of our water. Guess what? He was right again.

After about two hours, the trees disappeared and we were totally exposed to the sun on the west face of the mountain. Because of the rocky terrain, we were not making good progress and realized this 10-mile hike was going to take much longer than expected. There was no time to dilly dally or take breaks. As the hours progressed, my photo taking ceased, my stumbling increased and my energy diminished, together with our drinking water. The scenery remained attractive: cacti, wildflowers, bare cliffs, spires reaching for the sky, and picturesque rocks strewn about by Mother Nature. Lots of rocks, especially underfoot. And, lots of scorching, relentless sun driving me more and more mad.

After eight miles, we left the La Luz Trail to follow the Tramway Trail for two miles back to the parking lot. I took a deep breath and embraced the little bit of shade from the side of the mountain and the trees. I stopped complaining and felt energized. Until we faced … more rocks, pebbles, dirt and sun. I was thoroughly exhausted and my feet hurt. When the trail turned uphill, this close to the finish, I almost lost it! But, we made it. Mark – who refused to drink any of our dwindled water supply the last hour of the walk so I could stay hydrated, preventing a headache – reached the camper first. We had been ascending the mountain for five hours straight. When I finally plunged onto our settee with a soaked bandana, exhausted body, and blistered feet, he handed me an ice-cold glass of orange juice. Nothing has ever tasted better! We happily rested for 10 minutes. Then, we hit the road back to Santa Fe and decided to run all our intended Labor Day errands – Home Depot, Trader Joe’s, Albertson’s grocery store – right there and then, so we could have a day of rest (and camper projects) the following day. We didn’t get back to the house until 9pm, but it sure was nice to stay home on Monday.

Info for hiking to/from Sandia Peak:

  • Wear hiking shoes or boots – you will need the thicker soles, all-around-protection against pointy rocks and, ideally, ankle support.
  • Carry plenty of water, especially when ascending this mountain.
  • Bring lunch and snacks.
  • Don’t forget sun protection.
  • Start early enough. We read the descend from Sandia Peak would take about three hours, but – for us – it took much longer, including a short lunch break. Also, if you hike in the morning, most of the trail is in the shade.
  • Taking the tram up, or down (lots of people like the challenge of ascending this mountain and then riding back), costs $15 per person. A return ticket is $25 per person. There are senior discounts.
  • Parking (“grounds admission”) costs $2 per vehicle. There are many (free) hiking trails in the Sandia Mountains.

Would you hike up and take the tram back? Take the tram up and walk down? Or ride the tram up and down? (Or, very unlikely, hike up and down?)

40 Comments

  1. It is so scary to almost run out of water while hiking, and then suddenly experience much sun, little shade, and dwindling energy. I could feel your pain! So glad that Mark saved the remaining water for you. That is true love and compassion!

    • Mark is a good guy. Most of the time. 🙂 We actually did bring a lot of water, but gave some of it away, because that person needed it more than us. If I ever do that hike again, it is in boots and with an earlier start. It was very pretty.

  2. Gosh, your experience reminds me of Gilligan’s 3-hour tour, or my experience hiking Mammoth Lakes to Devil’s Postpile in July 2016. Mountain hikes can be so full of surprises, and heat exhaustion always ends up plaguing me! Our whole family (15 of us with kids) started out late, losing time trying to find the bus to take us to the area to take another bus, standing in line, etc. A short two mile hike turned into another 2 hours (no one had enough water or snacks) and although the hike was easy, it was dusty from the volcanic pumice dust and the heat. None of us were prepared although my 80-year old dad kept up the pace (he admitted he was down for several days after). Hiking with little kids who know nothing about National Parks/Monument etiquette was exhausting! I’m glad you were OK in the end and managed to get spectacular pics! I hope folks read your post, mountain hiking is nothing to take for granted!

    • Oh Terri, that sounds like an exhausting hike and for many more reasons other than just the heat or the distance. Your dad’s a trooper! I feel a little bad complaining about this particular hike as much as I did, because it was an amazing hike with wonderful views, but I was wearing the wrong footwear, which bothered me a lot. And, I hated that we lost a whole hour waiting to buy tram tickets, while we should have started the hike at that time. Poor planning… and always thinking we are the only ones on this planet. 🙂

  3. Wow that was quite an experience Liesbet. It’s amazing how what can seem a fairly easy walk can quickly turn into a challenge. I’ve been there too! Once in France my wife and I set off for a morning walk, we got lost, I had forgotten the map (!), we hadn’t taken lunch, and we ended up begging for some bread and water from an old people’s home miles from anywhere, before hitch-hiking back. Glad to hear you made it back safely, and hope the feet have recovered! 🙂

    • Rocky terrain on a downhill slope can be challenging. I”m sure you have a lot of experience with that as well, Denzil. Your little misadventure sounds like an experience. One of those times that it is tough in the moment, but funny/”stupid” to look back at. 🙂 I believe a lot of these less-than-perfect hikes come down to bad planning. Or, bad luck.

