Sandia Mountain Magic

Almost to the top!  The goal is to reach the Tramway and then we will be riding one of those cars back down the mountain.
Almost to the top! The goal is to reach the Tramway and then we will be riding one of those cars back down the mountain.

There are times when I whine about Albuquerque’s weather, windstorms, and brown desert landscape. But then along comes one of our many opportunities to hike in the nearby mountains and I think to myself how could there be a more awesome place to live than here where we have this gorgeous range of mountains called the Sandia’s sitting practically in our front yard.

When you talk to anyone who knows anything about hiking in this area, one of the first questions will be if you’ve hiked the La Luz Trail. It’s the premier Albuquerque trail that everyone knows about and hundreds (or maybe even thousands) of people hike every year. That’s one of the main reasons I resisted adding it to my “trails hiked” list. If it’s something that everybody does I’m just ornery enough to want to do the total opposite. There are plenty of trails that ascend the Sandia’s. I couldn’t understand why this one should be so special. Well, I got that question answered today when Lee finally persuaded me that I needed to let him show me the thrills he had experienced several weeks ago when he’d hiked up the La Luz Trail with a couple of friends.

We even did one better today than what Lee had done. When there is a little over a mile of hiking left to reach the Tramway, a spur trail heads up to the Sandia Crest House Gift Shop and Restaurant. It’s an extra half-mile of hiking up and then back down and I would have been happy to bypass it. But Lee wanted to do it, so I agreed. I was happy that we did, not only for the beautiful views from up there, but that we were able to buy ourselves an ice cream treat at the gift shop.

La Luz Trail photos on Flickr

La Luz Trail GPS track on Every Trail

An extra treat for me today was to think that just yesterday I had enjoyed another glorious Sandia Mountain hike, this one on the back side of the Crest looking south and east from where we were standing at the top today. The Crest House and Tramway Terminal are heavily populated with sightseers, since this part of the mountain is accessible by road and/or tramway. I was glad to see the groups of people enjoying the views from the top today, but I thought how the vast majority miss out on so much when they don’t get the thrill of climbing up one of the many wonderful Sandia Mountain trails.

GPS track of yesterday’s hike in the Sandia Mountains

Yesterday's view from Sandia Crest, looking northeast.
Yesterday’s view from Sandia Crest, looking northeast.
Along Crest Trail yesterday, hiking south.
Along Crest Trail yesterday, hiking south.

A Rocky Start to the Camping Season

Campsite at City of Rocks
Campsite at City of Rocks

Usually when I post a camping adventure there will be at least one picture that shows our campsite after we get the tent set up. Look closely at the above photo which is last night’s campsite at City of Rocks State Park. Can you see our tent set up? I didn’t think so. The reason isn’t that you didn’t look closely enough. The reason is that when we laid out the tent and poles and inserted the first pole into the slots we discovered that the second pole was nowhere to be found.

We searched in vain for that second tent pole, not wanting to believe that it wasn’t somewhere in the car. It was only later in the evening that our memories were jogged enough that we recalled a repair job last summer to the tent that left the second pole in a crippled state such that it couldn’t be completely folded small enough to fit in the stuff sack with the rest of the tent. Instead of picking it up when we loaded the tent we had left it laying on the shelf in the storage closet! So much for setting up our tent.

One of the main reasons I had wanted to camp at City of Rocks was to enjoy the nighttime display of stars at this remote desert location. I got a little more of sleeping under the stars than I had bargained for. I don’t think I’ve ever slept outside without a tent of some sort. But that is something totally feasible in the dry southern New Mexico climate. It had been windy during the day, but the wind had died down when the sun set and it was perfectly comfortable in our sleeping bags on our air mattresses with only the surrounding rocks, trees and stars overhead as our covering.

Street scene at City of Rocks.
Street scene at City of Rocks.

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Ocotillo in bloom.
Ocotillo in bloom.

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Prickly Pear Cactus in bloom.
Prickly Pear Cactus in bloom.

