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The Sandia foothills are close, yet they’re a different world

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Just because the hikes are short doesn’t mean Tamara Massong’s book “60 Short Hikes in the Sandia foothills” is skimpy on information with only pen-and-ink trail maps.

Tamara Massong

The book is in fact a highly detailed, information-packed and readable guide.

It takes in the foothills – and more – of the western slope of the Sandias. The trails are in three categories – northern, central and south-central trails.

As Massong’s introduction says, “These short excursions through the foothills, into canyons, and onto lower mountains create a perfect introduction for less-experienced hikers, for people who are new to high-desert hiking, and for hard-core hikers who haven’t yet taken the time to look around.”

Massong has been looking around – hiking, actually – the trails of the Sandias for many years. In the book, she willingly shares the extensive knowledge of the landscape she’s absorbed.

Clear, mostly author-created maps, compact narratives and sharp color photographs accompany each described hike. There are relevant hiking tips.

For example, for El Rincon via Piedra Lisa Trail, the trail difficulty is three; the distance is four miles round trip; the hiking time 2-4 hours; elevation gain 1,300 feet (peak elevation 8,200 feet and low elevation 6,900 feet at parking lot); trail condition is excellent. It is U.S. Forest Service-owned and maintained; trail users, hikers and horses; best time to visit is early spring through fall, (winter can have snow); parking lot is at the Piedra Lisa Trailhead near Albuquerque; fees $3 per vehicle (National Parks pass or Sandia Mountains pass).

In the narrative on El Rincon via Piedra Lisa Trail, Massong writes that its abundant shade makes it welcome to all hikers “especially on a bright, sunny summer afternoon.” She also advises that hikers can traverse the full six miles of the Piedra Lisa Trail or for those who want to explore the ridgeline, try El Rincon Spur Trail.

The maps of the trails give distances traveled and intersectioning routes. There’s an appendix on how to access GPS data via a smartphone.

In the introduction Massong also writes about the foothills’ geography, geology, natural history and history of land ownership. This information heightens the hiker’s awareness and appreciation of what the trails offer.

Seven pages of the introduction stress the importance of being safe on the trail. Massong discusses several safety issues – choosing a hike based on your skills and preparedness; acclimatizing to the altitude; concerns about sun, water and heat exhaustion/hyperthermia in the summer; thunderstorms and lightning and the quick-changing weather; snow and ice in winter; awareness of animals and their potential danger (“All wildlife can be dangerous and should be viewed from a distance,” the book warns); plant concerns, e.g. poison ivy and cactus; and unanticipated holes in the ground that may be abandoned mine shafts.

Massong began working on the book in 2015.

“This was a dream project. I totally wanted to write a hiking book,” she said. “I live in the foothills just a few blocks from the city’s open space. … As our kids were growing up, I took them out there hiking all the time.

“It was really fun to write, and it gave me an excuse to go into all the nooks and crannies that I hadn’t had time to go into before.”

Massong, a retired hydrologist, is a longtime Albuquerque resident.

She grew up in Washington and attended college in Seattle. “I started hiking around the state when I went to college. It’s always nice to see different rocks and landscapes,” said Massong, who has a master’s degree in geology.

Happy trails!

See for


The Sandia foothills are close

and easily accessible, yet they’re

a different world