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La Luz Trail blooming with color

An orange wallflower is one of many wildflowers flourishing in the Sandia Mountains and foothills this summer.

LA LUZ TRAIL – Sometimes traveling to new places and spaces can be as easy as taking a nearby stroll.

The high desert and alpine zones encompassing the Sandia foothills and mountains are flush and burgeoning with an array of colors borne from one of the wettest winters and springs the area has enjoyed in quite some time.

A short walk along the lower trails or even a more rugged expedition into the upper reaches of the mountains will reveal wonders not often seen.

The iconic La Luz, the most tread of the local trails, is an eight-mile trek climbing from 7,000 feet to the Tram at 10,378. Hikers can add 300 feet of elevation to the climb by swinging north the Crest House.

Each turn through the twisting, switch-backing path brings new wonders to see. Some are small and subtle like the delicate white wild sweet pea flower nestled among the green leaves marching up a hillside. Or perhaps a circling hang glider, mimicking a raptor by riding the up and down drafts while soaring through the sky.

The profusion of wildflowers is impossible to miss.

“There are so many flowers, we were stopping and looking at them all until we thought we were being too girlie,” said one woman while taking a break at the juncture of La Luz and the Crest spur trails. “There are flowers here that I’ve never seen before.”

Firecracker red columbine burst from the ground with its deep orange casing and yellow interior.

Trailside scarlet gilia lapped up the sunshine and violet Rocky Mountain penstemon delivered a monarchial stalk.

Fleabane daisies.

Common fleabane daisies hugged the ground while yellow yarrow grew tall above.

The brilliant wallflowers ranged from vivid orange to deep crimson as the elevation increased.

Of course, with any mountain encounter, keeping a firm footing is essential and at times, La Luz requires full attention, especially through the notorious switchbacks through the rock slide.

“Is this even the trail?” one woman asked as she clambered down a particularly nettlesome area. Told the trail is home to an annual run, coming up on Aug. 4, she laughed and said, “That’s why we’re here. Our friend is doing it.”

But her friend didn’t seem too thrilled.

“I must be crazy,” she said. “The run is on my 40th birthday and I think that’s why they pulled my ticket to do it.”

Because of the race’s popularity, the U.S. Forest Service has mandated that it be limited to 400 entrants selected via lottery.

“I can’t believe the winners finish this is in like an hour and half,” she said, shaking her head as she continued making her way downhill. To be considered an official finisher of the race, it must be completed in five hours.

Hikers can take in the steep, craggy, granite cliffsides that from afar create the evening watermelon-y hue for which the range was named.

And be sure to take the time to look back out west toward the city, the volcanoes on the far west side and Mount Taylor some 70 miles distant.

The best way to enjoy any sort of walk or hike into the backyard mountains is to get up there early, before the thunderheads build and lightning becomes an issue. Prepare for sudden weather changes and carry plenty of water. Despite the moist spring, there are no water sources readily available; even those should not be used unless the water is treated first.

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