Sandia Crest Hike

The Sandia Crest Trail #130 is 3.25 miles round trip from the Crest to the Tram terminal, with an elevation change of 650 feet.

Saturday afternoon Richard and I drove up to the top of Sandia Mountain for a short hike along the Crest Trail, and perhaps some geocaches of opportunity.  It was a cloudy day; for much of the early afternoon the mountain was obscured by clouds and what appeared to be thundershowers.  However, the weather service was reporting cloudy skies — no rain — at the crest.  By mid-afternoon we could see the mountain top from the house, so off we went.

The road from the base of the mountain to Sandia Crest is 13 miles long and full of switchbacks like this one. Note that at this elevation we are above a cloud layer.

Richard is taking Driver’s Ed, and he had just gotten his Learner’s Permit a week earlier.  His first Controlled Driving lesson would be the the next day.  He was not comfortable driving on the freeway, but was excited to drive up the mountain.  Richard is a careful driver and went slowly.  I was not so much stressed out over his driving as by watching him stress out over all the switchbacks!

The valley to the west was covered by clouds, but to the east the valley floor was visible.

As we drove up about 3,00 – 4,000 feet, Richard commented that it would be fun to hike in the clouds we saw forming on the downhill side of the road.  His wish would be granted that day.

Visible from our house, Sandia Mountain presents an alpine habitat, very different from the riparian habitat of the Rio Grande valley, or the desert habitat further away from the river.

Elevation of Sandia Crest is 10,678 feet (3,255 m).  The entire Rio Grande valley was obscured by a cloud layer below us.  There was also a cloud layer above, lending a mystical aura to the woods. Mountain Chickadees were flitting through the trees.

During the winter the trail is used by cross-county skiers. Blue blazes mark the path.

Our objective was to hike down to the tram terminal and back.  We would also look for any geocaches along our route.  I had downloaded coordinates for geocaches in the area to my GPS unit before we left.  The Sandia peak area is popular for placing geocaches.  We saw there were several along the Crest Trail and we picked one to search for.

Below this limestone cliff, on the ledge, is supposed to be a geocache. Despite spending considerable time searching, we did not find it. Note the steep drop beyond the ledge, covered with fog.

Cresting a slight rise, we had our breath taken away by the sheer drop down the side of the mountain.  Gray clouds filled the unseen valley, but we knew the valley floor was 5,000 feet below.  20 feet down was a ledge — our GPS indicated the geocache was down there.

Carefully making the descent to the ledge — it was a good 10-15 feet wide, not dangerous but an adrenalin rush nevertheless — we spent quite some time hunting for the geocache.  The receiver and the clues said it should be right there, but the Force was not with us this day.  We eventually had to record a DNF (did not find).

Like something out of Lord of the Rings, tree roots seemed to be reaching out to grab the feet of unwary travelers.

In places the trail seemed to be paved with stones that had become jumbled by an earthquake.

A fence closes access to a mountain meadow so that it can regenerate after the stress of 300,000 visitors annually.

Mountain meadows are rare in the Sandias. The one along the Crest Trail was being worn out by 300,000 visitors per year. It is now closed to allow it to regenerate.

Trail leads to a mountain meadow. The meadow is closed to visitors to allow it to recover from overuse.

By this time it was after 7 PM, and I was worried about being caught in the woods after dark.  Abandoning the rest of the hike to the tram station, we turned around and started back up to the peak.  Not to worry, we made good time back to the trail head.

My birding skills have become rusty from disuse, but I'm pretty sure this is a Mountain Chickadee at lower center. (Click to enlarge.)

This little guy was scurrying about, but paused just long enough to get his portrait taken.

Shrouded in fog, the antenna farm at the top of Sandia Crest hosts transmitters for many Albuquerque area radio and TV stations.

Sandia Crest Hike at EveryTrail

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