The air crackled with the whirr and whine of metal cables as the tram slid skyward—inside I huddled, toe-to-toe, with forty others, my hand firmly clamped on the door handle.
Why, I’m not sure, since each second that passed shot me 20 feet closer to the top of Albuquerque’s Sandia Peak. Baling out wasn’t an option.
What had possessed me, a woman who refuses to get on the rides at Regina’s Queen City Ex, to step into an 8,000 pound tramcar going 2.7 miles up the side of a mountain with a total vertical rise of 3,819 feet above the desert floor? The view, of course!
Growing up in Saskatchewan, I’d never thought a lot about climbing mountains, but the view from Sandia Peak gave me an idea of why mountain climbers might hang their lives on pegs hammered into solid rock.
New Mexico’s Rio Grand Valley or Land of Enchantment, all 11,000 square miles of it, seemed visible below.
I turned in a full circle: Looking south, the Estancia Valley and Manzao Mountains shimmered in the fading sunlight; to the east, the Sangre de Cristo Mountains filled the far horizon, while winter ski runs and thick forest cascaded near me down the backside of the Sandias; Cabezon, the stump of an eroded volcano, stood out among other volcanic necks and plugs in the north; and the Rio Grande crossed the western horizon, along with Mount Taylor, more than 100 miles away.
Landscape to ignite the imagination
As the sun started to sink over the city of Albuquerque below me, the most amazing thing happened to the mountains. Mesmerized, I watched as the blend of mica, feldspar and quartz rocks took on sunset’s pink glow—it was easy to see why hundreds of years earlier the Spanish had named these mountains the Sandia, which means watermelon.
Hikers on a ski lift rocked their way up the mountainside through the ponderosa pine forest that dominates the terrain around the 7000 elevation mark, having already left the chamisa, pinon-juniper, and apache plum behind. At 8,500 feet or so, they passed the blend of aspen, scrub oak, and mixed conifers, before reaching the top at 10,678 feet, where I stood in the Hudsonian zone, with its Douglas fir, spruce, aspen, and limber pine.
It was hard to imagine winter snows in the desert, but the ski runs at Sandia Peak provide world class skiing and snowboarding where hikers and mountain bikers enjoy the trails in other seasons.
And if you like heights…try the annual Balloon Festival!
Albuquerque is the hot air balloon capital of the world, hosting over 700 balloonists at the annual Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta® every October. It all began more than a century ago, when a daring bartender piloted a gas bag up from the center of town, floated through the cloudless, calm skies and came down a few miles west of the city.
While I didn’t quite work up the courage to sail over Albuquerque, I certainly saw lots of other visitors taking advantage of the numerous balloon rentals!