Category Archives: Hiking New Mexico

Hiking Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks

Located about 50 miles north of Albuquerque, this place is one of my favorite locations in the entire state. I’ve done the hike several times and the level of amazement and wonder at the beauty to be found there has not yet waned. The Slot Canyon Trail at the Kasha-Katuwe* Tent Rocks National Monument is an opportunity to marvel at what the passage of time can do to a landscape.

*Kasha-Katuwe means “white rocks” in Keresan, a pueblo language. The national monument is located near the Cochiti Pueblo.

The name “Tent Rocks” comes from the cone-shaped rock  formations (also called hoodoos) created from a volcanic explosion over 6-7 million years ago. The monument includes several areas for hiking and sightseeing, including the Veteran’s Memorial Scenic Overlook, Shelter Cave, the Cave Loop, and the Slot Canyon Trail.

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The view from the bottom!

The trail is a three-mile loop that is easily done in about two and a half to three hours. It is a beginner-level hike, which is great for someone like me who isn’t a hiker but enjoys the great outdoors. Both the Cave Loop and Slot Canyon Trail begin at the same place, just off the parking lot. The Cave Loop trail circles the base of the tent rocks and is a mile loop, dotted with juniper trees and posted information about the geology and history of the area. At the half mile point of the loop, the Slot Canyon Trail breaks off to the right.

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Hmm, wonder why they call it Slot Canyon?

As the trail winds through the canyon, a large tree with gnarled roots big enough to hide behind acts as your portal to a sacred place. Once past the tree, the canyon walls rise up and the trail gets narrow. The modern world and all its trouble and worries disappear within this place as you wind past boulders and rocks and view trees and bushes that literally grow and survive off the sides of the canyon. The weight of time and the past pull you from your worries and cares as you begin to understand the temporariness of your place in the universe.

The first part of the Slot Canyon Trail is a gradual easy increase in elevation. Around the mid-point, the trail gets steep. You have to scramble over boulders and rocks as the path continues to rise. Railroad ties placed within the side of the mesa assist in the ascent, but it is still a steep journey. For someone afraid of heights (like me) there is always a big fear of just how temporary my place in the universe might actually become, but at Tent Rocks I always push past that, which is a sign of how wonderful this place is.

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One of the many hoodoos to be found on the trail.

When you reach the top you’ll experience some truly beautiful views, as it seems you see the entire northern part of the state from here. After taking some time to rest and experience the beauty of the area, you’ll go back down the way you came, but you’ll be changed. And if you’re not changed, you’re not doing it right.

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The view of the loop from the top of the mesa. Little Trickster shown for scale. 🙂

Tips for Your Visit

  • There is a $5 fee to get into the area. Check out their site to ensure they are open the day you visit.
  • Try to get there as early as possible (the monument opens at 7 a.m. in the spring and summer and 8 a.m. in the fall and winter). The Slot Canyon Trail is narrow in certain spots, and at the midpoint of the loop it you have to climb over some rocks and boulders as the elevation increases. If you go earlier, you don’t have to wait for other hikers, and you’ll save yourself the embarrassment of being overheard by anyone as you wail about the heights and curse openly at Little Trickster for talking you into this trip (but maybe that’s just me).
  • Bring your own drinking water, as there isn’t any running water at monument. Also, if hiking in the spring or summer, be sure to bring a hat and sunscreen, as there is pretty much no shade.
  • Be sure to bring proper footwear. While the hike is easy, it’s not flip-flop easy.
  • Dogs are not allowed on the trail.
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Yeah, we thought it too. I have the sense of humor of a 12-year-old boy.

Visit the official site for Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks.

Surfing (and occasionally eating) Pavement in New Mexico + 8 Tips for Beginners

Insights from a “forty-something” rookie skateboarder…

This is a story about longboard skateboarding and some things I’ve learned about it over the last year. Before I jump into the skateboarding part though, I need to share a little back story about why, at age 48, I feel the need risk broken bones and road rash to careen down the hills east of Sandia Mountain in New Mexico.

Around February 2007, I was living in the Florida Panhandle when a friend of mine invited me to come out to the beach and try something called “standup paddleboard surfing.” Using a borrowed wetsuit and a borrowed 11’ Nash paddleboard and paddle, I attempted to paddle out into a churning surf that looked like it was being created by a giant washing machine agitator. It was one of the most exhausting hours of “fun” I’d ever experienced. Even though I didn’t come close to catching a wave, or even standing up for that matter, I was hooked. A month later I bought my own paddleboard. By that summer, I was at the beach constantly. On days with good surf, I would go out and catch waves. On flat days, I’d paddle up and down the beach, watching the assortment of sea life below my board: jellyfish, pompano, and even the occasional green sea turtle or Atlantic bottlenose dolphin. Life was good.

