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June 24, 1999

  • Highlights: Sights, sounds and smells are quite different at night. Moonlight casts a shimmery glow over everything.
  • Location: I-40 east to Tramway exit. Take Tramway north to FR 333. The La Luz trailhead is just east of the Juan Tabo Recreation Area.
  • Round-trip distance: 14-16 miles
  • Difficulty: Moderate to strenuous.
  • Elevation: About 7,000-10,600 feet
  • Caution: It is highly advised that you do this nighttime hike with an experienced hiker who is familiar with La Luz.
  • Maps: Obtain Forest Service maps from the Sandia Ranger District or local hike shops prior to hiking
  • Printable map

  • La Luz Trail

    The scrub oak leaves have a silvery sheen, while the gracile ponderosa pine needles seem to shimmer. Somewhere nearby a flower is blooming; its fragrance floats on the cool, soft air. And though you're on the La Luz Trail, the most popular in the Sandia Mountains, you've not seen another hiker because you're hiking at night, by the light of a full moon.
    The La Luz Trail by moonlight deserves to be one of New Mexico's classic hikes, and now in summer, when heat makes the exposed trail unappealing during the day, the nights are wonderfully welcoming.
    Logistics and timing are the main challenges, especially as hiking the full 14- to 16-mile round trip is more than most hikers would wish. And if you're going to hike one way, most people would prefer the way to be down. That means getting to the top somehow and hiking to a car at the bottom.
    If you have two cars available, you could drive one to the Crest House and have another waiting at the trailhead below. But that option means about a 70-mile round-trip from the La Luz Trailhead, and when you've finished your hike you won't welcome driving another 70 miles back to the Crest to retrieve your car.
    A better option is to park a vehicle at the Sandia Tram, take the tram to the crest, perhaps have dinner at the High Finance restaurant, and then hike down.
    Using this option you don't hike all the way to the La Luz trailhead. Rather, about a mile before the trailhead you take the Tramway Trail, No. 82, a 2.2-mile cutoff that takes you over rolling foothills back to the Tram parking lot. The distance for this option, including the cutoff to the Tram, is 9.2 miles. Allow at least 4 hours for the trip.
    But the real key to this hike being successful is moon timing. DO NOT plan your hike for when the moon is completely full.
    In June the fullest moon will rise at 6:01 pm on the 28th, in July at 6:25 pm on the 28th, and in August at 5:59 pm on the 26th. But those times are for the moon just rising above the eastern horizon. The moon won't actually rise above the Sandia Crest until much later and you're hiking on the west side of the crest.
    By starting even a day earlier you will still have more than 90 percent of fullness and almost an extra hour. Even two days earlier allows plenty of moonlight.
    Be sure to take a reliable light source, such as one or more flashlights with fresh batteries. When the moon is out the trail is clearly visible, but the moon can go behind clouds, or the trail can be in shadow.
    For these reasons, you'll also find a walking stick useful. And you can use it to probe ahead to warn rattlesnakes, which are nocturnal.
    And though hiking downhill in the cool of night will minimize perspiration, you'll still need to carry water.
    Hiking anywhere at night is a completely different sensory experience from daytime hiking. You'll discover to your delight that many flowers wait until night to open and exude their fragrance. During June New Mexican locust blooms along the trail's upper sections.
    You'll also be more attuned to sounds when hiking at night.
    But perhaps best of all is the silken softness of the cool night air, as soft and gentle as the moonlight through which you're hiking.
    The La Luz by moonlight can be as romantic as it sounds.

    Bob Julyan