When we at last reached Sandia's summit in the late afternoon, my tired body relished the crisp mountain air. I handed over my credit card in exchange for a pair of cheap one-way tickets. Outside on the wooden deck, we breathed in the enormous view and marveled at the Albuquerque grid stretching west before us. From way up here, we could almost pick out our tiny house (okay, my mom's house) far down below.
After having spent way too much of the hot summer indoors, Kristen and I decided that it was time to retackle the La Luz Trail, a not-too-strenuous trek to the top of the mountain we see everyday from our backyard. The eight-mile path winds its way up through four different climatic zones, ending at a panoramic intersection of east-facing ski lifts and a west-facing tram.
The first couple of sweaty miles offered us a fair share of prickly pear cacti, piñon trees, skittish lizards and chattering birds. My sandaled toes grew dusty as I squinted at the monument-like peaks surrounding us, searching for familiar vistas to orient myself. But the mountain, which changes colors throughout the day from city level, had taken on an unrecognizable form. It was even more spectacular up close.
The upper half of the hike is drastically different. You can expect to find colorful wildflowers, fragrant pines, and unusually large squirrels with tufted ears. And be prepared to flex those leg muscles. There are tons of switchbacks, cutting back and forth through dark forest and across a sunlit slope piled with jagged pink granite rocks.
The sense of accomplishment I felt at the top, knowing that my legs alone carried me here, was immediately followed by a feeling of relief that all we had to do was hop on an electric-powered tram back down. Once the forty or so people boarded into the dangling box, it hung heavy for a moment before swooping into motion. It was surprisingly smooth. We floated down towards civilization, as if in a giant elevator, and savored our knee-saving descent. My only wish: to feel the breeze just outside the window.