The Sandia Mountain Foothills: Nature’s Best

By Dr. Denise R. Ames

November has just dawned. Although October is my favorite month, November in Albuquerque comes in second. It is usually sunny, cool, with light winds at the most. Perfect weather for hiking in the foothills of the Sandia Mountains.

The Sandia’s are a mountain range stretching 17 miles north to south in central New Mexico and immediately to the east of the city of Albuquerque. The mountains are just due south of the southern end of the Rocky Mountains, and are part of the Sandia–Manzano Mountains. It is a protected area known as the Sandia Mountain Wilderness and largely within the Cibola National Forest. The highest point is Sandia Crest, 10,678 feet, which can be accessed via foot trails or automobile.  

Sandia means watermelon in Spanish. The popular reason for the name is that during Albuquerque’s spectacular sunsets, the sun casts a reddish glow—the color of a watermelon—over the mountains, giving it a supernatural luminosity that makes one stop-in-your-tracks to take in the beauty.

Along the base of the Sandia Mountains is a network of trails following the contours of the mountain. They are for the public and heavily used for recreational hiking, running, and mountain biking. Although there are 53 trails crisscrossing the mountain range, I usually stick to the fairly level easy trails along the Sandia base.

My choice of hiking what I and others call the foothill trails is a good one for many reasons. Not only is it just a short drive from anywhere in Albuquerque, but the views are stunning. Turn towards the east and the jugged mountains rise up from the semi-arid desert to expansive heights. Carpeted by ponderosa pine trees in the upper altitudes, the base is populated by cholla cacti and creosote bushes.

Views to the west are equally dramatic, the city of Albuquerque splays outward from its Old Town core as the Rio Grande River meanders its way through the heart of the city. Three extinct volcanoes demarcate the westward limits of Albuquerque, while Mount Taylor, about 50 miles due west as the crow flies, rises 11,035 feet in the far distant horizon.

The trails vary according to the terrain, but my favorite trails are when they narrow and wind through scrub pine and huge boulders the size of a car. Elevation does not vary a lot so it is easy to take your eyes off the trail and gaze about at nature’s semi-arid desert splendor without fear of cascading down a steep mountain cliff.

Fuzzy picture of deer, Sandia foothills trail.

Wildlife along the trail is usually timid, not venturing out too much for fear of being flattened by a mountain bike or chased by an unleashed dog. But I have been shocked by a few rattlesnakes along the trail that I have given wide berth to. I have spotted many different birds, rabbits, deer, and even a bobcat, although luckily, I have never encountered a bear. If I do run into a bear, I hope that I will remember to pull my backpack (if I have one) above my head to make myself look bigger and more of a threat than I actually am.

Albuquerqueans are blessed with a plethora of Open Space parks, trails, and wetlands. It is relatively easy to step outside the bustle of a semi-large city, and immerse myself “in” the beauty and awe that nature so graciously offers us. If we are inclined to rank nature’s bounty in Albuquerque, the foothill trails, I would say, is one of nature’s best.

About the Author: Dr. Denise R. Ames

Dr. Denise R. Ames’ varied life experiences—teaching, scholarly research, personal experiences, extensive travels, and thoughtful reflections—have contributed to her balanced views and global perspectives. Earning a doctorate in world history education, she has taught secondary schools, universities, a community college, professional development, and lifelong learners. In 2003, Dr. Ames founded Center for Global Awareness, an educational non-profit that develops globally-focused books and educational resources for educators and students grade 9-university. She has written eight books, plus numerous blogs, lesson plans, articles, newsletters, teaching units.

Along with CGA’s Gather program, Global Awareness Through Engaged Reflection, a study and conversation program for self-organizing groups of lifelong learners and, Global Awareness for Educators, Dr. Ames is developing a new program: Turn, Transformation, Understanding, & Reflection Network. Turn encourages life-long learners to see with new eyes, learn from the past, understand others, and recognize the relationship of all things. She teaches workshops/classes and writes about Turn’s five topics: learning from the past, cross-cultural awareness, five worldviews, elder wisdom, and transformative travel.

Divided: Five Colliding Worldviews and How to Navigate Them has just been released!  $14.95

Divided, Dr. Ames’ latest book,addresses the question on the lips of every American: why can’t we get along? The cultural divide is threatening our democracy and destabilizing our country. Divided looks at the deep cultural divide through the lens of five colliding worldviews—indigenous, traditional, progressive, globalized, and transformative. This approach helps us make sense of our deep divisions and suggests ways of bridging them.

It is urgent that we understand and bridge the cultural divide. Bridging the divide is dependent upon first understanding it. Gaining an understanding of the five worldviews enhances our success of arriving at sensible solutions and increasing civil conversations. If not, rancor and intractability ensue.

Divided is one of nine books written by Dr. Ames and the Center for Global Awareness, check out their offerings! Global Awareness Books 

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