Where can you sled year-round? White Sands National Monument

White Sands National Monument is not only the one place in New Mexico where you can safely sled year-round, but also the stark beauty of its rolling dunes paired with the blue New Mexico sky creates the illusion of walking underwater in the Caribbean. 

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280 million years ago this was a seabed of gypsum crystals and other minerals. Earth's moving tectonic plates created the mountains of the Southwestern United States. These mountains encircled the area where White Sands formed. About 12,000 years ago, as the last ice age was ending, runoff from the mountains carried gypsum down to settle in what was then Lake Otero, which then evaporated as temperatures warmed, leaving behind gypsum and selenite (the crystalline form of gypsum). Wind, rain and repeated freezing and thawing broke down the crystals into fine white gypsum sand, which is still being created by a smaller nearby lake. On the edge of the Monument, Lake Lucero fills like a puddle with rain and mountain snow run-off. There the water forms selenite crystals, then evaporates beneath the hot sun; wind and rain continue to break down and sweep the new gypsum sand over to White Sands National Monument. 

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Our recent visit to White Sands was on one of those rare rainy, dreary days. So rather than the normal intense blue dome, we found stormy skies and looming dark mountains around us in every direction. 

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That didn't stop us from hiking part of the Alkali trail (a 5-mile loop through the dunes) and sledding. Rain or shine, 32 degrees Fahrenheit or 110, bring a lot of water if you choose to walk through the dunes. Being in this sandy terrain made me thirsty. The entrance fee was five dollars and this National Park allows leashed dogs. While at the gate you receive a map of the walkable trails, it is incredibly easy to get lost in these vast dunes, so make sure you can see an orange trail marker at all times. 

There are expensive sleds for sale at the Park gift shop, but we picked up some cheap saucers before arriving, which worked fine to feed our sledding fix! White Sands is a fun and alien landscape to explore for the whole family.

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 Our dog, Roxy, blends right in with the gypsum sand, except her dark snout. She had fun trying to sled too!

Our dog, Roxy, blends right in with the gypsum sand, except her dark snout. She had fun trying to sled too!

The Magical Waters of Truth or Consequences, New Mexico

Truth or Consequences, New Mexico is a little town in the high desert of southern New Mexico. A town where neon lights try their best to twinkle on and rusty model-T Fords parked on the side of the street beg to be restored to their former glory. However, T or C (as it's called for short) offers many hidden surprises. 

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Truth or Consequences has become a weekend retreat for me. It offers some of my favorite hot springs and waffles in the world. How can one beat waffles and hot springs!?

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It is a lot like the town of Radiator springs in the Pixar movie, CARS, with remnants of its former glory from the era of neon lights and cool '60s diners. The town's original name was "Hot Springs", but in 1950 a popular NBC radio quiz show announced, in honor of the show's 10th anniversary, that if a town changed its name to the title of the show, "Truth or Consequences", the host of the show, Ralph Edwards would visit the town. So, clearly, the citizens of "Hot Springs" thought the prize was worth it.

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The hot springs which T or C sits over truly feel magical. Some of the bath houses here are over 90 years old. I always stay at a place where the hot springs are free flowing, which means that the water is not piped in but comes up through the gravel in the floor of the tubs. This keeps the water naturally "structured". (Structured water has to do with how the molecules join together). I like a lot of the hot springs in New Mexico, but I love how these hot springs feel; the water bubbles against the skin and as long as I don't stay in too long, I get out feeling very much rejuvenated. 

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Now to the waffles... T or C has several good restaurants:  Los Arcos - a good steak house from the 80's, Lattitude 33 - a great Asian fusion restaurant, and The T or C Brewing Company, are all good options.  The place for which I will drive all the way from Albuquerque is Passion Pie Cafe. They have my favorite waffles. I always order the breakfast waffles, which come with bacon inside and eggs on top (I add cheese to the eggs to make them extra awesome). 

So there you have it, yummy breakfast food and bubbly hot springs... a lovely New Mexican weekend retreat!

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Red, Green, or Christmas?

 Poinsettas- a plant indigenous to Mexico, but used as decoration all over New Mexico at Christmas time.

Poinsettas- a plant indigenous to Mexico, but used as decoration all over New Mexico at Christmas time.

The smell of pinon wood burning in kiva fireplaces fills the air, and luminarias line the streets in old parts of Santa Fe and Albuquerque, New Mexico. During this time of year my mouth waters for enchiladas, posole, and biscochitos, the delicious New Mexican specialties that mean the holidays are here. 