Eventually, around 2009, I bought a 9’ longboard and started to learn to “prone-paddle” surf, the more traditional surfing style. Learning to “pop-up” from a prone position after being a paddleboarder was a steep learning curve, but I eventually became competent at it. (Notice I didn’t say “mastered” it. I never really mastered it.)

Shortly after I bought the longboard, circumstances in my life changed and I left Florida. I sold off the paddleboard, but (thankfully) I hung onto my longboard. In 2012, after a couple years of living inland and not surfing at all, I jumped at an opportunity to move to Southern California. Even though I only lived in Ventura County for a year, it was good to be back to surfing again. I missed my paddleboard, but I was grateful to be back in the water. I have some great memories of early morning surfing at Mondos Beach and playing tag with the sea lions.

Surf day at Faria Beach, CA. February 2013
Surf day at Faria Beach, CA. February 2013

But job changes and life changes happened again, and today I find myself living near Albuquerque, New Mexico. My surfboard still hangs in the garage; I didn’t have the heart to sell it. Last Christmas, knowing that a move to New Mexico could be coming, my awesome girlfriend bought me a Sector 9 longboard skateboard. From the first time I took it out, I knew it would make for a suitable substitute for surfing, as well as be a great way for me to keep my balancing skill sharp for the northern New Mexico ski and snowboard seasons I might soon be enjoying.

I’ve always been a minor-league adrenaline junkie. Personally, if there’s not a small chance I’m going to hurt myself, then it’s probably not something I’ll enjoy all that much. Arguably, skateboarding is a young person’s sport. Like a lot of other sports that involve balance and wheels turning quickly over the earth’s surface, it’s not a matter of if you’ll crash, but when. And let’s face it, 18-year-olds heal a lot faster than 48-year-olds, plus they have that sense of invincibility that makes them more prone to push limits, whereas those of us who’ve seen a lot more sunrises tend to be a bit more conservative. With that thought in mind, I think someone in their late-forties or even older is more than capable of taking up skateboarding. The key to not winding up in the emergency room is knowing…and respecting…your own limitations. With that said, here are a few tips I’d offer a new skateboarder of any age.

1.  Get out there and skate!

Conventional wisdom probably says I should hound you about safety gear first and foremost. And yes, safety gear is important, but I’m going to talk about that later. What I really want to stress here is that you’ll never be good at anything unless you get out there and do it…a lot. With a skateboard, the more you ride it, the more it becomes an extension of your body. Most of what you learn when you ride a skateboard comes through trial and error. The more you ride, the more you can sense when you’re going too fast, when you’re turning too deep, or when you’re about to lose control. There’s a lot going on below your feet when you’re riding. The more time you have feeling the board beneath your feet, the less likely things will surprise you and send you sprawling across the pavement.

2.  Wear protective gear.

Speaking of sprawling across the pavement, at some point it’s probably going to happen, so it’s always a good idea to wear protective gear. At a minimum, wear a helmet. I usually roll with a helmet and some leather gloves. When I get to the point where I’m rolling at higher speeds and doing big downhill runs, I will eventually wear knee and elbow pads and slide gloves. Wearing a helmet is crucial, because you can strike your head pretty hard even at a low-speed crash.

Case in point, I was out with my girlfriend (Zia) and her eight year-old daughter (Little Coyote) a couple of months ago, skating on a short hill near my home. I was wearing my helmet mostly just to set a good example for Little Coyote. Normally I wouldn’t have been wearing one on this particular hill. I was practicing some deep turns at a low speed when I over-skidded on the toe-side and stumbled, falling over backwards. I was barely moving with any speed, but the back of my head struck the pavement hard. Had I not been wearing a helmet, I definitely would have split the back of my head open, and probably even had a concussion. After that incident, I ALWAYS wear a helmet now. Also, as I become more confident in my riding and start digging deeper into turns at greater speeds, the more likely I am to take a spill, especially on my heel-side (backwards). Instinct is always to stick a hand out there to break your fall. Leather gloves won’t save your wrists when this happens, but it will help prevent a painful road rash on the palm of your hand.

All too common "road rash." Wear gloves...or don't fall. Either way is good for your skin.
All too common “road rash.” Wear gloves…or don’t fall. Either way is good for your skin.

