Archives for posts with tag: Albuquerque
01-pino-canyon

View from lower Pino Canyon Trail into Pino Canyon

Overview:

The Pino Canyon trail ascends the west side of the Sandia Mountains, leaving from the borders of urban Albuquerque and rising to the wild ridge crest. You go from open cacti-and-juniper terrain into dense spruce, fir and Ponderosa Pine (“pino” is Spanish for “pine tree”).  The demands  on the hiker are much less than some of the other west-side hikes since the trail hits the ridge at only 9200 feet. Both the lower altitude and the clear tread make this a choice winter destination. It would be a great place for tuning up those hiking muscles as hiking season pulls into view.

Driving Directions:

 

02-frosted-stick-cholla

Stick cholla in a winter wonderland

  • From I-25 North, heading through Albuquerque, take exit 232 for El Paso Del Norte (NM 423).  Stay to the right.
  • After 0.1 miles veer right at a second off-ramp signed for El Paso Del Norte East. This ramp merges into the left-hand lane of a 3-lane frontage road. It will help if you can get into either of the right-hand lanes.
  • After another 0.4 miles the frontage road splits at a concrete traffic island. Stay on the right and immediately arrive at the intersection with El Paso Del Norte East (NM 423). Go right (east) onto NM 423.
  • After 4.8 more miles arrive at a T-intersection with Tramway Blvd (NM 556). Turn right (south) onto NM 556.
  • After 1.2 miles, after a very slight bend to the right, look for Sims Park on your left. Just before the intersection there is a roadside sign for Elena Gallegos Open Space on the right side of the road. The Sims Park intersection does not have a traffic light. Go left (east) onto Sims Park Road.
  • After 1.3 miles arrive at the guard station for the park. On the south side of the station is a self-service pay station.  There are signs at the pay-station directing you to go right for the Pino Canyon trailhead. Follow ’em.
  • After 0.4 miles you will come to the trailhead on your right. (This is the second trailhead on your right). Immediately past the trailhead turnout there are restrooms.

Trailhead:

03-camry-at-pino-canyon-trailhead1

The mighty Camry at the ice-slicked trailhead.

The trailhead is paved, has toilets (vault-style from their appearance) and trash recepticals. I did not see any water sources. This is a very popular place for mountain bikers, dog walkers, joggers, mountain runners and hikers. It may be hard to find a parking spot on weekends unless you get here early. The parking fee is currently $2.00 per car on the weekends and $1.00 on weekdays. You must display a tag from a payment envelope to in order to park.

Data:

  • starting elevation: 6450 feet
  • ending elevation:9210 feet
  • net elevation gain: 2760
  • distance: 4.7 miles one way
  • maps: USGS Sandia Mountains quadrangle

Hike Description:

Ladron Peak (somewhat washed out) on the horizon

Ladron Peak (somewhat washed out) on the horizon

From the trailhead go directly east along Trail #140 as it gently rises on a tread that is almost entirely free of rocks, branches and other complications. Make certain to look back over your shoulder as you ascend. Distant views to the mountains in the southwest open up; the early morning sun set Ladron Peak ablaze whereas South Baldy in the Magdelana Mountains was a mere purple silhouette.  On this date small winter storms blocked the views directly west to Mount Taylor.  After about a quarter mile come to an intersection with a major trail. Cross it and continue ascending east towards the crest.

Trail sign and first "foothill" at the mouth of Pino Canyon

Trail sign and first “foothill” at the mouth of Pino Canyon

The canyon walls rise above you. The more distant northern wall offers considerable distractions in the way of sheer cliffs and imposing rock spires. (Its higher reaches were obscured by clouds on this date). The southern wall is closer and gentler. From the trailhead it looks like a series of rolling hills. As you pass by the first of these hills (which are actually knolls and knobs atop a rib descending from the crest) you will see a pile of geo-rubbish at its foot. The trail comes quite close to the this pile and as you go by you will notice that the trail is rising up the southern wall. It is good practice to keep trail treads well above stream beds.