 Old Town Albuquerque

Old Town Albuquerque

Many of us are sentimental about our holiday traditions, and I am no exception. However, it took living in another place, where I didn't have access to much spicy food, in order for me to fall in love with red and green chile. Year round in many restaurants in New Mexico, even non-New Mexican restaurants, the first question after ordering is, "Red, Green, or Christmas?" This refers to the chile that can add extra life and spice to all food, not just New Mexican dishes: stews, sandwiches, pizza, breakfast, and pasta, to name my favorites. New Mexican Chile is created from chile peppers grown only in New Mexico. Roasted green chile can be used in just about anything  (like all the foods I mentioned above), but commonly it is used to make a spicy sauce. Red Chile is the ripened and dried version of the green pepper, that is usually more mellow and smoky. It is also the main ingredient in its own sauce. Hence why the question in all New Mexican restaurants, "Red, Green, or Christmas (both)?" The colors of the chile dress every plate for Christmas!

 The bags lining the top of the building are luminarias. (Albuquerque locals call them luminarias - "lights" in Spanish; Santa Fe locals call them farolitos - "lanterns" in Spanish). They are filled with some sand and a votive candle. When Chinese lanterns came to Santa Fe in the mid-18th century, locals liked how they looked, but they didn't hold up in the harsh winter weather, so they created luminaries as a sturdier option. Their night-time glow is a beautiful sight, but unfortunately doesn't photograph well. (We won't even discuss the fake electric ones!)

The bags lining the top of the building are luminarias. (Albuquerque locals call them luminarias - "lights" in Spanish; Santa Fe locals call them farolitos - "lanterns" in Spanish). They are filled with some sand and a votive candle. When Chinese lanterns came to Santa Fe in the mid-18th century, locals liked how they looked, but they didn't hold up in the harsh winter weather, so they created luminaries as a sturdier option. Their night-time glow is a beautiful sight, but unfortunately doesn't photograph well. (We won't even discuss the fake electric ones!)

 Christmas tree with hot air balloon and chile Christmas lights.

Christmas tree with hot air balloon and chile Christmas lights.

 When visiting New Mexico during the holidays make sure to walk around Old Town in Albuquerque at dusk, when the luminarias are glowing and carolers are singing in the gazebo at the center of the plaza. Pick up some biscochitos and Mexican wedding cookies from the Golden Panaderia, a bakery that offers my favorite biscochitos in town (you get a free one just for walking in!). Drop by the Christmas Shop, with all the pottery ornaments and hot air balloon Christmas lights. Pick up some tea at the New Mexico Tea Company for a nice warm pick-me up to make on Christmas Day (my favorites are Sandia Spice, Lady Londonderry, and the Plum Oolong). On Christmas Eve join people from across New Mexico as they walk down farolito-lined Canyon Road in Santa Fe, enjoying mulled cider and fabulous art-filled galleries(farolitowalk.com).

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Iced Biscochito Recipe

 The sugar and cinnamon dusted biscochitos on the right are from Golden Panaderia Bakery and the iced ones are made from the recipe that I love (below).

The sugar and cinnamon dusted biscochitos on the right are from Golden Panaderia Bakery and the iced ones are made from the recipe that I love (below).

I love to make biscochitos with a twist. Biscochitos are a lard-based sugar cookie flavored with anise and cinnamon, traditionally topped with a dusting of sugar and cinnamon. My  version is a marriage of biscochitos and iced Christmas cookies. I make two batches, one with less anise for family members who don't like it so much. I personally love what the anise adds to the iced sugar cookie, and so will put a little extra in my second batch. Take heed: working with the rather stiff dough broke two of my electric hand mixers. This recipe needs the strength of a standing mixer.

Cookie Ingredients: 

 2 & 1/3 cups of lard

1 & 1/2 cups of sugar

2 tsp. anise seed

2 eggs beaten

3tsp. baking powder

1 tsp. salt

6 cups flour

1/2 cup Amaretto

Cream lard, sugar, and anise in a large mixing bowl. Then add the eggs and beat well. In a separate mixing bowl combine flour, baking powder and salt. Add flour mixture and amaretto to the creamed mixture and beat or stir until a stiff dough has formed. Knead dough and roll to 1/4" thickness. Cut dough into desired shapes. Bake on a cookie sheet in a pre-heated 350 degree oven for about 10 minutes or until cookies are slightly brown. 

Icing:

About 1/2 a bag of powdered sugar

3 tablespoons of corn syrup (more if you want to create a glaze instead of frosting)

1/4 tsp. almond extract

Mix ingredients until you have a smooth icing texture; divide into small bowls and add coloring for decorating cookies. Then decorate!!!

 

What are some of your favorite holiday traditions? Let me know!