 

3. Learn about your skateboard and its parts.

I had a couple of skateboards in the 70’s when I was a kid. I even had one that my dad helped me make by cutting the wheels and mounts off a pair of roller skates and bolting them to a piece of pine board. Skateboard technology, especially with wheels, has come along light-years since then. There are specific board setups for all different kinds of riding, whether you plan to carve up the ramps at a skateboard park, freestyle ride down gentle slopes, or bomb big hills. Take some time to research the type of riding you want to do. YouTube is a great source of information. For me, the original wheels that came on my board were great for standard freestyle riding, soft and grippy. But I wanted to learn to control my speed more by sliding the wheels, and I found out that the wheels I had were the wrong durometer for sliding. Watching skateboard wheel reviews on YouTube helped immensely when it came to finding the right wheels for the type riding I wanted to do. (Also, big credit to Skate City Supply in Albuquerque!  They not only sold me some awesome wheels, but they showed me how to change them out as well.) There’s a lot to know and learn about skate wheels. Check out this very cool and very informative Skate Wheel Infographic!

My current wheel of choice: Sector 9 Butterball, Durometer 80
My current wheel of choice: Sector 9 Butterball, Durometer 80

 

4. Know your limits, but don’t be afraid to push them.

Like surfing, skateboarding should be all about having fun. Do what’s fun for you…always! For me, the fun comes with learning new skills and riding that fine line between exhilaration and terror. (Exhilaration: a controlled, fast descent down a long, gentle hill. Terror: Way too fast, “speed wobbles,” and a fast approaching STOP sign with cross-traffic. I’ve experienced both!) On a skateboard, it’s very easy to find yourself in over your head before you even realized it’s happened. Most of the time, it’s because you’ve reached a speed that surpasses your abilities to slow down or stop. If the “want” to stop becomes a “need” to stop, then your short list of options is just basically choosing the least painful way to “eat it.” To avoid this situation (even though it is chocked full of valuable lessons), here’s some sage advice.

5. Learn to stop.

It’s not as easy as it sounds. There are several methods and they all have two things in common. They all entail applying friction to the road surface, and they all take practice to master. Here’s a link to a great YouTube video that helped me out a lot:

6. Don’t skate faster than you can sprint.

Sometimes, the best way out of a bad situation (before it becomes a terrible situation) is to simply jump off the board. If you’re pointed downhill and you feel like you’re picking up speed too fast, jump off. Your legs will automatically try and accommodate for the speed. If you’re traveling faster than your legs can carry you, then you’re going to meet the street. However, as long as you are traveling less than your sprint speed, what normally happens is you step off and run 4-5 steps to slow your momentum. Your skateboard will stop in place once you bail out, because your foot will kick it backwards as you leave the board (pretty sure there’s some physics law happening there…). The important thing to remember is if you’re in doubt, just bail out. There’s usually about a half-second between “Hey I should jump off,” and “Oh crap! I’m going way too fast to jump off now.”

7. Know the surface you’re skating.

As I’m walking up a hill I plan to ride, I watch the surface for things like loose gravel, extra-wide cracks in the road, grass growing in the middle of the road, coyote poop, basically anything I want to avoid on my way down. Skateboard wheels today are made of high-tech urethane and can pretty much handle anything they roll over (not like the 1970’s, where a single pebble would stop your board instantly and launch you into a low-trajectory orbit). Regardless, hitting gravel or a clump of grass in the middle of a deep, sliding turn can make your board do some crazy things. It’s best to know what lies ahead before you get there.

8. Forego the headphones.

I admit, it looks cool to cruise down the road on your longboard listening to your favorite tunes on your iPod. However, the reality is I usually hear a car before I see it. Maximize use of all your senses when you ride.

Rediscovering skateboarding as an adult has been an incredible experience. I wish I had taken it up years ago, even though most of the places I’ve lived (like the Florida panhandle) weren’t really conducive to longboarding. Regardless, I’d recommend it to anyone willing to give it a try. On a parting note, next spring I’m going to start incorporating “paddling” back into my game!

Until next time, get out there and stop acting your age!

Go have some fun!
Go have some fun!

Bandelier Cliff Dwellings & Valles Caldera

Dwelling in the Cliffs — Our daytrip to Bandelier National Monument and Valles Caldera

In order to keep from moving up a weight class (or two), Team EatingNewMexico decided to take Labor Day weekend off from our culinary exploits and get in some much needed hiking. We chose to brave the crowds and drive to Bandelier National Monument, a beautiful, federally protected preserve about two hours north of Albuquerque. Bandelier is famous for the cliff dwellings, village ruins, petroglyphs, kivas, and other artifacts of the Ancestral Pueblo people, who occupied the area approximately 500-900 years ago.

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If you’ve been to Bandelier in the past, but it’s been a while, you should know that the rules have changed when it comes to driving and parking at the monument. Unless you’re an early bird (arriving before 9:00 a.m.) or a late-comer (arriving after 3:00 p.m.), you won’t be allowed to drive yourself to the park. Visitors arriving between 9:00 and 3:00 have to park in the town of White Rock and take the shuttle bus into Bandelier. White Rock is about 12 miles away from the park entrance, and the bus ride takes around 20-25 minutes.