Thick forest and cloud occluded morning view of the north wall of Pino Canyon

Thick forest and cloud occluded morning view of the north wall of Pino Canyon

The trees thicken as you enter the canyon proper. The junipers give way to fir and spruce. The linear quality of the lower trail becomes markedly sinuous as it copes with the small waterways etched into the south wall of the canyon.  Views to the canyon rim become somewhat scant. On this day the snow-covered trailbed presented a wide array of animal  and bird tracks.

Forest devastation in upper canyon

Forest devastation in upper canyon

At about 2.5 miles the terrain begins to steepen. The trail displays its first switchbacks. Surprisingly, the trees start to thin. As you rise to the 8000 foot level the forest, now including many Ponderosa pines, shows signs of dire ill-health. The canyon bottom is layered with stacked deadfall. There is little or no sign of fire (that I could see), but others have commented on the dire effect that drought and bark beetles have had on flora in the Sandias.  Be careful on windy days, some of the snags overhead have adopted a rather threatening list.

Canyon anatomy: prominent ribs and giant molars

Canyon anatomy: prominent ribs and giant molars

At about 2.9 miles from the trailhead look above you towards the Sandia Crest. A high rib displays three rock protrusions – like a giant’s molars (in terms of fanciful dentistry). The tread swings south into a side canyon, crosses the stream bed and then contours directly beneath the three rock protrusions. Just above this point the trees regain a more healthy appearance and you re-enter the realm of Douglas Fir and Ponderosa Pine.

09-afternoon-view-of-north-wall

A sunnier view of the Pino Canyon north wall

Up here there is a confusion of canyon branches. The trail winds back and forth across one bed, tires of the locale and abruptly contours into a separate branch. Watch your footing. Even though temperatures were below freezing there were numerous small waterways that were flowing onto the trail. Inevitably, hidden below the fresh snow, there were places where the wet soil had frozen into hard and slick gray ice. Traction devices are extremely useful.

Wind blasted knoll guarding the Sandia Crest

Wind blasted knoll guarding the Sandia Crest

At 3.8 miles the tread takes a marked turn to the south and begins a long slog up the last major incline before the crest. This is really beautiful terrain, not quite open enough to be sub-alpine, but an enjoyable stroll through a robust forest with occasional views to the northern wall of the canyon. At 4.5 miles a wind-blasted knoll marks your arrival at the crest – the trees are stunted and many short snags attest to the difficulty of growing at 9200 feet. Here the Pino Canyon Trail intersects the Crest Trail. It is worth going a few feet south (to your right as you reach the junction) on the Crest Trail to get a better view east and south over the Ortega Mountains and into the Pecos Basin. It can be chilly when the wind pours through this col. I found it worth while to hike north on the Crest Trail for a quarter mile. There is a spot where thick evergreens bunch up at the foot of a rock wall – offering some (small) respite from the storm.  Grab some photos and a bite to eat. The breeze will be enough to encourage a hasty re-hoisting of your bags. Return by the same route.

Recommendations:

The author, providing proof that even a 10-second timer delay can turn your fingers into unusually dextrous icicles.

Proof that a 10-second timer can turn your fingers into unusually dextrous icicles.

This is neither the most-demanding nor the most-scenic  nor the most-lonely trail you can find in the Sandias. Most hikers aren’t going to travel very far just to explore the Pino Canyon Trail.  That admitted, this trail is a huge gift to anyone in Albuquerque feeling the midwinter blues. Is that you? If so then put together some warm winter gear, grab some friends and get yourself over to Pino Canyon trailhead.

A single liter of water was sufficient on a deep and dark December day. It was interesting to find that the hose from my water bag had frozen-up on ascent. I had to carry it inside my jacket for more than an hour before it thawed up enough for use. Come prepared. It can be cold in them thar hills.

As mentioned above, the winter tread through Pino Canyon has its icy spots. Even in the lower elevations (where the trail was rather crowded) the boot-stomped snow was slippery. Good traction devices are valuable.

Links:

The trail is briefly described in the Sandia Mountain Hiking Guide, GreatOutdoors.com and RootsRated.

