Bundled up on the Crest Trail
Again taking the longer/scenic route, we drove through Madrid - a crazy, funky, tiny, arty little town, blink and you'll miss it, except for how brightly it was painted - and Golden en route to Sandia Peak. Sandia is the mountain that looms over ABQ and there are two ways to get up it: from the tram on the city side or driving up the Sandia Peak National Scenic Byway, past the Sandia Ski Area base.
View of ABQ from Sandia Peak
We drove up and parked in the national forest lot, utilizing our annual parks pass yet again. There is a cafe and gift shop at the top there, along with a view area that lays ABQ out before you. It was very windy and pretty chilly so we put some long sleeves on before venturing out on the Crest Trail that would take us to the top of the tram. There are actually quite a few different trails up there, some hiking only, some mixed use, and all well-signed. It was 1.5 miles to the tram on a very nice, mostly dirt trail and the closer we got to the tram-end, the more people we met - folks who had ridden up.
Riding these chairs would be like riding back in time
The tram is in use year-round and is a way for ABQ-based skiers to get to Sandia Ski Area without having to drive all the way around the mountains. Three 1960s-vintage chairlifts - all doubles - bring skiers to the top from the base area. There is a peak lodge and restaurant in addition to the tram building, all perched on the ridgeline with 360-degree views. It had a very retro feel to it and looked like it would be a hoot to ski. That tram, though, was smaller than Snowbird's and frankly looked terrifying; it was opened in 1966 and when the cars pass each other at the midpoint, they are 1,000 feet above the ground because of the way the terrain falls away.
Way scarier than the Snowbird tram
We made our way back along the Crest Trail, had a quick beer (I was so chilled in the wind that my goosebumps had goosebumps) and then continued on our way. At first we had thought to do an elongated loop, heading a little east and way south before coming back up to ABQ. But then we noticed Petroglyph National Monument right there inside city limits and aimed for that instead.
Love all the retro signs
The best thing to do is stop in at the Petroglyph National Monument visitors' center and talk to a ranger who will ask how much walking you want to do and explain how to drive to the various sites along the 17-mile long escarpment. We went to two: Boca Negra and Piedras Marcadas. Unlike most of the petroglyphs we've seen in Utah, these are not etched into cliff walls but instead are found decorating tumbled boulders along the walls of shallow desert canyons.
And the weather begins to change...
Boca Negra had three short paved walking paths from which to view the petroglyphs, including one that climbed steeply up the canyon side. Unfortunately, vandals have added their own graffiti to some of the rocks, which is impossible to remove without damaging the petroglyphs; I suppose that given how close to the city and how unprotected the sites are, it's a wonder the damage isn't worse.
The "macaw" of Boca Negra
Piedras Marcadas was a longer walk on sand. The wind was really whipping at that point and we could feel it getting in our ears and teeth. But with the high volume of petroglyphs in this area, it was well worth the weather. Most of the images were created 400 to 700 years ago and no one really knows what they mean or what the people who created them were trying to express. Anyone's guess is really as good as anyone else's.
Literally parked behind a gas station
The trails here were not well-marked at all and so we don't think we ended up walking the whole thing. But when it began to rain in addition to the wind, we figured we'd seen a good representation of the canyon's images. On the walk back to the car, there was some discussion on whether to go to the hotel and clean up before going out for a beer or whether to stop on the way. When in doubt, stop along the way.
This one was unique in that it wrapped around
instead of being on a flat face
Windblown and sandy, we found the ABQ location of Kaktus Brewing and had ourselves a couple of their wonderful IPAs. There were a few other patrons in the joint, some of whom seemed to be on some sort of dine-around program as the cute hipster bartender was explaining all the samples she was bringing out to them. H and I didn't need to taste other beers: that Kaktus IPA was the best New Mexico micro we'd found all week and we toasted to being able to start and end our week with such a tasty brew.
This one seemed cheerful to me
The rest of the trip - checking in, getting dinner at a neighboring hotel bar, driving through just a portion of ABQ in order to gas the car before returning it - was sort of a slow weaning from vacation. If we felt like we didn't get much of a feel for Santa Fe, we really didn't get a feel for Albuquerque - except that it is pretty big. (Next time: we should do a Breaking Bad tour!).
Kaktus Brewing, Nob Hill
It was a fantastic road-trip vacation, an overview of northern New Mexico with a little bit of everything: native ancestral ruins, national parks and monuments, mountain and desert hikes, old towns, ski areas, beers and green chile. We didn't have enough time in any one place to really immerse ourselves but instead got just a taste, and enough of that to know what we'd like to return to and explore further. Until we do, however, I have GOT to figure out how to get more green chile into our regular meal rotation.