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The Sandia Peak and on to Amarillo 9/17/2022

by Chris Guenzler

We awoke at the Sure Stay by Best Western and after some Internet duties, we left the hotel and Elizabeth drove us over to Cracker Barrel where we had an excellent breakfast. After that she drove us to the Sandia Tram parking lot.

Go for the ride, stay for the view

The Sandia Mountains sit directly east of Albuquerque, in the Cibola National Forest. The highest point is Sandia Crest, 10,378 feet, exactly where the tram cars deliver passengers. From the ground, the cables are barely visible-and certainly do not seem sturdy enough to support two glass boxes that each hold 50 people. The Sandia Peak Tram has two cars that pass each other. Get ready to wave! The Sandia Peak Tram has two cars that pass each other. Get ready to wave! The trams make 10,500 trips a year. Except for two scheduled maintenance periods (April and November) and unfavorable weather, it is open all year.

Board the Sandia Peak Tram in a high desert climate for the "flight" as the trip is called. During the 3,819 foot ascent; the tram starts at 6,559 feet; you pass from rocky canyons to lush forests. At times, the canyon walls seem close enough to touch. Only two towers hold the cables; after passing the first tower at 7,010 feet, there's a small "dip," and everyone gasps. The tram car attendant reassures us that this is normal, and we return our attention to the dramatic scenery. The attendant also gives a short talk and answers questions.

Fifteen minutes later, we step onto a platform that seems too small to hold us, so we all scurry off to solid ground. Then we begin to take in the view.

Stay on the peak as long as you like. The Visitors Center has information on the area, as well as restrooms and snack machines. Sandia Peak Tram runs from 9am to 9pm, during the summer. Until 8pm in fall and winter. But dress warmly-temperatures are about 30 degrees cooler at the top. Sturdy shoes are important, too, for walking the uneven ground.

How did they build that tram system, anyway?

The tram opened in 1966, to serve the Sandia Peak Ski Company. One of the ski company's co-founders, Robert Norhaus, had seen tramways in European mountains. Bell Engineering Company of Lucerne, Switzerland, built Sandia Peak Tram as a "double reversible jigback aerial tramway". "Jigback" means that when one tram car is ascending, the other is descending. The cars pass each other at 1,000 feet above ground level.

Bell Engineering started building tramways in 1888. By the time they started the Sandia project, the company had built 50-but because of the rocky terrain and steep cliffs, the engineers declared it one of the most challenging.

While the first tower is 232 feet tall, the second tower is only 80 feet tall. It was built on an outcrop, using helicopters, because a construction road was impossible. The longest span is between the second tower, at 8,750 feet, and the top terminal. This span is the third longest clear tramway span in the world, at a length of 7,720 feet.

Our trip

After checking in, we joined the queue and just before 9:00 AM, we went upstairs to the waiting room where our tickets were scanned. A few minutes later the doors were opened to the first car going up the mountain and we took a place at the rear of the car.

The giant wheels to control the cars on the way up and down the mountains.

We started the trip at 6,558 feet and would take a 2.7 mile and gain of 3,819 feet to the 10,978 top terminal. Now sit back and enjoy a trip to the top of Sandia Peak.

Tower One at 7,010 feet.

Tower Two at 8,750 feet. It took 5,000 helicopter trips to build this tower.

It is a long way dowm.

We passed the empty downhill car.

You have now completed you trip to Sandia Peak. The length of cable between Tower Two and the summit is the second-longest strech of cable in the world. Now we will look around.

The view looking east.

The views looking southwest to northwest.

One last view east.

Our car being prepared for the trip down. Restrooms are both at the top and bottom of the peak. Elizabeth and I enjoyed the displays in the waiting room and found a very informative foldout fact sheet which she took several of. Our tickets were scanned and the return trip would be with two other passengers.

The trip back to the base station. In the gift shop, we bought T-shirts, pins, a magnet and a Christmas ornament.

On to Amarillo

Elizabeth drove us to Estancio where we tried to find the station but had no luck. She drove us down to US 60 where we switched drivers and a little later, could not photograph two BNSF trains on the way to Vaughn. We drove US 64 but were not able to photograph the Union Pacific trains. But I pulled off the road when I spotted a passenger car in Pastura.

Pullman 12 section 1 double section "Peshtigo" built by Pullman in 1920. It was converted to a Tourist Class Sleeper 4148 in 1935 then sold to Southern Pacific in 1953 and assigned to the Challenger. Later it became Southern Pacific maintenance-of-way 4148. I drove to Santa Rosa and took Interstate 40 to Texas where we stoppped in Adrian and had no luck finding the station there. Next I drove to Wildorado and struck out again, which rather frustrated both of us. Elizabeth drove us to Amarillo where we had dinner at Arby's then we checked into the Best Western Santa Fe for the night.