The Pino Canyon page at AbundantAdventures.com has photos that capture the canyon in two very different moods.

Ondafringe has driving directions, trail description, photos, videos and gps data in this post and this post.

This is not the frozen arctic, as the Sunshine Nomads attest with some photos.

A Forest Service map (pdf) is interesting because it gives you quite a clear idea of how the trails are laid out in the Sandia Mountains. It could be handy if you are thinking about creating your own loop route.

During the warmer months this terrain can rattle, as documented here.

01 Cañon La Cueva upper wall in morning

Northern wall of Cañon La Cueva in its upper reaches. A narrow view of the limestone cliffbands just below the Sandia Crest can be seen at the extreme right.

Overview:

There are several trails that lead from the urban borders of Albuquerque all the way to the crest of the Sandia Mountains. Of these, the La Luz trail (“the light” in Spanish) appears to be the most popular. There is little wonder why. Unlike the other treads, such as the Domingo Baca trail, this trail enjoys several civilizing influences including switchbacks and an easy-to-follow trailbed. The trail can be hiked “one way” by substituting a tramway ride for either the descent or the ascent. The latter could be especially useful alternative for hikers who are not acclimatized to altitude (that route is slightly different from the route described here – see the “Links” section below). Despite its civilized nature, the hike is puts real demands on the hiker. This is not the place to introduce young hikers to the backcountry. The La Luz trail takes you into outstanding terrain and is strongly recommended.

Driving Directions:

02 La Luz Trailhead fee sign

  • Take Interstate-25 north through Albuquerque and take Exit 234 for NM 556/Tramway Road NE. The ramp is very short and merges almost immediately into the leftmost lane of the Pan American Frontage Road. Get over into the two rightmost lanes as quickly as safety permits.
  • After 0.3 miles, at the end of Pan American Frontage Road, come to an intersection with NM 556/Tramway Road NE. Turn right onto NM 556.
  • After 4.0 miles turn left onto Forest Service Road 333 (paved).
  • After 1.8 miles, turn right onto Pinon Place.
  • After 0.4 miles, at the end of Pinon Place, arrive at the trailhead

Trailhead:

03 Might Camry at La Luz trailhead

The mighty Camry at La Luz Trailhead

The trailhead is paved and has vault toilets and trash receptacles. There is no water. There is a $3.00 per day fee, but that is waived if you have one of the numerous passes available (a military pass or a national parks pass, for example). There isn’t a huge amount of parking here. I got onto the trail at 7 a.m. with only nine or ten open parking spots remaining and more cars arriving every few minutes.

Data:

  • starting elevation: 7000 feet
  • ending elevation: 10,378 feet
  • elevation gain: 3,378 feet
  • distance: 7.6 miles
  • maps: USGS Sandia Crest quadrangle (both the 1990 and the 2006 editions show La Luz trail, the 2013 edition does not show any trails).

Hike Description:

04 view into T'uf Shur Bien bowl

View north from La Luz trail into the bowl containing Juan Tabo Canyon

From the trailhead, take a short and steep set of stairs to pull you up and eastward towards the crest. This trail enjoys a relaxed attitude towards gaining elevation, so it almost immediately laterals south over a slight rib. (This rib will hide the trailhead from you on descent). Cross the unmarked border between Sandoval and Bernalillo counties and continue south on a gently rising traverse into a small basin at the foot of the Sandias. This is a classic Sonoran life zone with plenty of sage brush, cane cholla and prickly pear cacti, plus the occassional juniper.

04 lower La Luz trail with peek at The Thumb

Lower La Luz with initial view of The Thumb

You are heading towards a small stream that drains the basin. Just before your feet can get wet the trail makes a short series of switchbacks and, at 0.9 miles, hits an intersection with the Tramway Trail. (If you rode the Tramway up then you will want to take the Tramway Trail to get back to the Tramway parking lot). Continue upwards, lacing the switchbacks and marveling at the sweat and concrete that has been poured into this tread. At 2.2 miles, after making a long lunge to the south, the trail hits the markedly flat rib-top.  This feature separates the trailhead’s small basin from the deeply gouged hydraulic slash that is Cañon La Cueva.