 

 

 

Photo Diary of the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta 2017

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This year at the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta, I complained to a friend that I wish I had a better camera. The magic of the balloons was just so hard to capture with my phone camera. My wish was immediately answered as he pointed me towards to Canon tent. Canon loans out cameras for a couple hours, free of charge at the Balloon Fiesta! I spent the rest of the morning geeking out over balloons and the Canon EOS M10 that I borrowed. 

 The sun about to peek over the Sandia Mountains.

The sun about to peek over the Sandia Mountains.

 Just before sunrise, the balloons glow.

Just before sunrise, the balloons glow.

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 The three penguins! (On my list of favorite balloons)

The three penguins! (On my list of favorite balloons)

 The Armadillo Sheriff

The Armadillo Sheriff

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 The birds.....

The birds.....

 And the bees.

And the bees.

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 The alligator that wants to be a flying dragon.

The alligator that wants to be a flying dragon.

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 Both sides of the force battle for space in the skies.

Both sides of the force battle for space in the skies.

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Best of Santa Fe, New Mexico, from a local's perspective

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Walking 200 year-old streets and dipping into art galleries, traveling to other realities in psychedelic museums, listening to the best operatic voices in the country as thunderstorms loom behind the amphitheater, roaming through groves of aspens: The oldest state capitol in the United States is a VERY interesting place indeed.  

Santa Fe is the oldest capitol in the United States because it was proclaimed the capitol of the Provence all the way back in 1610. So it is old and it has seen a lot of history!  Walking through downtown Santa Fe you pass along streets and buildings that are several hundred years old. Santa Fe has something to offer year round. Tourist presence seems to be heaviest in summer because of the fabulous music and art scenes, but the other seasons have special traditions that should not be missed either. 

The Santa Fe Plaza

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The Plaza is the heart of Old Santa Fe. This is where you will find the oldest buildings, from the famously beautiful St. Francis Basilica to some of the renowned hotels on the plaza, such as La Fonda. (As a side note, my favorite hotel to stay at in Santa Fe is Las Palomas.) The picturesque Plaza is wonderful to stroll around, morning and afternoon alike, and offers numerous tempting art galleries and shops. Be sure to stop by the Georgia O'Keefe Museum, grab a breakfast crepe at my favorite French bakery in La Fonda, and rest under the old trees in the middle of the plaza, simply absorbing the historic vibes as the St. Francis church bells toll in the background.

Canyon Road

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Canyon Road is an old street close to the plaza lined with marvelous art galleries. In the summer on Friday evenings, strolling Canyon Road and going into galleries for wine and art openings is an absolute favorite activity of locals and tourists alike.  On Christmas Eve, Canyon Road is lined with luminarias, the super-traditional New Mexican version of Christmas lights. People come from near and far to visit the area, drink mulled wine or hot chocolate, and listen to great music. My favorite thing is to get a decadent treat at Kakawa, a chocolate cafe near the entrance to Canyon Road, and then meander along the street. 

Eat New Mexican Food

There are so many fabulous New Mexican-food restaurants in this city. Some of my favorites include Tia Sofia's, Atrisco's, Tomasita's, La Choza, The Shed, and El Parisol.

Meow Wolf

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This may be the hardest place to explain in Santa Fe. It is one of those places you just have to experience for yourself. But hey, I'll give it a shot: It's an arts collective that creates a unique journey and experience through an alternate reality fun house. For me, I kept feeling like I had fallen into one of the stranger Ghibli films. 

Ten Thousand Waves

Hidden among the mountains above Santa Fe is a peaceful retreat. This Japanese bathhouse is absolutely gorgeous, merging the simplicity of Japanese style and aesthetics with the wild nature New Mexico. I highly recommend renting a private pool for an hour with friends, but the communal pool is lovely too. I like it so much that I chose this place for my bachelorette-party spa night. 

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Walk Among the Aspens

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There is a plethora of lovely hikes in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains above Santa Fe. My favorite in spring, summer and fall is to walk among the aspens in one of the groves that blanket these mountains. It is both eerie and beautiful to be surrounded by these white-trunked trees, to hear their leaves rustle like wind chimes. In winter, hit the slopes for some fabulous skiing.

Hiking:

Into the Sangre de Cristos a webbing of trails intersect offering views of stunning vistas, the southernmost peaks of the rockies, and the nice creeks and lakes that gurgle at astonishing altitudes. 

If you are looking for a gorgeous, but very challenging Sangre de Cristos day hike, I recommend Nambe Lake.

