For my next tourist activity of Albuquerque, I wanted to check out Sandia Crest, the highest point of the Sandia Mountains in Bernalillo and Sandoval Counties, east of Albuquerque. Many tourism websites suggested doing so via the Sandia Peak Aerial Tramway, a 15-minute tram ride up the western side of the Sandia Mountains.
When I went to buy tickets, I saw that a round-trip tram ticket cost $29, there was an extra $3 grounds fee, and tax came out to an additional $2.06, for an overall total price of US$34.06. I thought that was fairly steep for a tram ride, so I looked into an alternative, which would be to drive up to Sandia Crest myself. From my hotel, it was 31.6 miles there and 31.1 miles back, and at the IRS average mileage rate of 56¢ per mile, that is the functional equivalent of spending $35 to drive there instead. The price difference was negligible, but I would have much more control over my sightseeing schedule and get to stop at many other locations along the way with my own truck, so I decided to drive.
I’m glad I did, because on the way out to the mountains, I took Historic Route 66 and went over the musical highway to listen to America the Beautiful. There’s a location on Google Maps for the Musical Highway, but it’s marked as permanently closed, and the reviews state that you can’t hear anything anymore. Through first-hand experience, I can guarantee that, as of today, the musical highway is still there and still singing. The notes aren’t that crisp, probably because the New Mexico Department of Transportation decided not to service the grooves in the road anymore, but as long as you align your right-side tires properly, you can definitely still hear it.
Sandia Crest’s elevation is 10,678 feet (3,254 meters) above sea level, so I knew it was going to get cold up there, but I didn’t realize just how cold. Not even halfway up the winding Sandia Crest Scenic Highway portion of New Mexico State Road 536, there was already snow piled up along the side of the road.
I eventually made it up near Sandia Crest, but quickly reached a point where I couldn’t advance further due to severely limited visibility.
I went back to the fork in the road and tried to take the other path, but I had no luck there either—it was a decently steep hill, and my truck ended up getting stuck in the snow. I did what felt like a nine-point turn to get out of the snow, and just parked in a random spot on the side of the road.
Of course, to add insult to injury, a small blue Subaru showed up from behind me and just zoomed right up the road that I failed to summit.
Luckily, my feet and legs have all-wheel-drive, so I used them to walk up the hill instead. When I got to Sandia Crest, shivering in the cold and being plummeted by powdered snow being blown airborne by the wind, I went to the railing and looked out past the trees—the precise location where you’re supposed to have sweeping views of Albuquerque. Well, that clearly didn’t work out.
Having no choice but to admit defeat, I returned to my truck and figured that today just wasn’t the day for a successful Sandia Crest visit. However, I did have other plans.
As I mentioned before, one of the benefits of me driving to Sandia Crest instead of taking the tram was that I could make more stops along the way for some more sightseeing. When I was headed for Sandia Crest, I drove straight up there without stopping, but on my way down, I stopped at literally every single possible stopping location to take in the views.
As I got further and further down the mountains, the weather got increasingly better, and I was able to walk around a bit without being turned into an ice statue.
My hope was to get a nice photo of Albuquerque, which clearly didn’t happen, but I got an alternative that was good enough—a nice, sweeping view of the opposite side of the mountains facing towards the east.
Even further down the mountains, I found a little building nestled in the trees. It looked like it was a commercial building and not a residential one, but if you were in fact allowed to have a residential property out here, this seems like an incredible place to have a second home. I’d definitely want a place where I could come out during times when I want to take a break from the city so I can breathe some fresh air and go on hikes through nature.
Seeing as I never actually took the Sandia Peak Tramway, I can’t necessarily conclude that driving is better, because I never actually experienced what the tram was like… but I think I did myself a huge favor by driving. The Sandia Mountains are much more than just the top, and if you’re into nature, I’d rate the Sandia Mountains as a must-see if you’re in the Albuquerque area.
(Though, as a side note, try to download an offline map of the area before you head over… I didn’t, and it was mildly disconcerting not having cell signal in the middle of a snowstorm on the top of a mountain.)