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Petroglyph National Monument: A Toasty Stroll

Petroglyph National monument

Entrance to Rinconada Canyon

Petroglyph National Monument is a low key destination.   It lies on the western edge of Albuquerque, New Mexico, with a visitors center and four separate areas to explore: Rinconada Canyon, Boca Negra Canyon, Piedras Maracadas,  and Volcanoes.   The latter does not actually have any petroglyphs, but hey, three volcanoes!

Kilroy was here

Kilroy was here, perhaps?

Rinconada Canyon, with a parking lot just off Unser Blvd NW a couple miles north of I-40, seemed the most convenient spot for a walkabout. There is a decent bathroom at the parking lot, and a barrier prevented vehicles from going on the trail.   Right away, the heat makes itself known, as if to say, “Hello, pale people from the north; I will toast you now.”  We slather on sunscreen and tote water.   I wish I had a hat.

Looking back toward the parking area

Looking back toward the parking area

The canyon is really more of a vee-shaped plain, gently sloping, with ramparts on the outer edge of the vee covered in basalt boulders.  Cacti and sage and broken glass dot the flatter land.  Apparently locals formerly used Rinconada Canyon for target shooting before the area was protected.

Hot hot hot

Hot hot hot: D and Jackie Chan following

Denise and Jackie Chan the wonderdog do an about face after about half a mile when they realizes the pictures are mostly similar same, and it’s getting bloody hot.  I can’t blame them, but I soldier on for a bit.   One smart hiker carries an umbrella as sun shield.   There is certainly no respite from the sun, and there is no water on the trail.

Larger than most of the images

Larger than most of the imagesiveivel

The trail hugs the right slope near the rocks.  Petroglyphs seem to come in clumps on large rocks in little alcoves at the base of the canyon walls..   Mostly the images are simple and relatively small, such as dessert-plate sized birds, human faces, and deer.  Scientists do not know exactly what all if the petroglyphs mean, but it is interesting to speculate.

Don't come barefoot.  Only cacti thrive here

Don’t come barefoot. Only cacti thrive here!

Rinconada Canyon offers a harsh landscape for hikers, but one worth visiting for its geologic and human history.  Consider going in the cooler hours of  the day.

Some of the images are hard to decipher

Some of the images are hard to decipher.  Sun? Centipede? Who knows?

Sandia Range, part two: Kiwanis Cabin

Sandia Range

No running with scissors here

After riding a tram to the top of the Sandia Range, as documented in my last post, I was confronted with some tough choices as a hiker.  It felt like the ad for a certain mini market chain:  Too much good stuff!   Luckily, an obvious hiking target arose quickly in the Kiwanis Cabin. It was visible a mile to the north along the edge of the ridge.  It looked like a spectacular vantage point for photos.


Denise leaving the tram area. Note the manmade stone wall lining the trail

The first part of the Crest Trail heads at a casual pitch north of the area where the Sandia Peak Tram and the Sandia Peak Ski Area abut.In just a few steps there is a junction.  The route to the left plunges into the abyss, clinging tenuously to the rocky scarp.  It reminded me a great deal of the upper third of the Bright Angel Trail in The Grand Canyon.   A misstep in certain spots would send a hiker tumbling hundreds of feet.  We were worried about our pup darting after a squirrel or bird, so we turned back toward the intersection and turned up the Crest Trail.

Looking down like a bird

Looking down like a bird

There is a nature trail loop, but we stayed on the main trail, which offers a few stellar views to the west as we walked on limestone with what appeared to be fossils embedded.  Denise wore cowgirl boots, and Jackie Chan was getting over being sick, so they turned around at one especially windy open slope.

Crazy limestone.   What is embedded in it? Fossils?

Crazy limestone. Disparate elements seem to be embedded in it.  Fossils?

Viewpoint near where I bashed my head

Viewpoint near where I bashed my head on a sharp branch.  Headache!

After promising to hike quickly and return, I forged ahead in the woods, few other hikers nearby.  Once I hit the other trails coming from the north, foot traffic started increasing.

The alpine meadow near the top

Not a great shot but it gives a feel for the alpine meadow near the top

The route to the Kiwanis Cabin takes sections of a few trails to curve around a lovely alpine meadow mostly blocked off by split-rail fences.  Apparently there once were multiple trails crossing the open area, but they were abused, and alpine areas take a long time healing from clumsy hikers and bikers, so the area was closed for restoration.

