Albuquerque, NM Part V: Sandia Peak
Although the Sandia Mountain Range is only about 17 miles long, it dominates the horizon northeast of Albuquerque. The mountains lie within the Cibola National Forest. The highest point is Sandia Crest at 10,678 feet. Sandia means watermelon in Spanish, and it is thought the name may be a reference to the pink color that the mountains take on at sunset.
Sandia Peak Tramway ascends the western face of Sandia Peak to one of the highest points on the mountain. The elevation of the upper terminal is 10,378 feet. The lower terminal of the tramway is located at the northeastern edge of Albuquerque. The photo below shows the lower boarding platform looking up toward the first of only two cable support towers.
The tramway is the world's longest passenger aerial tramway at a total diagonal distance of 14,657 feet (over 2.7 miles), and it has the third longest single span at a length of 7,720 feet from the second tower to the upper terminal.
The tram is powered by a 600 hp electric motor, and there is a 429 cubic inch Ford industrial engine as a backup. It takes approximately 14 minutes to travel each way.
The tramway started service in 1966 and was built by Bell Engineering of Lucerne, Switzerland. The tram cars were replaced in 1986, and new track cables were installed in 1997.
The photo below was taken from the back of the tram car just after we passed the second tower. There is a slight sway as the car passes over the tower.
As with most aerial trams, there are two cars. As one ascends, the other descends. Shortly after passing the second tower, we passed the other car.
The views from the tram are impressive as it passes rugged rocks and spires.
The photo below is Golf Ball Rock.
And the next photo is The Cannon.
The Sandia Mountains are made up primarily of granite, but they are topped by a layer of sedimentary rock. The sedimentary rock, which is mostly limestone, indicates the mountaintop was once under water. The mountains are a fault block range at the eastern edge of the Rio Grande Rift Valley. The mountains were uplifted when the rift was formed. The photo below shows the sedimentary rock at the crest.
Shortly after we got to the top, we watched our car depart for its descent.
As impressive as the views were coming up the mountain, the views at the top were even more spectacular. They say you can see an area of 11,000 square miles.
In the photo above, the darker, greenish line that runs across the picture near the horizon is the Rio Grande River lined by trees and other vegetation as it runs down the rift valley. The next photo is a little different location and also shows the green line that follows the Rio Grande.
On the eastern face of the mountain, which is not as steep and rugged at the western face where the tram is located, is the Sandia Peak Ski Area. The bottom of the ski area is accessible by road, and the top of the chair lift is located just west of the upper tram station.
In addition to the ski area, there are numerous Forest Service hiking trails on Sandia Peak. Paul walked a short distance down one of the trails, but the trail was a little too close to the edge for Margery. She waited at the top and met him when he returned.
We did walk a short nature trail together; and, yes, there is still a little snow left. They had a 19-inch snowfall a few weeks prior. The sun was warm, but the air was a cool 51 degrees.
Along the nature trail, there were plaques describing some of the rocks and plants. We were a little too early for wildflowers, but one interesting thing we saw was a hanging lichen called Old Man's Beard. It is not a parasite, and like Spanish Moss, it obtains moisture and nutrients from the air and only uses the tree for support.
Also at the top of Sandia Peak is High Finance Restaurant. The name scared us a little, but we checked their menu. Although we initially thought the prices were a little high, we were hungry; and the green chili cheeseburger really sounded good. We rationalized the price wasn't all that bad considering it was a half-pound burger and it included fries, so we decided to split one. Man, was it good!
After our shared lunch, we caught a tram back down the mountain. We headed back to the motor home and got ready for our next excursion.