06 Sun-touched south rim of Canon La Cueva, Mt Taylor on horizon

View west to Rio Grande valley and distant Mt Taylor

The upper reaches of this canyon are divided into a northern fork and a southern fork. The trail ascends easterly, swiftly crossing the northern fork, then switches west  and then east-again to contour around a massive knob of rock. At 2.8 miles and at about 8200 feet the trail hits a second markedly flat spot. Here, between the forks, the trail begins a series of long and lazy switchbacks almost innocent of altitude gain. Enjoy it!

07 Canyon La Cueva closeup from second flat rib

Lower Cañon La Cueva and Albuquerque

Enjoy the vistas as well. There are terrific views west over Albuquerque, the Rio Grande and the distant swell of the Mount Taylor volcanic field.  Above you, to the south, rises an enormous fin of rock called The Thumb. It looks like a climber’s dream, and the tread you are on will take you up past its base.

08 taking off into upper Canyon La Cueva

Taking off into the upper canyon

At 4.3 miles and about 9100 feet elevation come to a third flat patch, a place to study the the startling gash below you that is Cañon La Cueva and above you where the southern fork of that self-same canyon will be your route. Is there snow in those heights? (There was on this date). If so, did you bring a hiking pole and microspikes?  You might need ’em.  Those dark conifers in the canyon bottom indicates that you’ve gotten into the transition zone where the prickly pear and juniper are tapering off and the Ponderosa Pine makes an appearance.

09 Descent to Upper Canyon and Thumb

South Fork of Upper Cañon La Cueva

From the level spot the trail descends gently towards the canyon bottom, losing about 300 feet. After crossing the waterway it begins to pull above the bed. Broad canyon walls tower above you to the north, the immense Thumb screams skyward to the south, and straight ahead is bedlam of cliff bands, spires, rockfall and hoodoos. A pair of fang-like spires seems to be directly in your path. However, just before you get to these fangs the trail runs into a vertical wall. You might catch a glimpse of a cave opening about 50 to 75 feet above your head. You have arrived back at 9100 feet and the start of innumerable short switchbacks that ascend up the buttress between The Thumb and the Crest. A sign warns that winter conditions can render the trail impassable. People descending from the Tramway rapidly pack down the snow, making it slippery. Moreover, much of remaining ascent is over boulder fields, which can be tricky when covered with snow. Good to go?  One-two-three, switchback!

10 packed and sometimes icy switchbacks

Packed snow on trail heading towards fang-like spires

You will gain 1000 more feet to find the last switchback, but it goes pretty quickly. Do not wait for a sun break – on a December day it stays dark in this canyon until the sun is straight overhead. Instead, marvel again at the labor that went into building this passage to the Crest and keep ploddin’ along. Eventually the trail moves hard against the Crest side of the canyon, makes about a half-dozen small switchbacks in an aspen grove (a signature species of the Canadian life zone) and arrives at a small col at 6.3 miles and 10,150 feet. Here the trail branches. To your left is a trail that will take you to the Crest House (a restaurant/gift shop concession). On this date, however, I wanted to check out the conditions at the Sandia Ski Area, so I went straight ahead.

11 sign at fork of La Luz and Crest House

Sign at trail fork

For the remainder of the trip the trail skirts below the Sandia’s uppermost cliff bands. As soon as you leave the intersection you depart Cañon La Cueva and arrive at the headwaters of  Cañon Domingo Baca. On your left is solid rock. On your right is the promise of good hang-gliding. Be careful on any icy spots. Portions of the southern Sandias pull into view, along with views along the Manzanita Mountains and the Manzanos (home to Manzano Mountain).

