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If you visit Albuquerque for its trail running, the Sandia Mountains are sure to be your focal point. Located to the east of the almost-pancake-flat Albuquerque sprawl, the crest of the Sandias runs as a north-south spine sticking up a mile above the city. In this part of New Mexico, one of North America’s biggest deserts, the Chihuahuan, crawls its way north from Mexico, making the region home to scrappy, spindly cactuses and other plants tolerant to the high heat and low annual precipitation.
However, as you rise to higher altitudes in the Sandias, the mountains act as an island oasis for more robust shrubs and trees that thrive in the range’s cooler temperatures. This, combined with the just-plain-miraculous viewscape afforded by the range’s several-thousand-foot prominence, equals a splendor that’s not easily matched.
Rodger Sack, La Luz Trail Run Race Director and a member of the local running club, the Albuquerque Road Runner Club, since its founding in the 1980s, knows local trail running. About the Sandias, he says, “If a trail runner wants a challenge, I suggest accessing the mountains.” However, Sack cautions on the mountains’ remoteness, “Runners must be self-sufficient, and carry water, food, rain gear and some type of communication.”
> La Luz Trail / This trail snakes about eight miles up the west side of the Sandia Mountains to the range’s crest. You can run out and back, er, up and down this trail, or use the Sandia Peak Tramway to halve your run’s distance. There’s a sporty 3,775 feet of climb from bottom to top.
> Sandia Crest Trail / Arrange a car shuttle for this bucket-list 26-mile point-to-point run on the crest of the mountain range. You’ll run between 5,800 and 10,600 feet altitude, and while you’ll encounter other hikers in the vicinity of the Sandia Peak Tramway terminal, you’re unlikely to see anyone else the rest of the way. You can shorten the run using the tramway to access the middle of the trail, too, but you’ll still have to sort a car shuttle.
> La Luz Trail Run / At “just” nine miles in length, this infamous, gritty trail race climbs the Sandia Mountains. That’s, excuse me, almost 4,500 feet of climb between the start and finish lines. The La Luz Trail Run took place for the 50th time in 2015, and runs on the La Luz Trail plus a little dirt road.
> Get There / Interstate 40 is one of the lesser-known sections of the U.S. highway system’s skeleton, but it stretches almost coast-to-coast across the southern part of the country, and dissects Albuquerque. Perhaps the airport with the most apropos name, the Albuquerque International Sunport offers service from a number of airlines. You’ll need a rental car to get yourself up to the Sandia Mountains.
> Play Tourist / The Sandia Peak Tramway, though a definite tourist trap, is a lovely way to take the whole family up for a bird’s-eye view of Albuquerque and beyond. Visit the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center to learn about Native American culture from the region. Take a tour of Old Town Albuquerque, which was established in 1706 as a part of the Spanish exploration of what’s now the southwest U.S.
> Take Note / Summer heat! Because Albuquerque sits at a moderate altitude of about 5,000 feet, it doesn’t get the severe heat of places like Phoenix, Arizona. However, temperatures in the upper 80s and lower 90s are normal for June, July and August, so plan your summer activities before and after the heat of the day, or up high in the Sandias.
Albuquerque hosts the largest hot-air-balloon festival in the world. Photo: iStockPhoto
BY THE NUMBERS
3,415 Hours of sun Albuquerque sees annually.
557,169 Folks who call Albuquerque proper home; its metro area is inhabited by 902,797 people.
500+ Number of hot-air balloons launched each fall during the nine-day Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta, the largest hot-air-balloon festival in the world. The fiesta’s mass ascensions are a real sight to see.
This article originally appeared in our December 2015 issue.