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!