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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.