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Special Mention: Santa Fe Opera

I made this a special mention because it is mostly a summer activity. The Santa Fe Opera season is summer only, but they do offer various forms of musical performances in other seasons, so it is best to check their website before you come to New Mexico. This architectural marvel creates a unique opera experience. The open-walled amphitheater lets summer thunderstorms add epic notes to the sounds of the opera. During some shows they open up the back of the stage and use the New Mexico mountains and sunset as the backdrop for a scene. It is absolutely magical. Locals and tourists alike bring cheese and wine for tailgating in the parking lot before shows. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A New Mexico Must-Visit: Jemez Springs

Red Rocks, Waterfalls, Lush Forests,  and Hot Springs... All in an Ancient Volcanic Caldera! If you are visiting New Mexico (or are local) you MUST visit Jemez Springs and the Valles Caldera.

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A bit over a million years ago a series of small volcanic eruptions in the Jemez Mountains of New Mexico covered the Southwest in ash. A magma chamber in these mountains collapsed creating a caldera about 12 miles in diameter. To my slight horror, as I researched this, I discovered this volcanic area is still considered active. Fortunately, geologists estimate that the last eruption was about 40,000 years ago. 

What these eruptions left behind thousands of years later, is a gorgeous landscape; red rocks rise into dramatic rock faces as you climb higher into the Jemez Mountains. Lush (by New Mexico standards) forests, waterfalls, plentiful streams and hot springs, and alien rock structures greet you at every turn. 

There are many great camping spots in the Jemez and it is a lot of fun to camp there. Once you get there it's easy to drive around until you find your perfect campground. It is also a fabulous day trip, one that I try to make at least once a year. 

 Mural on the side of Bad Ass Coffee

Mural on the side of Bad Ass Coffee

To get there take I-25 to Bernalillo, then exit west onto 550. I always love to stop in Bernalillo for some java at one of my favorite coffee shops in NM, Bad Ass Coffee. Once you reach San Ysidro, turn north on highway 4. This takes you all the way through Jemez Pueblo, the village of Jemez Springs, and into the Caldera. If you want to veer off and explore a small lake, Fenton Lake, take 126 about 10 miles past Jemez Springs. There are countless hiking trails, picnic areas, campgrounds, and cool places to stop along the route into the Caldera.

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In Jemez Pueblo you will see some vibrant red rocks, and tucked up into the red rocks some little stalls where you can buy some yummy traditional pueblo oven bread. This delicious, flaky bread is great to take farther along your journey for a picnic. I think it is especially scrummy with butter and local honey. 

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In Jemez Springs, there are a couple little restaurants, an Inn, and the Bodhi Mandala Zen Center. My favorite restaurant is the Stage Stop Cafe. They serve some delectable blue corn pancakes. There are great picnic spots leading up to Jemez Springs snuggled in close to the river and cliffs. These can be quite hot in the summer, so I tend to explore these picnic spots in the spring and fall. 

 Soda Dam

Soda Dam

Beyond Jemez Springs right by the side of the road is Soda Dam. A waterfall has carved a ragged drop through the middle of these rocks creating this lumpy, mushroom shaped structure. I've even slid down this waterfall, which is exhilarating, cold, and a bit painful on the rump. 

A couple miles after that you will come upon Battleship Rock picnic area. You can't miss it: it is a giant battleship-shaped rock formation plowing out of the cliff side. This is my favorite picnic area but unfortunately it is crowded on the weekends. If you happen upon it during a non-busy time, explore up the east side of the stream, going north along some little trails, and you will come to a little waterfall about a half-mile walk from the picnic area. 

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 In the distance, you can see the scars left from a massive forest fire that occurred several years ago. Another reminder, to be respectful and cautious while camping and adventuring in the wilderness.

In the distance, you can see the scars left from a massive forest fire that occurred several years ago. Another reminder, to be respectful and cautious while camping and adventuring in the wilderness.

Hiking: There is a lot of fabulous hiking and that is one of the only ways to get to the best hot springs. The easiest hike is Jemez Falls, about a mile, to one of New Mexico's bigger waterfalls. Las Conchas is my current favorite hike. It is 19 miles from Jemez Springs just off the side of the road. The first part of the trail is a rock climber hot spot, but if you continue on it becomes a peaceful walk following a little stream though lush meadows for about 2 miles.

 

 Our puppy prefers to swim this hike instead of walking.

Our puppy prefers to swim this hike instead of walking.

 Small waterfall at the end of Las Conchas trail

Small waterfall at the end of Las Conchas trail

There are many hot springs you can hike to dotting the Jemez mountains. McCauley Hot Springs, San Antonio Hot Springs, and Spence (which is not as beautiful now due to over use and lack of respect by people) are some of the better known. Many people enjoy the hot springs in the nude, so if nudity makes you uncomfortable, I don't recommend going to these hot springs.  My only Jemez hot spring experience was from the Jemez Falls trailhead. I went west on the East Fork Trail and stumbled upon some hot springs. To this day I can't figure out which hot springs those were. All I know is we hiked about 10 very challenging miles that day, so I don't think I'll be trying to rediscover those hot springs.