The Visitor’s Center and shuttle bus terminal in White Rock were well marked and very easy to find. We arrived in White Rock around 10:30 AM, and in spite of the Labor Day crowds, there was ample parking available. The Visitor’s Center had a helpful and friendly staff, and clean restrooms. There was a shuttle leaving every 20 minutes, so we had plenty of time to hit the restroom, change into our hiking boots, and liberally apply sunscreen before we jumped on the bus.

Since it was Labor Day weekend, the park was crowded and the full-sized buses filled up to “standing room only” very quickly. Upon boarding the bus, the driver informed us that there would be two stops. The first stop would be at the Frey Trailhead / Juniper Campground, which would allow visitors to make a 1.5 mile hike to the Bandelier Visitor’s Center along a well-marked trail. The second stop would be at the Visitor’s Center, for those unwilling or unable to make the hike.

When we arrived at the Frey Trailhead, we expected a mass exodus from the extremely crowded bus; however, only three people chose to make the hike: me, Zia, and Zia’s eight year-old daughter. We thought that was a little odd, but at the same time enjoyed a bit of self-righteousness at being the only ones who dared to hike in rather than be bussed in…or did everyone else know something that we didn’t???

The Frey Trail

As it turns out, leaving the bus to hike in via the Frey Trail was a great idea. The trail is well marked and provides good, even footing. The only significant terrain is over the last half-mile, as the trail descends through a series of switchbacks into the valley floor where the Visitor’s Center and old Tyuonyi (Que-WEH-nee) Pueblo ruins are located. During the descent, we were rewarded with a beautiful view of the valley floor and the surrounding high ground. We felt very fortunate that we had this view and experience all to ourselves, as we were the sole hikers on the trail.

Looking down at Frijole Canyon
Looking down from Frey Trail on Frijoles Canyon and Tyuonyi (Que-weh-nee) Pueblo Ruins.

Bandelier Visitor’s Center

The hike in from the Frey Trailhead left us feeling a little hot and parched (we did pack along some water bottles, but we were ready for something a little colder, preferably something with bubbles poured over ice, like, preferably a Dr. Pepper). The Visitor’s Center at Bandelier offered us a short hiatus from the hot sun. There were restrooms, air conditioning, and a friendly staff on hand ready to answer our questions. We paid our park fee ($12 per car, or since we didn’t have a car, per “group of people that would fit in a car”) with a credit card, but in order to purchase a village map ($1), we needed cash. Neither of us had any cash, but the staff was happy to provide us with a “Loaner Map,” which we returned at the end of our visit.

Adjacent to the Visitor’s Center is a Gift Shop and Snack Bar. The snack bar offers an ok variety of pre- and post-hike fare. There are trail mixes, candy, chips, beverages (bottled and fountain), as well as some over-the-counter cooked foods like hot dogs! (They’re “Nathan’s” hot dogs, too. And yes, we shared one!) Even though we had packed along our own water and trail mixes for the hike, the Visitor’s Center Snack Bar was a nice respite from the heat, and it allowed us to recharge from the hike in.

Next, we set off on the Main Loop Trail, a paved 1.2-mile roundtrip route that leads to the Tyuonyi ruins, the cliff dwellings, the Long House, and eventually on to another trail, which leads to the Alcove House site.

The map we borrowed proved very useful. Each feature along the trail is marked with a wooden numbered marker, and you can open your map to the corresponding number and read a description and history of what you’re seeing. I highly recommending purchasing or borrowing a map for touring the area.

The Sites

Tyuonyi Pueblo Ruins, Bandelier National Monument
The first major site you come to on the Main Loop Trail is the Tyuonyi Pueblo Ruins.

The first major site along the Main Loop Trail is the Tyuonyi Pueblo Ruins. Passing through this village, it’s easy to let your mind travel back in time to the 12th and 13th century when this Ancestral Pueblo community thrived. According to the map/guidebook, these ruins were once called “Anasazi” ruins, but the name was changed to “Ancestral Pueblo” because Anasazi actually translates to “Ancient Enemy.” The Tyuonyi ruins are laid out in a circle, and once stood 2-3 stories tall. The rooms themselves are very small — each only slightly larger than a king-size bed, and were probably mostly used to store food and supplies. In the center of the circle were 3 kivas (underground pit structures used for religious ceremonies, teaching, and other community functions). One of the kivas has been excavated and maintained while the other two are only slightly visible as indentations in the ground.