  4. After that description, I’m not sure I’d do any of the options you presented, Liesbet! Having had sunstroke once when I was a child, and being extremely fair-skinned, I get really sick in the sun. Your experience sounds awful! I can just imagine how refreshing that cold orange juice must have been. I’m glad you’re fully recovered.

    • We should have planned the whole excursion a bit better, Karen. We just thought, ten miles downhill… that should only take a few hours. Nope. 🙂 You know, the first couple of hours I kept thinking about doing this hike again (but then in shoes) if we return to the Santa Fe house sit and have my parents visit, because it was so beautiful. By the end of the afternoon, I was seriously doubting a return visit to this trail, thinking I’d let my dad and Mark hike down, while my mom and I would take the tram back. 🙂

  5. Yes, Mark is certainly in the spotlight with saving water for you. Amazing how our menfolk are so caring or I should say we are very lucky. Glad to hear you survived it and I had to laugh when you mentioned that when you stopped moaning your energy levels came back a wee bit. Plus that you didn’t get sunstroke!! Good points to remind other people contemplating that walk. I am the opposite I have so much water that I moan having to carry it!! 🙂
    Incredible vistas though the height thing would’ve put me off, so glad you did it and not me 🙂
    Great post Liesbet.

    • I”m glad you enjoyed the post. Carrying a lot of water – rationally – can only be a good thing. It is kind of funny, how I always try to calculate how much we would need and nothing extra, since I hate heavy backpacks. But, it is actually Mark who usually carries our day pack. I guess I worry about his back as well. We are lucky with our partners, Suz, and it is nice to appreciate that once in a while. Although, I hate the fact that me taking lots of photos on hikes drives him crazy and cranky. 🙂

  6. What an amazing place to hike – I love the scenery! On the trails we walk it is often more tiring to walk downhill so I would have probably have hiked to the top (with an early start) and got a ride back down after plenty of time relaxing and soaking up the scenery :o) xxx

    • The only time I really hate downhill walking and would prefer the effort and sweating it takes to hike uphill, is when my knee hurts too much. Usually, I prefer going downhill (although ascending rocky terrain is easier than descending it), if I can take it slow. The reason for that is that I’m lazy, and a flat lander. 🙂 It was actually an amazing hike and maybe, with some better planning, we end up doing it again. We did meet people hiking up and one woman said she had left at 7am. It was 2pm when we talked to her! She looked exhausted.

  7. In theory, I would ride up and walk down – but now that you have described the path I think I would give it a miss! I am very bad at walking on such rocky terrain. It looks beautiful though.

    • It was pretty tough. The biggest problem is that we underestimated it, Anabel. We think we are fitter and younger than we are. That being said, we heard an 80+-year-old man talk about hiking down as well – with his hiking poles – but think his wife might have convinced him otherwise. At any rate, they never passed us. 🙂

  8. It’s such a shame when things go awry like this. The scenery is spectacular but you’re challenged to enjoy it because you’re so hot and tired. A bit of a waste really, and potentially life threatening, though we never realise it at the time. These guys do usually have a sensible head on their shoulders, don’t they? 🙂 🙂 I’ll probably just put both links in, Liesbet, then I’ll be up to date (roughly 🙂 )

    • We will just add it all up to “experience” and have learned to plan better next time. I have basically come to the conclusion that wearing my hiking shoes is a better option than sandals (or flip flops) when it comes to hiking in these “rough and adventurous” US states. 🙂 Thanks for linking as always, Jo!

  9. Sounds like a boat project…..takes longer and you’ll end up wondering who’s idea it was! Glad you made it down the mountain; I have a bit of a height problem so I don’t think I would have even made it up in the lift! 10 miles seems like a long way to hike….I think I’ll just read your blog and not do any of it 🙂

    • That’s funny, Lucy. While I agree with your description of boat projects, I had not thought about it in relation to a hike. 🙂 I guess no climbing the mast for you. 10 miles in one day didn’t sound like a lot, but once that day progressed a bit (with stupid waiting) and the terrain turned rocky, 10 miles became a whole lot.

  10. I was perspiring along with you as I read this post! I enjoy hiking, but find going downhill is more arduous than uphill. Knees, crumbling rocks, slipping and sliding. Yikes. But that said, the most difficult part of this trip, for me, would be the tram ride up. With my claustrophobia, I’d be opening the window, climbing out and up, clinging to the tram’s roof! 🙂

    • I was quite lucky with my knees on this hike, Pam. Wearing my brace helped. And, we had to take it easy, since I was so worried about twisting my ankles in those darn sandals, or getting poked by pointy rocks through the holes in the sandals. It was slow progress.

