Thursday, June 20, 2002
Sandia Trails Beckon Hikers To Take the High Road
By David G. Jackson
For the Journal
Thanks to New Mexico's many drought-induced forest closures, finding a high place to hike somewhere above 10,000 feet, where the air is cool and the wildflowers are growing is pretty tough these days.
If You Go
HIGHLIGHTS: Rare opportunity for high-country hiking amid drought-mandated forest closures.
LOCATION: About 6 miles northeast of San Antonio. Summer bike trails take you up the edges of the ski area. Trailheads are marked and easy to find.
ROUND-TRIP DISTANCE: The trip as described is about 11 miles. It is shorter if you take the chairlift up or down.
ELEVATION GAIN: 2,000 feet.
BEST SEASONS: Spring through fall (or at least until the rains come and other trails open).
HAZARDS: Hikers share the ski runs with bikers. Stay alert and out of their way.
MAPS: Sandia Mountains Wilderness, Cibola National Forest, USDA Forest Service.
But it's not impossible.
If you're hankering for some high-country hiking, the oh-so-close Cibola National Forest still has something for you. The bike trails winding up the sides of Sandia Peak Ski Area remain open, as does the trail from Sandia Tramway's upper tram terminal to Sandia Crest.
If you start early enough in the morning, the hiking isn't too tough, even in these hot days of early summer. And as a bonus, there are places to buy hamburgers, hot dogs and soft drinks at both the upper tram house and the Crest.
What else could you want?
Sandia Peak Ski Area is reached by traveling north of Tijeras on N.M. 14. Turn left onto N.M. 536 at San Antonio and drive about 6 miles to the ski area. There is a large parking area there, so you don't have to park along the highway.
The two trails follow the sides of the ski area. The trail on the north side has more switchbacks; the trail up the south side is steeper. Each route is about 4 miles.
No matter which one you take, remember these are bike trails and you will encounter riders all the way to the top. The south trail is used by bikers on the descent, and they zoom by pretty fast on some sections of the trail. Stay alert and out of their way.
Many hikers choose to go straight up the ski run, gaining about 1,700 feet of elevation in less than two miles. It's a pretty steep hike in places.
The trail between the upper tram terminal and the Crest is about 1.5 miles with a gain of about 300 feet.
Even though it has been very dry, there are a few wildflowers along the way, and lots of wall flowers. A good, cooling breeze usually greets you at the top. Zooming mountain bikers, by the way, are not allowed on the Crest Trail.
The trip down the ski run can be done on the trail or straight down the ski run. Either way, it is steep enough to be hard on your legs. The ski area's summer chairlift is open, so you can ride up and walk down, or vice versa. One-way passage on the chairlift costs $5.
Right now, no other routes besides these will take hikers to heights of 10,000 feet in New Mexico's national forests. All other trails are closed due to fire danger, and Forest Service patrols have already issued several citations to hikers who trespass into forbidden territory.
So respect the closures and instead enjoy a rare chance to climb high in these times of dryness.