The final section of path above the meadow neatly fenced

The final section of path above the meadow neatly fenced

The Kiwanis Cabin,  all dressed in white

The Kiwanis Cabin, all dressed in white, the world at its feet

The hike is short anyway, and it was worth it to reach the sweeping views at the Kiwanis Cabin.  The stone house was built by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) in the 1930s as part of the New Deal to get people jobs and teach them skills.  Mount Hood has a number of CCC huts built in the same time frame, a couple of which are still out there near the Timberline Trail.

Looking toward Albuquerque just below the hut

Just below the hut, looking toward Albuquerque


View from on high

View from on high

The Kiwanis Cabin was a casual 1.5 miles from the tram’s upper terminal. There is one short section where the trail climbed steadily and dealt with significant roots and rocks.   Most hikers would be fine here, although the elevation might make it feel tiring.

As my camera has dropped-by-owner disease, not all of my photos came out well.  Hopefully in the next week or so I will purchase a new camera.


Taken on the walk back. What an area.

Great views in most directions

Great views in most directions

New Mexico Maple.   Who knew?

New Mexico Maple seems more like a Japanese Maple. Who knew?

The Sandia Range is beautiful, easily accessible for most people, yet very rugged.  This is highly recommended for any who want a classic island in the sky experience.  There is nothing like being in a green forest and looking thousands of feet down at a brown and red desert landscape.

We reconnect on the rocks near the tram terminal.

We reconnect on the rocks near the tram terminal.

Easy Way Up: New Mexico Tram Ride

Sandia Tram

That’s how we all start our hiking trips, right?

Normally I am a snob about easy ways to the top of a mountain, but I had a fantastic jaunt in New Mexico that began in this manner.  In years past, I have scoffed at those who drove up peaks (Whiteface)  or took a cog railway (Mt. Washington).  Of course, that may simply have been jealousy.   As I age, I find that I’m willing to take a few sweat shortcuts.  Consider this post a testament to the short cut.

To begin a trip into an alpine environment by taking a tram is a new experience, but the offer was too enticing to ignore.  I’d heard of the Sandia Mountains  for years, and had long wanted to hike or climb there.  The range dominates views to the east from Albuquerque, reaching well over 10,000 feet and offering multiple life zones in which to hike.  So when I had a brief window of time to visit the area with my bride, I jumped at the chance to take what is advertised as the world’s longest tram ride.

Sandia Peak tram

Strangers passing over a vas

We arrived about noon and had to wait 20 minutes for a ride.  50 people crammed into the tram and listened as a guide gave us a play by play of the scenery, pointing out Totem Pole Rock, Echo Canyon, and more, giving information and adding plenty of wit.  It was a good ride, taking about 15 minutes.  Views the whole way were amazing.  The top itself was sublime, a long rocky and well treed ridge.  I almost salivated at the thought of hiking all over.

Albuquerque is just a stone's throw, really

Albuquerque is just a stone’s throw, really

I learned that the back side of the Sandia range has a ski area, aptly named Sandia Peak.  A long and winding road climbs all the way up to access it, but it takes over an hour.   I like our route better.  Either way, the views are stunning.

The tram's upper terminal

The tram’s upper terminal. Don’t drop your keys here….

It was slightly amusing that there was a full service restaurant on top (supposedly the nation’s highest), which reminded me of a restaurant (since destroyed by avalanche) perched on top of Bridalveil Falls in Utah which I’d visited ages ago.  That felt out of place, and so did this, but what the heck. We would later eat and drink there after hiking.  So much for snobbery.  I must be getting soft.

Looking down the ski slopes

Looking down the ski slopes

Odd but nice feature:  each pipe points at a different landmark, identified below

Funky feature: each pipe points at a different landmark, identified below

All in all, it made for a happy man before I even set foot on the Sandia Crest Trail.  The top of the Sandia Range offers a beautiful environment, completely different than the high desert below surrounding Albuquerque.  The temperature up top must have been at least twenty degrees cooler, and the ridges were was cloaked in pines, maples, and aspens as well as  a lot of rock.  This turned out to be an almost perfect day.   Stay tuned for more.

Happy dude

A happy hiker in his native habitat