One of my first memories, from when I was two years old, is of my father taking my family 4-wheel driving in the Caldera for a fun day adventure. My dad, being the explorer that he was, tried to ford one of small rivers in the caldera with our Isuzu trooper. The trooper trucked along to the middle of the river and then promptly began to flood and float down the river.  We had to quickly evacuate and make our way to shore. For the rest of the night, in my two year old mind we were playing survival by searching for firewood and sleeping on the ground under the stars, cuddled up for warmth.  We were found by some local kids exploring late into the night. They informed the police and we were rescued early the next morning. This is my earliest, fun adventure story, though my parents remember it being much more stressful than I do.

As long as you don't sink your car, Jemez is a wonderful area to visit and an absolute must if you are traveling in New Mexico, with its diverse scenery, dramatic history, and wilderness adventuring.

Did this inspire your marvelous wanderings? Let me know!

 

 

New Mexico Day Trip: Up La Luz Trail and Down the Sandia Tram

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This past weekend I hiked New Mexico'a famous La Luz Trail for the first time. Now if you are unfamiliar with New Mexico, you probably don't hear the Darth Vader theme song in your head when you think of this trail like I do. Not that the trail has anything to do with Star Wars, it just happens to ominously traverse the front of the Sandia Mountains. 

pup on the mountain

The Sandias are named for the Spanish word for watermelon. This is because when the sun sets in New Mexico there is an astonishing array of colors that spread through the sky: pink, gold, purple, orange, deep red, and sometimes even green and blue mixing in with the epic summer thunder clouds. This phenomenon usually turns the front face of the Sandias a glorious watermelon pink. Through the years I've grown to really love my home town, and the Sandias are the face of that. These mountains hold a deep and ancient expression as the result of a massive fault line colliding millions of years ago. Ever since I was a little wee kid, I would look up at the massive cliffs that make up the expressive and dramatic west side of the Sandias and see a family of giant faces. So finally, the husband, puppy and I headed off for a New Mexico adventure on La Luz Trail, which scales this dramatic mountain face. (Once again daunting music fills my head). A great half-day trip is to hike up the trail and ride down on the Sandia tram. This is the longest tram in the world by the way. We got to the trail head around eight. (In mid-summer I'd advise to start even earlier). The trailhead temperature was surprisingly lovely, and the air got even cooler as we traversed drastically changing elevation. (You climb over 5,000 feet in elevation.)

I was surprised: I have climbed much steeper trails leading to much shorter mountains. This trail is well-maintained and has many switchbacks. Before we knew it, less than a mile up, we started to experience the glorious views overlooking Albuquerque.

About two miles up there is the option to take a trail that goes off to the right leading out to the edge of one of the points of the mountain, which offers a gorgeous view. It is unmarked, but the adventurous side of me instantly wanted to go stand at the edge of the point. At five miles up, you hit the rock-slides. The trail is still clearly marked, but this is where it gets a bit more challenging. A fork in the trail offers two choices: go to the crest or the tram. If you go to the crest and you don't have a car waiting there to get you back to Albuquerque, you'll need hike back down. If you want it all, go to the crest and then take a short trail on the backside of the mountain to the tram. 

I highly recommend standing by a window on the tram to look out at the gorgeous cliff faces. Don't want to do the hiking part? Riding up and down the tram is a lovely and unique experience in itself, one that should not be missed when visiting Albuquerque.

 

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Here are some things to know before you go:

  • If you park your car at the base of the tram there is a trail that connects to La Luz from there, so you don't end up with you in one place and your car at another. 
  • To park at the trailhead, from Tramway Rd. take service road 333 and watch for the sign to La Luz Trail to find the trailhead. Remember to bring $3 cash for parking.
  • While the trail is not the hardest trail in New Mexico, it still has its dangers. The conditions can change quickly and dramatically. Make sure you watch what the weather is doing and if a weather system seems to be moving in, get off the mountain as fast as possible. I've gotten stuck up there during a lightening storm and it was terrifying. 
  • Several people have fallen to their deaths by getting too close to cliff edges that then crumbled beneath them, so please be aware! 
  • Albuquerque is a mile high and the crest is about 10,679 ft. high. If you are from out of town, let your body acclimate to the elevation before attempting this trail. 

For up to date info go to the Sandia peak website.

Let me know if this inspires your marvelous wanderings!