Where Mountains and Desert Converge

Yesterday I wrote about the city of Albuquerque in all its idiosyncratic glory. Today, I want to share my favorite part of the city: it’s outdoor landscape and activities.

On an early Saturday morning, the drive across Tramway Boulevard is still in the shade as the sun rises behind the Sandia mountains. Sandia, the Spanish word for watermelon, seemed an appropriate name to the early settlers of New Mexico who saw the radiant pink hues on the mountain face at sunset, resembling the refreshing summer fruit.
Up close the pink hues of granite rock in the Sandias is subtle, but when the setting sun hits the mountain altogether and from a distance it becomes a mass of watermelon red

Up close the pink hues of granite rock in the Sandias is subtle, but when the setting sun hits the mountain altogether and from a distance it becomes a mass of watermelon red

Refreshing is also fitting for the Sandias, since it is often twenty to thirty degrees cooler on top of the mountain than at the bottom. On hot summer days, the trails across the Sandias are filled with colorful wildflowers, serene vistas, and the soft murmur of the wind rolling through the cliffs. It is an entirely different world from the desert below.

In fact, if you hike the 8 mile La Luz trail from the foothills to the top, they say you pass through three separate types of ecosystems. The harsh desert landscape at the bottom eventually traverses through pines trees, still mingled with cacti and sagebrush, until the landscape transforms into a dense canopy of mountain pine and grass. Even black bears are present on the mountain, hidden across the undisturbed ranges of forest.

Thus Albuquerque has unique access to both the mountains and the desert. In theory, you could see a black bear in the morning and a rattlesnake in the afternoon. Back down on the city floor a number of trails are available for a variety of outdoor activities. Biking is especially common in the city, despite the number of sharp, thorny goats heads plaguing any outdoor space. Both the Diversion Channel and the Rio Grande Bosque trail provide long, scenic bike routes free from the crazy drivers on Albuquerque’s streets.

Most Albuquerque natives I’ve meet like to claim that you can’t beat the weather here. Although I will admit it remains relatively temperate for being in a desert environment, I am originally from San Diego and that is a place where you truly can’t beat the weather. Albuquerque, on the other hand, suffers from summer “monsoons” coming up from the Gulf of Mexico which led to multiple summer thunderstorms during my stay here. The rain was a welcome gift to the parched landscape, but I wouldn’t call it ideal summer weather.
My brother's dog Luna loved hiking with me. Here we did a trail at the base of the Sandias, still amongst the desert environment

My brother’s dog Luna loved hiking with me. Here we did a trail at the base of the Sandias, still in the desert environment

I do appreciate the variety of plants and flowers that thrive in such sparse conditions. Wildflowers on the desert floor are entirely their own, born between the cacti’s spears and extending high above the bristled grasses they are not delicate nor hefty. We often stereotype the desert as an empty expanse, but its riches are more like ripples than waves. There is no need to compete for height or breadth of branches and leaves, roots do undercover work and the surface remains inconspicuous in its survival. Grass is not the deep green of rolling plains, but tufts of grayed mint, off-white, and mustard yellow. Life is harsher no doubt, but a rough exterior doesn’t disqualify the land from its own unique heart and soul. 

Do you have a preference for desert or mountains?

How does the landscape of your city inspire you?
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