Monthly Archives: April 2012

The Eye of the Sandias

The Eye (Detail) #1The Eye from the Trail

Easter weekend, we decided to hike to the Eye of the Sandias. After living here for 26 years, it was about time to see a local legend. We had rough directions and a GPS waypoint for our destination. A couple of miles each way, it would be a piece of cake.

The Eye of the Sandias is located at the southwest end of the Sandia Mountains approximately two miles east of and 1500 feet above Albuquerque, New Mexico.  It is a local mystery. Originally painted in the 1960s, it was defaced in 2008, and repainted some time later; in all three cases by unknown persons. Local legend has it that the “crying eye,” as it is sometimes called, is weeping over the encroachment of the city on this beautiful open space.

We arrived at the trail head early, so we could hike in the cool morning air. The temperature was in the low 50s and the winds were generally light. The skies were hazy and, as the day progressed, would become a featureless, grey blanket. We headed out at quick pace on a well-worn trail. Before long, the trail began to branch and each branch became fainter than the one before. After an hour of hiking, we ran out of trail.

Now, we weren’t lost; we knew where we were. We were west of the city and north of I-40. In fact, we had a GPS, so we knew exactly where we were and where we wanted to go. We were still a mile (as the crow flies) away from and 800 feet below our destination. Unfortunately, we hadn’t packed our wings; it was going to be a piece of cake, remember? There were a few game trails, but nothing meant for people.

So, we bushwhacked through cactus, over boulders, up and up some more. We were huffing and puffing and dripping with sweat, but we were determined to reach the Eye. Finally, we topped a ridge and what should appear to our aching eyes? A trail! And it was going in the right direction, too. Re-energized we set off and made quick progress to our destination. As we crested the final hill, the Eye appeared before us. It had only taken us two-and-a-half hours!

We took a break and admired the views to the west and south. It was hard to believe we were so close to the city and yet, looking to the north or east, we might as well have been in the wilderness.

A short time later, it was time to return to the city below. Thankfully, our descent was much faster than our ascent. An hour later, we were back in the car and headed to a well-earned lunch. The Eye was much harder to reach than we expected, but the views of the city were spectacular. All in all, it was a very satisfying outing and one we plan to repeat when the skies are more photogenic.

We have posted a gallery of photos from the hike: The Eye of the Sandias. Enjoy!

Posted in New Mexico

The Story of New Mexico: The San Jose Badlands

The MadonnaThe MadonnaSan Jose Vista #15

A couple of weekends ago, we hiked the San Jose Badlands. The occasion was our seventh tour with the Story of New Mexico, a program offered by the Department of Continuing Education at the University of New Mexico (UNM).

The San Jose Badlands are located approximately two hours from Albuquerque in northwestern New Mexico (in Rio Arriba County) north of Cuba. One of the nine San Juan Basin Badlands, they lie in the youngest of the San Juan Basin’s 18 sedimentary layers. Approximately 54 million years old, the area is composed of softer siltstone and shale. Hoodoos are less numerous than in other San Juan Basin Badlands, however, the erosion patterns and color palette of the layered sedimentary rock provides plenty of visual interest.

We left Albuquerque on a cool, sunny, winter morning and drove for almost an hour-and-a-half, until we reached Cuba and turned north. After another 20 minutes of driving, we turned onto a rutted dirt road and drove another 15 minutes to a parking area near a natural gas well. Although we had beautiful skies and moderate temperatures, the forecast was for increasing clouds and high winds. We could see high cirrus clouds streaming into the area and the breeze was already noticeable.

From the parking area, we could see beautifully colored ridges and formations north and west of us. We scrambled over a steep, high ridge and the true scope of the San Jose Badlands was revealed to us. We hiked for hours along the base of the towering mountains and ridges, weaving in and out of the eroded face. Each turn revealed new vistas. Although our path was over relatively level ground, it was strewn with jagged fist-sized chunks of lava, which made it necessary to constantly watch our footing. After a couple of hours we broke for lunch in a small sheltered canyon.

We continued our hike until we reached a vantage point where we could look out over the valley to the Continental Divide in the distance. After a few more hours, the weather had changed for the worse. The winds had increased and the skies were almost totally socked in by featureless gray clouds. It was time to return to our vehicle.

Rather than reverse the winding path that had brought us to our current position, we decided to take a more-or-less straight line path back to the parking area. We hiked up and down through rough terrain covered in sage, chamisa, and pinon trees. Viewed from above our path would look like a drunkard’s walk: ahead a few steps and turn to right or left; ahead a few more steps and make another turn; repeat. Our route crossed innumerable streams and many low (i.e., wet) spots. Some could be jumped; some we could go around; others had to be forded. Our boots got heavier and heavier as they became caked with mud. Finally, we reached the parking area. We had learned a very important lesson: Due to bushwhacking, our straight-line path was anything but and undoubtedly saved very little distance or time compared to our original route. Nevertheless, it was a great hike!

We have now visited five of the nine San Juan Badlands. The San Jose Badlands were probably the most colorful one to date. We hope to visit the remaining four badlands later this year.

We have posted a gallery of photos from the tour: The San Jose Badlands. Enjoy!

Posted in The Story of New Mexico