When Irina's departure from Albuquerque started taking real dimensions, I realized I had not hiked this classic Albuquerque trail yet. So I quickly planned it for one of my last weekends in the area - one that included a trip to Four Corners followed by a Monday hike up La Luz. It turned out to be a great hike and I just wish I could do it after a snowstorm, or better yet, in a snowstorm. Maybe I will be back one day...
Given the time constraints, I decided to hike the trail just one way. This is easily possible since one can ride Sandia Peak Tramway the other way. So I parked at the lower tramway station, and set out on the hike. It is about 9.5 miles from there with 4,000 ft of elevation gain to the upper station, so I had some fun cut out for me.
Starting from the tramway station, the trail follows the foothills at the base of Sandia Mountains north, initially just above houses of some of the most expensive Albuquerque neighborhoods. The trail is joined by smaller trails climbing up from the neighborhoods, but only at one point did it leave me hesitating which way to continue. It was early June, and it seemed like the whole desert was blooming. Eventually, the trail starts climbing, turns a corner, and heads east to join La Luz Trail. There, about 2.6 miles into the hike and having climbed about 900 ft, I was ready to start switch-backing up La Luz Trail.
|Sandia Peak Tramway||Cholla and Albuquerque||Feathery flowers||Tramway Trail||Blooming opuntia (prickly-pear) cactus||Trail sign|
|Tramway Trail bend|
Past the intersection, the trail gains elevation in a series of very mildly graded switchbacks, heading straight up east. Later it continues southeast, on a mostly steady grade up and up. The Pulpit and the Thumb, prominent rocks popular with climbers, come into view. Blooming cacti gave way to blooming wildflowers. More switchbacks follow before reaching Vista Point, at about 9,000 ft. I took a break there to enjoy the views of the climbing terrain around.
|Prickly-pears and La Luz Trail||Albuquerque from La Luz Trail||Blooming kingcup cactus||Prickly-pear bloom||Honey bee indulging in a cactus bloom||Canyon and Albuquerque|
|Blooming yucca||Yucca and Albuquerque||Blooming yucca||La Luz Trail||Intersection in the sky||Hikers|
|Hikers and the Thumb|
Shortly after Vista Point, the trail enters La Cueva Canyon. A sign by the creek indicates winter travel beyond this point is difficult, It is easy to see why as the trail crosses a talus field and switchbacks steeply up the canyon side. Just above 10,000ft, it reaches a saddle where it forks. The left side goes up to Sandia Crest, the highest point on the Sandia Mountains ridge. The right side continues below the ridge, and in another mile or so reaches the upper tramway station.
|La Cueva Canyon from Vista Point||The Pulpit from Vista Point||La Luz Trail and the Thumb||La Cueva Canyon||Aspen tree||La Cueva Canyon|
|Twisted||Budding aspen trees||Below Sandia Crest||Wildflower|
There is always some satisfaction in reaching a summit. It may be lessened here by the company of a crowd of tourists who took the tramway up, but the view is hard to beat and the available refreshments are a bit of a bonus. Plus the tramway ride down is sure easy on the knees too.
|Tramway line||Last approach||Beer glass||Tramway car and the second support tower|