Friday, May 4, 2012


About 50 years ago, Sandia Peak was all about skiing.  Robert Nordhaus, an avid skier visited the Swiss Alps and decided that a tramway could lift skiers off the desert floor, to the 10.678 feet to the ski launch area instead of the long hour and a half drive to the other side of the mountain. The above picture of the tram gondola during the winter was cooling to look at in our 83 degree weather. In fact, this winter past brought 130 inches of snow and was their best year ever, attributed to climate change.  And, the mountain climate can vary by 30 degrees from the valley floor. A lovely prospect on a hot day.

We started our trip by watching a gondola glide into the tramway ready to pick up another group of people.

The gondola’s don’t look big enough to carry fifty people, but they are crammed full. We lucked out and got a nice frontal window view for picture-taking.

As you ascend, the view of the steep rocky crags and lush forests and (in spring) rushing water below is breathtaking. The ride is gentle like a balloon ride, yet I heard people express  fear about  the height and the weight on the cables. Our first link is the 238 foot tower a mile distant.

Once past the first tower, the terrain below is, as the guide put it, about 8 seconds down, which brought groans from the crowd.

The second tower is a stubby thing that gives you the feeling you are going to crash right into the rock face. This tramway is 46 years old and was once the longest in the world. Now it remains the longest in North America, but the free lengths of a mile between towers is still the longest lengths for any tramway.

A short fifteen minutes and you’ve reached the top where we quickly put on our sweatshirts against a breezy wind.

It was a lovely clear day, and the scenery below, with 38,000 acres of bike trails, hiking paths, and boulder climbing makes this a great tourist destination.

The ski lift, unused now,  on the other side of the mountain and the valley below.  A restaurant serves visitors at the top, if you are hungry.

The Albuquerque side reveals a wide-spread, flat city of 900,000 residents. It is said that you can see nine-tenths of New Mexico from this peak.

On the way down, you realize how steep this ride really is.

Now that is steep!  The guide put worries to rest as he explained the several safe back-up systems in place against power failures, or in the event someone gets sick on the ride and has to be removed. They’ve never had to use them.

One three-mile cable weighs 52,000 pounds. A million dollars and down time to replace.  Everyday, employees inspect the wheels that the cable rides on. Replacing them, the minute they see an abrasion or wear on the wheels, prevents damage to the cables and is much cheaper.

All too soon, we were on the ground again, looking at flowers in bloom.

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