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Friday, October 16, 2015

Sandia Peak

Hi Blog! We are slowly recovering from the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta. The broken air conditioner cover has been replaced, the roof cleaned and protected, two kitchen cabinet doors refinished, and six loads of laundry are done. One thing we haven't been able to do is convince the cats that we no longer need to wake up at 4:15 a.m.!

With most of the chores done, we decided to get out and about and see a little bit of Albuquerque. Just to the east of the city rise the Sandia Mountains. Every day during the Balloon Fiesta, we watched the sunrise over the peak. We really wanted to get up there and hike about. We heard from fellow RVers that there was a tram that will take you to the summit. On Wednesday, October 14, 2015, we decided to take a ride on the Sandia Peak Tramway to get a bird's eye view of the greater Albuquerque area.

At 2.7 miles, the Sandia Peak Tram is the third longest in the world. It has a vertical rise of 3,819 feet. Here we are looking back at the Visitor's Center from the tram car as it begins its ascent.

The trip takes 15 minutes. As one tram goes up, another one comes down.

Sandía means watermelon in Spanish, and is popularly believed to be a reference to the reddish color of the mountains at sunset. Also, when viewed from the west, the profile of the mountains is a long ridge, with a thin zone of green conifers near the top, suggesting the "rind" of the watermelon.

The Sandias encompass four different ecological zones due to the large elevation change, and the resulting changes in temperature and amount of precipitation, from the base to the top. The higher we got, the greener the mountain became.

There is another Visitor Center at the top, along with a sit-down restaurant called "High Finance." On the ride up, we spent some time reminiscing about other trams we've taken, like the Aiguille du Midi Cable Car in Chamonix, France, Banff Gondola in Banff, Alberta, Canada, Silver Mountain Gondola Ride, in Kellogo, Idaho, and The Aerial Tram in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Sandia Peak Tram ranks right up there.

We decided to hike across the summit ridge in the hopes of reaching the old Kiwanis Cabin about a mile and half away. After leaving the Visitor's Center, we passed one of the chair lifts that come up from the Sandia Peak Ski Resort. All of the ski runs are on the east-facing slope.

We followed the Crest Trail until we hit the spur trail for the Kiwanis Cabin. In the photo below, Dave has found the trailhead and is pointing the way. The elevation at the start of our hike was 10,378. Let the huffing and puffing begin.

The geology of these mountains is really interesting. The Sandias were uplifted in the last ten million years as part of the formation of the Rio Grande Rift. They form the eastern boundary of the Albuquerque Basin. The core of the range consists of Sandia granite, approximately 1.5 billion years old. This is topped by a relatively thin layer (300 feet) of sedimentary rock (limestone and sandstone). Feldspar crystals embedded within the Sandia granite give the mountains their distinct pink color.

The Kiwanis Cabin sits way out on the point. Because of the lack of vegetation, you can just see all these layers of time underneath it.

We decided to save the cabin for the way back and continued on the Crest Trail to the highest point- Sandia Crest - 10,678 feet. From this vantage point, we can look down on the Balloon Fiesta launch field (right side of the photo below) and landing field (left side of the photo below).

We asked our tram operator if he could see the balloons from the tram. He said the mountain is just too high. "You look down and all the balloons are just little dots."

After taking in the view from Sandia Crest, we hiked over to the Kiwanis Cabin. On the way, we passed a lovely high alpine meadow. Because of the fragile ecosystem, the meadow was fenced off in order to allow it to revegetate.

In the 1920's the Kiwanis Club of Albuquerque built a log cabin on the ridge of Sandia Peak.  The cabin was destroyed by fire a couple of years later. A second log cabin was destroyed by high winds. In the 1930's the Kiwanis Club asked the Civilian Conservation Corps to build them a new cabin, which they did in the summer of 1936. The CCC constructed the cabin out of local limestone, in the style known as "Rustic Aesthetic." How do you like our new cabin?  With a little furniture and some glass for the windows we'll be all set.

Below, Kathy gazes out one of the cabin window with a bronze plaque memorializing the CCC structure in the foreground:

The view is pretty cool.

We can even see the tramway from our front porch!

On our way to the peak, some poetic lines occurred to David, and he noted them down as we walked:


When I get old
I want to be
As lean and dry
As a flag tree on an alpine slope,
Witnessing the seasons, thriving in the elements.
Grey bark and
Mottled, gray-green top
Pointing where the wind blows.
Indigo and steel blue the sky in my eye,
Twisted roots, jointed, marking my path,
Quaking aspen my network,
Rose granite for a soul.
Who knows their nature knows life.
Who discovers a path finds ecstasy.
Give it all me!

It's not hard to think poetic thoughts as you stand on the ridge and view this grand scenery!

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