      You made me smile, as I imagined the scene of you on the tram car’s roof, steadily climbing up to 10,000 feet! Now, that would have been a sight. Quite a few people have a fear of heights or small enclosed spaces. That would certainly prevent them from doing this kind of hike.

  11. Wow! What a trek. But spectacular photos Liesbet. I do enjoy walking, but I think I’d be taking the tram both ways, and still with lots of water, lol. 🙂 x

  12. A recent hike in Slovakia took us longer than expected and we, too, ran low on water – always a scary circumstance. I’m a downhill kind of gal; I don’t mind if my legs hurt going up or down, but I don’t like burning lungs on a long, steel uphill. Alas, our trek had both, and uphill and down had long stretches on jumbled rock piles. At least we had on real hiking shoes! Your hike sounds really pretty – glad you at least got some fun out of it!

    • I’m with you about the effort, panting and sweating involved when going up, Lexie. I’m a flatlander. 🙂 But, when the trail is easy and downhill, off I go! All things considered, this was a wonderful hike. I’m glad you got to see some of the scenery in Slovakia and am curious about it. I don’t know much about that country and have only visited Tsjechie (not sure how you spell this in English). Looking forward to reading about your European adventure!

  13. Sounds absolutely fantastic, just the type of hike we love to do. Great description too. Think we’d hike up & tram down. Just looks beautiful 😊

    • Hiking up and taking the tram down seemed to be the most popular option (after tram up and down), but maybe it only appeared this way since the only hikers we saw were coming from the opposite direction. 🙂 Thanks for swinging by and commenting, Sam.

  14. Mark is such a sweetie saving the water for you. I’d much prefer to hike downhill than up. I’d actually prefer just to hike on flat terrain, but sadly that isn’t usually an option. Sounds like quite the experience you had.

    • Ellen! You are a woman of my heart! Flat terrain is the best. In Belgium and many of the countries I visited in the past, these ups and downs never seemed to be too big of a problem, but in the US… There are hills and mountain everywhere. And then, there is the thing that, if you want to have a good view, you have to go up, usually by foot. Yeah… I’m still trying to get used to this. 🙂

  15. Oh, I’d have certainly taken the tram up and hiked down, but would not do it on a hot sunny day. Being fair skinned, it doesn’t matter how much sun-protection I put on, I still get very grumpy when I’m too hot and sweaty and can’t find any shade.
    Smashing photos, Liesbet. I enjoy walking a lot, although am glad I live near the coast where there are usually cool summer breezes.

    • Reading all these comments, Hugh, I realize more than ever, that you are all very wise people, knowing and accepting what your bodies (and minds) can handle. I am very immature that way and do not want to miss out on things because of my physical (dis)ability when it comes to heat, altitude or vehicle motions. You think I’d have learned by now. 🙂 Usually, I never regret having done the adventures that caused me harm at some point. Yep… taking my chances. 🙂 Coastal walks are some of my favorites as well.

      • I’ve always said to do what you want to do, Liesbet. I’ll be honest and say that I don’t particularly like the summer months, because heat, humidity and me just do not mix. I tend to wait until cooler days. OK, it may be wet, but I rather enjoy walking in the rain. And, when it comes to walking in the snow, bring it on. 😀

        • Hugh, you should be here in the mountains of Colorado right now! Five inches of snow on our morning walk. Instead of wiping rain and mud off the dog when coming home, we have to remove snow and clumps of ice! You’d love it, but I think you jinxed it for us with your comment. 🙂

  16. For me, 10 miles (16 km) would be a long hike! Although I have hiked in the mountains all my life, I still sometimes find myself in a situation where we are not fully prepared. Usually it’s when we think that we are just going to do a short walk, but then we are enjoying it so much that we decide midway through to take a longer route. Then, too late, we realize that we did not bring either enough water, food, proper footwear, sun screen, or a rain jacket (one of these things — not all of them at once!) As we have mostly hiked in northern and coastal mountains, there usually is a place to replenish the water bottles and we bring a water filter with us in our packs for that purpose (that is, if we planned properly!)

    Jude

    • I can totally relate to your sentiments and experiences there, Jude! You set out on a walk, the weather is nice, you are energized, see a different/longer route and feel up for it, to then realize you overshot things a bit. 🙂 It is all part of our passion for the outdoors and positive attitude as to our capabilities. It sure is nice that the places you are used to hiking have rivers, and that you usually have a filter with you. PS: I’d never think you would forget all those items at once. 🙂

  17. I found you through Restless Jo – lovely spot! I have done this too – underestimated a walk, but in my case we ran out of water – it was touch and go – a hike can so easily become really dangerous!

    • Hi Candy! Nice to meet you and thanks for swinging by the blog. Really running out of water can become problematic, but sometimes, things go very differently than planned. I”m glad you returned home safe and sound, with a new lesson learned, probably. 🙂

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