Cycling the Sandia Crest

It’s just October, but snow is already falling in Colorado. As I prepare to move my cycling indoors for the winter, it’s time to look back over a great summer of cycling and share some ride reports. I’ve got several to share (mostly some bucket list climbs) and I’ll be dropping them over the next few weeks. First up, Sandia Crest.

If you’ve been to Albuquerque, you’ve seen the Sandia Mountains. They lay directly east of the city and create a wall of protection against it. Not far from Albuquerque, along the Turquoise Trail National Scenic Byway to Santa Fe, there’s a prominent turnoff to the Sandia Crest, the long, high ridge in the Sandia Mountains. This beautifully paved road winds up through spectacular scenery for thirteen and a half miles, gaining 3,900 ft. to the crest at 10,648 ft.

Cycling the Sandia Crest 4

On May 4th, I started the climb in hot (93 degree) dry weather but the ambient temperate quickly dropped as I climbed. There was an amazing lack of traffic (weekday) along the route which made the climb very enjoyable. I’d much rather listen to my bike, my breathing, and the wind in the trees than cars trying to squeeze past me. I even heard a red-tail hawk before I saw it.

Cycling the Sandia Crest 5

There’s a flat stretch after mile six where you finally get some relief (I like to ride big climbs straight through, no stops) as you ride past the Sandia Ski Area. That’s at 8,600′, even for a Denverite, the altitude was apparent.  The landmark helped to mentally break the slog into a two-part climb. Anything helps when you’re taking on something this big!

Just past the ski area, the climb really opens up. You break out through the edges of the forest and suddenly there are amazing vistas looking out to the desert and distant mesas. The combination of red earth, blue skies, and green pine and spruce was absolutely amazing. The view reinvigorates you for the last thousand feet of climbing.

Cycling the Sandia Crest 6

At the top, there’s a visitor center stocked with Gatorade, water and a grill/restaurant. Helpful, as I realized 6 miles into the climb that I’d left my bottles sitting on top of my car. After downing some water, I headed out back to the wraparound porch and took in the view. From the top, you can gaze down at Albuquerque and, on a clear day, a hundred miles in every direction.

Cycling the Sandia Crest 7Getting back down took a fraction of the time, but I’d suggest bringing some layers. At the top, the temperature was just 43 degrees. Wind chill brought that into the mid-30s. Equipped with just a wind jacket, I quickly lost feeling in my fingers and lower arms. Lower altitudes brought warmer temperatures and I was thawed out soon enough.

The Crest road comes second only to the Going to the Sun road in Glacier National Park in my book (more on that climb later). The effort is nothing when you contemplate the absolute beauty around you. Now that I have family in both Santa Fe and Albuquerque, this is a climb I’ll be coming back to. The workout is fantastic, the road is outstanding and the views are to die for.

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