Even though there were a lot of visitors while we were there, the trail system throughout the valley is large enough to keep the crowd thinned out. The only place we were near other sightseers was at the cliff dwellings themselves, where there was usually a short queue waiting to ascend one of the ladders and explore the inside of the dwellings.

Little Coyote (Zia's daughter) climbs up into a cavate.
Little Coyote (Zia’s daughter) climbs up into a cavate.

The cliffs in this area (the Pajarito Plateau) are actually hardened volcanic ash (called “tuff”) deposited over a million years ago during a massive volcanic explosion in the nearby mountains. Over time, wind and rain eroded the softer areas of the tuff, creating holes and caverns. The Pueblo people used hand tools to carve out the holes for their dwellings. These are called cavates (CAVE-eights). In some cases, small mud brick structures were built in front of the cavate openings to expand the dwelling.

Cliff Dwellings at Bandelier National Monument
Cliff Dwellings and Cave Painting at Bandelier National Monument

From the outside, we could see many of the centuries-old petroglyphs carved into walls. In the photo above, you can see a cave wall painting that was uncovered during excavation of one of the dwellings. The painting looked like a zig-zag pattern in red and brown hues. On the broad wall of the cliff, we spotted faces, turkeys, suns, and other various petroglyphs. The horizontal rows of smaller holes show where floors & ceilings were located.

Cliff Dwellings at Bandelier National Monument
Cliff Dwellings at Bandelier National Monument. Known as The Long House, this area is a long row of dwellings, some of which were multiple stories tall, and some of which showed evidence of mud brick expansions.

 

Bandelier Cliff Dwellings New Mexico
Bandelier Cliff Dwellings. Petroglyphs are present though hard to make out here. Horizontal lines of smaller shows show evidence of multiple floors. Stone wall ruins in foreground show evidence of expansion.

 

Beyond Long House is a fork in the road. You can either turn left and go back to the Visitor’s Center or turn right and walk about 1/2 mile to the Alcove House. The Alcove House is a large, open cave (aka an alcove!) in the cliff about 140 feet above the valley floor. The trail to Alcove House wanders along the Frijoles Creek basin. It’s well shaded by the trees and offers a nice break from the hot sun alongside the cliff dwellings. To enter the alcove, you ascend a series of narrow stairs carved into the cliff and four well-worn (but plenty sturdy) wooden ladders. While this is nowhere near as scary as it sounds, people with a fear of heights could experience some anxiety about the climb and the descent. However, the view from the alcove is worth the climb.

Frijoles Creek Bandelier
Frijoles Creek, small but lovely (and lots of shade) – Cliff Dwellings in the background

 

Alcove House notice, Bandelier
Alcove House notice, Bandelier: beware!

 

Alcove House Bandelier Going Up
Going Up! Stairway toward Alcove House.
Alcove House, Bandelier
Alcove House from the top of the final ladder. Shade!

 

 

Alcove House Bandelier
Alcove House. Consists of a large alcove, a refurbished (and closed-off) ceremonial Kiva, and a few small caves. Gorgeous views out to Frijoles Canyon.

 

Down from the Alcove
Going Down! Descending from Alcove House

 

Overall, we spent about three hours in the valley. After we felt like we’d seen all there was to see (without setting off on a whole new hike), we walked about a mile back to the Visitor’s Center and had another run on the Snack Bar. Here, we decided to hop a bus back to White Rock rather than hike (UP) the Frey Trail back out. We wanted to save some daylight for our next stop…the Valles Caldera!

NOTE: There are many other things to see at Bandelier — other ruins, dwellings, and cave paintings — plus many other long and short trails. See their website for a full list of trails and things to see. Bandelier National Monument – More Info

Valles Caldera

About 30 minutes west of White Rock along Highway 4 is one of the most breathtaking sights I’ve seen in New Mexico, the Valle Grande of the Valles Calder, a 13.7 mile wide volcanic caldera in the Jemez Mountains. (http://www.vallescaldera.gov/) The caldera was formed over a million years ago when the magma chamber of a volcano collapses in on itself after eruption, forming a bowl-shaped (or cauldron, “caldera” shaped) indention. There are areas within the caldera where magma is less than five miles below your feet.

Sadly, since this was a day trip and we still had to drive back to Albuquerque, we didn’t have a lot of time to explore the caldera. We did venture into the Valle Grande by car and we stopped by the visitor’s center to check it out. According to their website, the Valles Caldera offers an array of activities throughout the year, to include horseback riding, fly fishing, mountain biking, and cross-country skiing, just to name a few. I’m sure we will be visiting here again in the future.

Valles Caldera New Mexico
Looking out across the Valles Caldera from Hwy 4. The caldera’s resident elk herds were nowhere to be seen this day.
Valle Grande, Valles Caldera, Bandelier
Looking out across Valle Grande, Valles Caldera, from Hwy 4 pull-off.

