I don’t tend to write about major tourist attractions. You will never see Disneyworld or The Eiffel Tower featured here. Today, however, I’m making an exception. The biggest tourist magnet in Albuquerque is the Sandia Peak Tramway. It thrills about 250,000 passengers each year. Ruth and I had never been on it until the summer of 2016 when we were traveling with friends who used to live in Albuquerque. They wanted to ride to the top so we went along. As an attraction, it exceeded expectations; and I learned something about a friend that I didn’t know. There was a special reason why she wanted to soar 3,819 feet in the time it takes to have a quick shower.
We stayed at a Holiday Inn Express together and met Harris, the hotel’s Director of Sales. He graciously took the 4 of us aside and told us about several things to experience in his city. Thanks to Harris, we drove The Singing Road, ate at Pueblo Harvest, and learned about the University of New Mexico’s adobe style buildings. He didn’t mention Sandia Peak Tramway. Our friend didn’t mention her trepidation about it.
This is no simple tram. It’s a double reversible jigback aerial tramway installed by a company from Lucerne, Switzerland, for $2 million in 1966. The span between the 2nd tower and the top is 1 ½ miles, one of the longest in the world. The terrain at its base is desert-like Sonoran. At the top are fir, pine, and aspen trees. There are restaurants on both ends. This 3rd longest tramway in the world is such a complex system that it’s closed for maintenance for 10 days in November and April. Remarkably, there has never been an accident resulting from its operation. However, a plane crashed into this peak in 1955 and it has not been removed. Those who know where to look can still spot some of the wreckage.
Sandia is the Spanish word for watermelon. This impressive peak unusually close to a major city is called Sandia because it takes on a pink glow at sunset. This mountain is considered one of the most significant upthrusts caused by magma in the Unites States. It’s the quartz, mica, and other minerals in it that causes it to glow like a ripe watermelon as the sun sets.
The Sandia Peak Tramway celebrated its 50th birthday in 2016. In the summer of each year this 2.7 mile ride provides access to a 10,378-foot peak and a 30-mile mountain bike trail system. In the winter it gives access to the 1st ski area in New Mexico with 1,700 vertical feet of skiing, 4 chairlifts, etc.
This tram takes 14 minutes to reach the summit, but if you fear heights that can seem like an eternity. And that’s exactly the way it was for our brave friend. This was her 3rd time aboard. On the first she was petrified. On the third she was mostly calm. That’s admirable.