After our night under the stars we set off for a short morning hike, intending to climb the trail that leads to the top of a mesa called Table Top Mountain on the east side of the state park. We almost turned around before we were even halfway, not because it was a difficult hike, but because we nearly stepped on a rattlesnake laying in the trail warning us that we better not come any closer.

Rattlesnake #1
Rattlesnake #1

He was all coiled up, thankfully loudly rattling his tail in time for us to avoid him. It wasn’t too much further along that we encountered an even larger one, this time raised up pointed right at us ready to strike. We hesitated several minutes wondering if we wanted to sneak around him and keep going, which we finally did. The third rattlesnake we saw was on our way back down and that one seemed content to slowly crawl away. I was glad we persevered and went all the way up, but it wasn’t exactly a relaxing hike when you were worried every minute that you might step on a rattlesnake.

Table Top "Mountain" in the distance.
Table Top “Mountain” in the distance.
Looking down at City of Rocks from partway up the Table Top trail.
Looking down at City of Rocks from partway up the Table Top trail.
Looking southeast from top of Table Top.  Mimbres River (mostly dry) and Cooke's Peak in the distance.
Looking southeast from top of Table Top. Mimbres River (mostly dry) and Cooke’s Peak in the distance.

New Mexico Blue

We welcomed back our New Mexico blue skies today by taking an exploratory hike at Golden Open Space. After ruining Mother’s Day with a wicked windstorm, a mass of cold air to the north of us hung around for 2 days, bringing overcast skies with it. 2 days without my New Mexico sunshine makes me want to crawl under a warm blanket and not come out till the sun does. This was the day the weatherman assured us we could wave goodbye to the cold front. What more appropriate name to celebrate being outdoors again than “Golden Open Space”.

This wasn’t the first time we have hiked here. The first time was in the fall, and then we went there again as an end-of-the-year hike. One of the things we enjoy about the area is that, although there is an established trail, there are arroyos and canyons off the beaten path that you can explore easily without getting lost. Each time we have walked in some new areas, as well as on familiar parts. And since this was our first time to go there in the spring we enjoyed sighting some spring flowers along the way.

Pricklypear cactus flowers
Pricklypear cactus flowers
Fendler's bladderpod up close.
Fendler’s bladderpod up close.
Fendler's bladderpod along the trail.
Fendler’s bladderpod along the trail.
Unidentified flower
Unidentified flower
Indigobush
Indigobush
New Mexico blue skies!
New Mexico blue skies!

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Apache plume.
Apache plume.
A familiar rock in one of the arroyos.
A familiar rock in one of the arroyos.

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Exploring a new arroyo
Exploring a new arroyo

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Indian paintbrush.  How can anything grow in such a rocky place?
Indian paintbrush. How can anything grow in such a rocky place?

GPS Track on Every Trail

I Got My Cactus Fix

I finally got my cactus fix today. It turns out that the Embudito Trail is one of the trails that goes through the desert environment preferred by the beautiful Claret Cup cacti that I had remembered seeing when we visited Albuquerque in March of 2012. Oddly enough, I remember on the hike 2 years ago we were wearing shorts in March, but, today, when it’s already May, jackets and long pants were necessary.

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As the Embudito Trail winds its way higher up into the mountains the Claret Cup cacti are left behind to be replaced with a forest environment. Some of the wildflowers we saw along this section of the trail we have learned to identify. Others we have yet to learn.

Western Wallflower
Western Wallflower
Heading higher up into the mountains.
Heading higher up into the mountains.

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View of Albuquerque
View of Albuquerque
Rock where we stopped for lunch.
Rock where we stopped for lunch.
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Ponderosa Pine
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Unidentified white flower
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Golden Smoke along trail
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Franciscan Bluebell
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Creeping Mahonia

 

 

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Thistle. These grow down in the lower elevations. Another prickly plant with surprisingly pretty flowers, but no comparison to the Claret Cup cacti.