 

 

About the Valle Grande
About the Valle Grande

 

Culinary Adventures…

…or lack thereof. Like I said in the beginning, this was never meant to be an eating adventure. While we entertained some great ideas about stopping for dinner in Santa Fe on the way home, in the end, the wishes of the 8-yr-old won out, and we found ourselves enjoying some chili-cheese tots at the Los Alamos Sonic. Not our best “Eating New Mexico” moment, but hey, truth be told, those things are damn good.

Click for More Info:  Bandelier National Monument – More Info

Hiking the Slopes at Sandia Peak

“So there’s no trail?” I ask, scratching at my legs. The waist-high grass is blowing in a sporadic breeze, making me itch. I swat at a tiny winged insect buzzing around my right ear. Then another, or maybe the same one. They’re tenacious, these bugs. I look up at our goal: Sandia Peak, 10,400 feet seemingly straight up from where I stand at the bottom of a ski slope. The thick green grass between us and our goal feels teeming with snakes. I look down. I can’t see my feet.

Too bad the ski lifts aren’t working. I could just take one of those up.

Sandia Peak Ski Lifts
Ski lifts at Sandia Ski Area, Albuquerque. Really, it’s more UP than it seems.

“Well, there’s a trail, somewhere,” Roadrunner admits. “But last time I just charged straight up the grassy part. The ski slope part.”

Of course you did.

“I’d rather take a trail,” I say, scanning the vicinity for some kind of marked or even unmarked bike or game trail. Somewhere where I can see my own feet and any snakes I might be about to step on. I also knew that any trail would switchback along the face of the mountain, giving me a better shot of completion than the near-90-degree (in my mind) straight-up “charge” that Roadrunner has planned.

“Ok, let’s find it.” Roadrunner sets off. Upward. Straight up the slope. In a “charging” fashion, some might say.

I follow, only hoping that he is scattering any wildlife (i.e., snakes) outward from his footsteps, rather than downward (i.e., toward me). We push on and up, through the waist-high grass, stopping now and then for me to catch my breath or just catch up. Finally, we happen upon a narrow dirt trail carved into the tall grass. About 18 inches wide, this must be the bike trail.

Hello, feet!

The bike trail cuts straight across the slope, so we can’t tell which way is headed up and which way is headed down. We randomly pick a direction, based mainly on which direction gets us to the shade quicker. Luckily, we pick the right direction and our trail starts switchbacking (switchingback?) upward, in the comfort and coolness and snakelessness of the dense pine shade.

Now and then we come back across one grassy ski slope or another and decide to plow upward across it to save some time (picture this as a shortcut between switchbacks), and all the while in the waist-high grass I’m wondering how many snakes I’m stepping on or near or over.

Grassy Slopes
The grass is tall, the scenery is beautiful. Sandia Ski slopes. Albuquerque.

This goes on for a while. At some point we stop for a snack in the shade. Clementines, cashews, water.

Eventually, we come upon an area in a slope where the grass turns to rock and beyond that we can just see the shape of the mountaintop buildings emerging over the next ridge.

I make my way a few yards up the rocky area and have to stop and rest. I can’t seem to catch my breath so I stop and wait, leaning heavily on my trekking poles*. Gasping, you might say. Roadrunner comes back to make sure I’m not actually dying. “If I don’t make it,” I gasp, “feel free to eat me.”

I’ve read (and seen) ALIVE. I know how these things go.

He cheers me on, because he’s a good person. I climb another few yards, then stop to rest and catch my breath. Then one foot in front of the other. Try not to slip on the loose rocks because heaven knows if I slip, I’m slipping all the way to the bottom. This goes on for about another hour (or 10 minutes), until I finally, mercifully, exhaustifully crest the final outcropping and see the restaurant and outlook area we have been aiming at for the past 8 hours (or 2 hours).

Yay! Time to sit down, rest my lungs and legs, and have the one special treat I packed for this exact moment.

A 7 oz can of Dr. Pepper.

When I’m tired or sleepy or cranky, Dr. Pepper is my sweet elixir of life.

Dr. Pepper Boobs
Yes, I have the t-shirt. Dr. Pepper is my BFF.

 

We sit (and I huff and puff and whine and probably swear a little bit) and drink our tiny Dr. Peppers. Just as I am starting to appreciate my accomplishment and feel pretty OK about myself, a co-ed group of young CrossFitters bounds up the steps and to the vista rail, looking out at the view, all smiles.

(I’m sure you can imagine them so I won’t describe them, but I will point out they bounded up the HARD SIDE of the hike, the front side, the La Luz trail side. Like it was nothing. And I’m pretty sure they weren’t breathing hard OR EVEN SWEATING.)

