The Sandia Mountains
One of the most dramatic and eye-catching features of Albuquerque is the Sandia Mountains which dominate the view to the east of town. The range is approximately 17 miles long, running from north to south, and has a maximum elevation of 10,678 feet at Sandia Crest.
What Does Sandia Mean?
The name “Sandia” comes from the Spanish word for “watermelon.” The name was given to the mountains by early Spanish explorers who thought the pink and yellow granite cliffs on the eastern side of the mountains resembled the colors of a watermelon. The rosy hue can best be seen at sunset when the last light of the day reflects off the mountains. Encyclopedia Britannica offers an alternate explanation for the name. Perhaps settlers named the mountains for the squash crops grown by the native people of the region.
Over time, the name Sandia came to be used to refer to the entire mountain range. Today, the Sandia Mountains are an iconic landmark in the Albuquerque area and a popular destination for outdoor enthusiasts.
Geologically, the Sandia Mountains are part of the larger Sandia-Manzano Mountains uplift, which was formed during the Laramide orogeny during the Late Cretaceous period, up to about 70 – 80 million years ago. The uplift created a series of fault blocks, resulting in the formation of the Sandia Mountains and much of the Rocky Mountains in North America. The range is composed mainly of sedimentary rocks, including sandstone, shale, and limestone, with some volcanic and intrusive rocks also present.
Recreation in the Sandia Mountains
The Sandia Mountains offer a wide range of recreational opportunities for visitors. The Sandia Mountains range is home to the Sandia Peak Tramway, which offers a scenic ride to the top of Sandia Crest, where visitors can enjoy panoramic views of the surrounding area.
Hiking is also a popular activity, with numerous trails ranging from easy to strenuous. The La Luz Trail is a challenging hike that starts in Albuquerque and leads to the top of Sandia Crest. The trail is more than 8 miles long and gains more than 3,000 feet in elevation.
Mountain bike enthusiasts will find much to love about the Sandia Mountains. There are about 72 miles of trails available to explore, with most rides ranked as intermediate or difficult.
Other recreational activities in the Sandia Mountains include rock climbing, horseback riding, birding, and skiing/snowboarding in the winter months. The Sandia Peak Ski Area is a popular destination for winter sports enthusiasts, offering a range of slopes for all skill levels.
In addition to outdoor activities, the Sandia Mountains are home to several historic sites, including the Sandia Peak Tramway and the Sandia Ranger Station, which dates back to the early 1900s.
The range contains the Sandia Man Cave, which is a prehistoric rock shelter that was occupied by Native Americans more than 10,000 years ago. It is located on the north end of the Sandia Mountains high up on the steep cliff walls of Las Huertas Canyon. The cave contains a wealth of archaeological artifacts, including stone tools and pottery fragments.
The Sandia Mountains are home to a diverse range of wildlife, including black bears, mountain lions, coyotes, and mule deer. The range is also home to a variety of bird species, including golden eagles, hawks, and falcons.
The Sandia Mountains are also culturally significant to the Pueblo people, who have lived in the area for centuries and consider the mountains sacred. Sandia Pueblo is a sovereign Native American nation located in the northeastern part of the Albuquerque area.