12 Domingo Baca Spires and view south

Upper Domingo Baca Cañon, Manzanita and distant Manzano Mountains

The top of Cañon Domingo Baca is enormously scalloped. The trail whips back and forth along  convoluted horizontal path even as it strives mightily to minimize the vertical change. The cables of the Tramway come into sight, but you still will have a mile or more to go. Finally, having arrived at 10,378 feet and traveled 7.6 miles, top out at the Tramway station on the Crest of the Sandias. Trees block the hard-earned views to the east, so follow a path down to the Sandia Ski Area (just a hundred feet) for views north to Santa Fe Baldy and southeast to the Pecos Basin. Return the way you came.

Recommendations

13 Author on Sandia Crest

Author on Sandia Crest

Winter conditions and summer conditions are going to be very different. So when I say that three liters of water was more than plenty, make a note that it is plenty for chilly December day. In summer this trail is going to be hot and, as the sun swings westerly, possibly unbearable.  An REI rep told me that it is a good idea to climb the west-facing Sandia slopes in the winter and then swing over to the east-facing slopes in the summer. That seems sound to me.

If you are hiking here in the winter then it would be an excellent idea to bring along some sort of traction device (such as Yaktraks or Microspikes). In many places the snowmelt puddles up during the afternoon and freezes during the night. Creeping over long stretches of gray ice can get sketchy.

This trail is high and sometimes cold. I doubt that it is ever lonesome. Three trail runners blasted by me first thing in the morning and two separate pulses of tramway riders went by in the other direction. At the Crest House fork there is a sign dispensing advice to horsemen! This is an excellent place to exercise your trail courtesies. Safety is the first concern, but otherwise please give the runners some room, step off the trail on the downhill side for the horses (if you can) and offer right-of-way to hikers on ascent. For a popular trail the La Lux was blissfully trash-free, let’s keep it that way and pack out everything.

Conditions at the Sandia Ski Area (for those who are curious) were poor. The ski trails leading to the top chairlift were largely bare of snow.

My GPS unit went a little crazy in the deeper sections of canyon. Presumably the satellite signals were convoluted by reflections off of the canyon walls.  When mapped the uphill and downhill tracks crisscrossed each other so badly that in places it became hard to interpret. (For this blog I removed the up-hill track, which had the most obvious departures from the trail).  The downhill track does, at least, stay in its proper canyons. Still, this presentation does not have the expected degree of accuracy.

The La Luz Trail is shown and labeled on Google Maps. Unfortunately, the trail from the La Luz trailhead to the intersection with the Tramway Trail is labeled “Tramway Trail” rather than “La Luz”. Don’t worry, as the paths themselves are properly signed as you hike along the trails.

Links:

Unlike any other trail I’ve encountered in New Mexico, the La Luz seems to have it’s own website. It’s mostly pretty pictures, a few links and some static trail data. At the bottom is a sobering reminder that three hikers lost their lives on the mountain in 2015. (Side note, apparently the website is not completely up-to-date, as the Albuquerque Journal recounts the passing of a fourth hiker in 2015).

Additionally, there is a detailed description of La Luz in Wikipedia. If only more New Mexico trails had such acclaim!

There is an excellent description of this hike at CloudHiking. It is very detailed and offers numerous photos. There are links for GPS data and for a map. Additionally, instead of going to the tramway top (as described here), the CloudHiking guide chooses to go left at the top fork to ascend to the Crest House. That’s an attractive option as it leads to the highest point on the Sandia Crest.

Edit: as suggested in the comments section, a nicely formatted trip report (including some very motivating photography) can be found at BackpackersReview.Wordpress.com.  In addition to the photos it includes some useful data on things like logistics, requisite supplies and where to find current weather conditions.

There is an annual run up this trail, which appears to be run on the first Sunday in August (although I’m not completely certain of that). The run is organized by the Albuquerque Road Runners Club, which has a website describing the run here. Most hikers will want to choose another date for using this trail.

For a description of the Tramway-up, Boots-Down approach you can find an excellent writeup here.

Good directions for navigating the trail all the way from the Tramway parking lot can be found at SummitPost.

A post describing La Luz in considerable detail can be found at Around 505. It includes some input from a Forest Service Volunteer, David Hammack, who has been using this trail (and putting up other routes) since 1959. Good authority!