I try to keep my hatred for them inside.

After about 10 minutes sitting there, having a snack and recuperating, we get up to go look at the view, which is, some would think, why we came all the way up here in the first place. A few yards away is the top of the Tram station, and people pour forth from the little metal deathboxes -AHEM- I mean tram cars, with a regularity. For those unaware, the Sandia Peak Tram is an aerial tramway that covers almost 3 miles of rugged terrain and valleys, from the base near Albuquerque to the top of Sandia Peak (10,400 ft.).  A trip on the tram takes about 15 minutes, and ends with much less huffing and puffing than the way we did it. But if you have issues with heights or claustrophobia, you might want to hike up.

Everyone getting off the tram wants to eat at the restaurant atop the mountain, High Finance, but it’s not open yet. So people are milling about, killing time. (For restaurant info click HERE. For Tram info click HERE.)

Roadrunner leads me away from the restaurant, down a rocky slope that looks a lot like the rocky slope I just trudged UP, and then parallel to the crest, toward a secret vista point. We step around a few small boulders and toward the edge.

We sit on a boulder and take in the view.

Sandia Peak and my feet
My hiking shoes are happy for the break at the top of Sandia Peak, Albuquerque
Sandia Peak Pano
Panorama from Sandia Crest

We can see all of  Albuquerque, laid out in its neat criss-cross lattice of streets at right angles, and beyond to the volcanos of the West Mesa on the horizon. Far below us, in the tops of some trees that begin even farther below, a hawk and a raven soar and flap and survey.

And the sky opens up and goes forever.

This is why we’re up here.

Z and R
Zia and Roadrunner, on top of Sandia! No, Roadrunner is not peeing off the side. OR IS HE?

We need to get home so after about 10 minutes of rest, we head downward. Down is like up, but much faster and easier on the lungs. What it’s harder on are the quads and knees and toes. We charge down some of the grassy slopes, and take the switchbacks now and then to give our feet and knees a break. We make it down to where we started in about 45 minutes.

Sandia Ski Area, lifts
I wonder what this looks like during ski season? Sandia Ski Area, Summer.

 

OVERALL I’d give this hike a bunch of stars on any kind of star system. It was really pretty (woods and grassy slopes in one hike) and the trail was fairly well marked in most places. Next time, I would probably start at a trail head and just stay on the trail and plan to take longer, rather than charging up the slopes to save time. I’d take away a star or two because I didn’t see any wildlife other than a squirrel, which is kind of a bummer.

*Author’s note: I completed this hike, from approximately 6,700 ft. – 10,600 ft. about 2 weeks after I moved to New Mexico from California (at sea level). I can say with certainty that I had not fully acclimatized to the altitude yet at this point. I don’t really recommend attempting this hike if you have just moved to the area after living at sea level. Get acclimatized then try it. Otherwise you will be sucking wind. Just saying.

Biking the Bosque

This is my bike.

There are many like it but this one is mine.
There are many like it but this one is mine.

This is my first bike in 25 years, and I have been a little scared to get on it. What if I fall over? What if I can’t balance and pedal at the same time? What if I run into a cactus? How do I go uphill? Or worse, downhill? How do I use these “gear” thingees?

BUT, they say riding a bike is just like riding a bike, so I packed it into my car and hauled it all the way out to the west side of Albuquerque (the Alameda – Bosque trail head, to be precise) to give it a go. Knowing that the trail along the Bosque is paved and flat was a confidence-builder; I could find a comfortable gear and just leave it there.  Also, I figured that hey, if I fall off, at least no one I know will see me.

I got out to the trailhead at about 11:15 a.m. and the temp was somewhere between “mid-day mid-summer” and “face of the sun” and I thought, Oh I could totally use the heat as an excuse to put my bike back in the car and like, go to a movie or something.

But I gave myself a little pep talk (that might have involved ice cream) and set off south down the trail. Immediately, I realized I was not in a good gear because my feet were flying and I was going nowhere. So (not yet fully understanding gears), I randomly flipped a switch with my thumb. A little better. I could feel the pedals kind of “grabbing” — I’m sure that’s a technical term — and it seemed I had ALMOST achieved a partnership between my feet, the pedals, the wheels, and the road.  Another few thumb clicks in the same direction got me to a comfortable gear that I didn’t dare mess with the rest of the journey.

Ok, I’m cruising now. I can look around at the scenery! To the right: cottonwood trees, brush, then the Rio Grande. To the left: small farms, horses, stables.

Flat road. No pressure.
Flat road. No pressure.
Rio Grande with water in it! Enjoy it before it's gone.
Rio Grande with water in it! Enjoy it before it’s gone.

