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The Sandia Mountains (Tiwa (Pueblo) name posu gai hoo-oo, "where water slides down arroyo") are a mountain range located in Bernalillomarker and Sandovalmarker counties, immediately to the east of the city of Albuquerquemarker in New Mexicomarker in the southwestern United Statesmarker. The range is largely within the Cibola National Forest, and part of the range is protected as the Sandia Mountain Wildernessmarker. It is home to the Sandia Peak Ski Area. Its highest point is Sandia Crest, .

Sandía means watermelon in Spanish, and is popularly believed to be a reference to the reddish color of the mountains at sunset. Also, when viewed from the west, the profile of the mountains is a long ridge, with a thin zone of green conifers near the top, suggesting the "rind" of the watermelon. However, as Robert Julyan notes, "the most likely explanation is the one believed by the Sandia Indians: the Spaniards, when they encountered the Pueblo in 1540, called it Sandia, because they thought the squash growing there were watermelons, and the name Sandia soon was transferred to the mountains east of the pueblo." He also notes that the Sandia Pueblo Indians call the mountain Bien Mur, "big mountain."

Layout and neighboring ranges

The Sandias are a small range, consisting of a single north-south ridge, which rises to twomajor summits: Sandia Crest and South Sandia Peak, . The range measures approximately 17 miles (26 km) north-south, and the width in the east-west direction varies from 4 to 8 miles (6 to 12 km). The west side of the range is steep and rugged, with a number of sheer rock walls and towers near Sandia Crest. The east side has a gentler slope.

The Sandias are part of a single larger geologic unit, the Sandia-Manzano Mountains. The other part consists of the Manzano Mountains which lie to the south of the Sandias. The two ranges are separated by Tijeras Canyonmarker, which leads to a historically important pass; the canyon is traversed by Interstate 40, following the route of historic U.S. Route 66. The mountain range is considered a bioherm, an ancient barrier reef.

Sandia Crest from the west, with adjacent radio and TV towers
The Sandias are the highest range in the immediate vicinity, and are well-separated from the higher Sangre de Cristo Mountains. This gives Sandia Crest a relatively high topographic prominence of . Lying to the east and northeast of the Sandias are two smaller ranges, the Ortiz Mountains and the San Pedro Mountains.

The Sandia Mountains are home to the world's longest tramway, which is long. Over this distance the tram cars ascend over feet. The average speed of the tram car is , and the length of the ride is approximately 15 minutes.


The Sandia Mountains are a fault block range, on the eastern edge of the Rio Grande Rift Valley. The Sandias were uplifted in the last 10 million years as part of the formation of the Rio Grande Rift. The core of the range consists of Sandia Granite, approximately 1.5 billion years old (there is also some metamorphic rock of age 1.7 billion years). This is topped by a relatively thin layer (approximately 300 feet/100 meters) of sedimentary rock (mostly limestone, and some sandstone) of Pennsylvanian age (circa 300 million years ago). Potassium-feldspar (K-spar) crystals embedded within the Sandia granite give the mountains their distinct pink color.

A panoramic view of the Sandia Mountains after a snow storm.


View from Sandia Peak, facing west.
The Sandias encompass four different named life zones due to the large elevation change, and the resulting changes in temperature and amount of precipitation, from base to top. The grassland at the western base of the mountain (the edge of the city of Albuquerque) is part of the Upper Sonoran Zone. From elevation to , the Upper Sonoran Zone continues, but notable differences occur: one first finds a zone of primarily juniper, then a mixed Piñon-Juniper zone. From 7,200 to , in the Transition Zone, Ponderosa Pine dominates. From 7,800 to , a mixture of conifers occurs in the Canadian Zone. Finally, from to Sandia Crest at , spruce and fir dominate the Hudsonian Zone. (All zone boundary elevations are approximate.)

Access and recreation

There are two easy ways to reach the top of the Sandias. The Sandia Peak Tramwaymarker ascends from the west side to a point on the crestline about south of Sandia Crest, at the top of the Sandia Peak Ski Area, which is located on the east side of the mountains. A road (NM 536) from the east provides access to the bottom of the ski area and also to the Sandia Crest itself, where there is a gift shop, restaurant, scenic overlook, and a large electronic communication site with numerous towers and antennas.

Sandia Peak Ski Area
The Sandia Crest Scenic Byway is also a popular path for motorcycle riders with its miles of winding road to the summit.

The Sandia Mountains are the most visited range in New Mexico.Numerous hiking trails exist on both sides of the range, such as the popular La Luz Trail and Crest Trail. Much of the west side of the range is included in the Sandia Mountain Wildernessmarker; the trails on that side are steeper, and water is very scarce. Numerous picnic and recreation sites can be found on NM 536. These sites, along with some sites on the west face of the Sandias, require a $3 daily use/parking permit as part of the National Fee Program. There are no developed campgrounds in the Sandias.

The rock walls and pinnacles on the west side of the range provide abundant rock climbing opportunities, from bouldering and top-roping to multiday big wall climbs on the Shield, the largest rock feature on the mountain. However the long hikes (often off-trail) required to reach many of the climbs, and the variable quality of rock (often poor), prevent the Sandias from being a major climbing destination.


Early snow on the Sandias, October 28, 2009
The Sandias contain a location notable for prehistoric archaeology: the Sandia Cave is believed to have been inhabited 10000 to 12000 years ago by the Sandia Man. The cave can be accessed via a 1/2 mile trail in Las Huertas Canyon, on the northeast side of the range, near Placitas, New Mexicomarker.

Ancestral and early Pueblo peoples have lived in the Sandia Mountains area for thousands of years. Examples of previous Pueblo settlements, now unoccupied, include Tijeras Pueblo and Pa'ako Pueblo, both founded around 700 years ago. Sandia Pueblo is a modern pueblo, abutting the Sandia Mountains on the northwest side of the range. Some of the foothills of the range are on Sandia Pueblo land; there have been disputes in the past between the Pueblo, the Forest Service, and private landowners over rights to various parts of the range. The people of Sandia Pueblo consider the mountains a sacred place.

See also




  • Chronic, Halka, Roadside Geology of New Mexico, Mountain Press Publishing, 1987.
  • Julyan, Robert and Mary Stuever, eds., Field Guide to the Sandia Mountains, Albuquerque, NM: UNM Press, 2005.
  • Schein, Mick, Sandia Rock, Boulder, Colorado: Sharp End Press, 2003.

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