- The Washington Times - Friday, September 3, 2004

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Folks here complain that too many tourists use New Mexico’s largest city as a launching point, renting a car at the airport, then heading up Interstate 25 toward more popular destinations such as Santa Fe and Taos.

Albuquerque has charms of its own, and even a tourist in a hurry has a way to get a quick and literal overview of the place.

The Sandia Peak Tramway, which crawls up Sandia Mountain on the eastern edge of the city, takes passengers skyward for 2.7 miles. From 10,378 feet up, visitors take in 360-degree views, including breathtaking vistas of the sprawling city below.

“The sunsets here are the prettiest in New Mexico. You get an entirely different perspective of the sunset up here than from below,” said Liz Frances of Valparaiso, Ind., visiting recently with her sister. The pair had wanted to hike up the mountain, but they had found the trails closed because of extreme fire danger. The tram offered a nice, less tiring alternative and let them take in the late-afternoon sun from the top.

Sunsets aren’t the only reason to make the 15-minute trip up. From the summit, visitors can hike, ride mountain bikes or eat at the High Finance Restaurant. A visitors center helps tourists orient themselves and learn about the mountain’s history and wildlife. If it’s too hot in Albuquerque, where temperatures can push 100 degrees during the summer, the top of Sandia is a pleasant respite, with temperatures 15 to 20 degrees lower.

In September and October, the tram provides scenic views of the area’s fall foliage, the orange, yellow, gold and rust colors of the aspen trees.

Tram riders also get an up-close look at the mountain itself. Peering out from the tram, visitors can see 300-million-year-old lime and 1.4-billion-year-old granite in the strata of the mountain, the ingredients that make the mountain turn a pinkish watermelon color in late afternoon.

Every now and then, passengers can see mule deer, bobcats, raccoons, black bears or porcupines among the streaked white-and-pale-pink boulders.

Also visible sometimes are the remains of a TWA passenger plane that crashed into the mountain in the 1950s, before the tram was built. The wreckage is covered with vegetation during the summer but often can be seen in winter before snow falls.

Since the tram opened in 1966, more than 9 million passengers have taken the ride.

Elaine Monaghan of Albuquerque has done her part to boost that number: The tramway is on the to-do list for all of her houseguests. She recently took her grandchildren, 9-year-old Kier and 2-year-old Liam Strader-Monaghan, for Liam’s first ride to the top.

Doris and H.G. Blackwelder of Amarillo, Texas, brought their daughter, Robyn Hjerpe, to ride the tram when she was 8 years old and returned recently with their daughter, now 34, and granddaughter Megan Hjerpe, 12. “We just love it,” Mrs. Blackwelder said.

• • •

The Sandia Peak Tramway operates from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., and down runs continue until all visitors are returned to the base.

Adult fees are $15; seniors 62 years or older, $12; children 5 to 12, $10; adults with dinner reservations at the High Finance Restaurant, $10; children under 5, free; grounds admission $1 daily or $5 annually. Season family tickets also are sold.

For more information, visit www.sandiapeak.com or call 505/856-7325.

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