So I rode until my GPS told me it had been 3 miles, then a little more for good measure. I turned around and parked my bike on the “shoulder” (gravel area between the paved path and the ditch which led to a further ditch/arroyo down below). I got off my bike and stretched my back and rubbed my butt. Then hopped back on and almost confidently pedaled my way back to civilization.

I saw a lot of people out biking on this trail — people like me, out for a joyride, and people on triathlon bikes and matching team riding gear hauling ass past me in bright yellow blurs. I also saw a couple of walkers and one jogger. Everyone was good at sharing the road and making room for each other on the path.

I did notice that folks were not overly friendly out here in the Bosque. I gave everyone I saw a little wave or nod or smile, but most of them ignored me. This could be due to the fact that my “exercising smile face” probably looks more like someone being eaten by a bear than someone happy to be out in the sun exercising. Or maybe they were just hot and tired and feeling like they were being eaten by a bear, too.

I got back to my car at the trailhead without incident. I even managed to shove my bike back into my hatchback while only stabbing myself in the face/neck with my handlebars TWICE. Go, me.

Then, just to prove to myself what I badass (or dumbass) I am, I followed up my 6.3 mile bike ride with a Couch-to-5K run/walk interval session. Does this make me a biathlete (at least for a day)? And if I had fallen off my bike, somehow INTO the Rio Grande, I could have called myself a triathlete, right?

Oh, and what is this? It was alongside the Rio, and looked to me like some kind of wrought iron Blair Witch Project.

Heavy Metal Blair Witch
Heavy Metal Blair Witch

Overall, a big thumbs up for the Bosque trail system. I will definitely be looking into more trails out here along the river and elsewhere for biking, hiking, and jogging in the coming months.

Got an ABQ area trail you love and recommend? Let me know in the Comments below! Or a New Mexico trail that’s not in ABQ? I’d like to hear about those, too. We try to do lots of day and weekend trips, and often want to get some exercise in between all the enchiladas and cheeseburgers.

Everything Is a Snake

I don’t like to run. In fact, I have always hated running. My first memories of this hatred go back to about 7th grade, when I was always near the back of the pack during PE class jogs, despising every second, having to force one foot in front of the other, fantasizing about various ways to get out of the final quarter mile.

If I fell into a hole or tripped on a giant rock right now and sprained my ankle, I wouldn’t have to endure the last 100 yards of this hell. If I passed out, someone would carry me.

This went on through high school, where I only played sports that required very little distance running — no soccer, basketball, or track for this girl. I never jogged for exercise or “fun” during my college or post-college years.

Then, a few years ago, I decided to give running a try, because everyone seemed to be doing it, and hey — it’s free. I started a Couch to 5 K program, and did OK with it. Then I just kept forcing myself to run a few times a week. My feelings went from “seething hatred” to “dread” to “mild distaste” to “hey this is almost tolerable.”

So now here I am, forcing myself out to run a couple of times a week. I just moved from sea level to 7,000 ft. so the acclimatization process is kind of painful, but I’m working through it.

And then this happens:

Snake in the Road
Snake in the Road — I was in a hurry, hence the bad framing and lack of a snake head.

Now, I live in the mountains and I know there are rattlesnakes out here. This isn’t the first one I’ve seen. There are also tarantulas, centipedes, scorpions, coyotes, and probably bears and mountain lions.

But here’s the thing about seeing a snake while you’re out running. You unstrap your phone from your arm and take a picture (zoomed in, of course). Then you carefully skirt the snake, giving it a wide orbit just in case it is a snake with a ‘TUDE. Then you continue on your way. And then…. no matter where you look, everything is a snake.

Tiny lizard running into the grass = snake.

That twisty swervy crack in the asphalt up ahead? BIG SNAKE.

Twigs by the side of the road = whole bunch of snakes.

Tumbleweed blowing across the road behind you? Sounds like a snake to me!

Dainty yellow butterfly alighting delicately on the blooming purple sage?  DEFINITELY A SNAKE!!

You get a little jumpy, is what I’m saying. And the rest of your jog is socked in by an overwhelming paranoia that the snakes are plotting against you and surely this will be like a bad Sci-Fi movie where a jogger gets eaten by a 40-foot rattlesnake before the opening credits even start, and that jogger is you.

The last half-mile is a steady uphill slog. I can barely walk it without passing out, much less run it. So I trudge onward and upward. One foot in front of the other, cursing these stupid ideas of “running” and “exercise” and “health” and scanning the brush and road, seeing the snake in everything.

Onward. Upward. Left, right, left, right.

If a snake bit me right now, I wouldn’t have to go this last half mile. If a snake bit me right now, someone would carry me home.