It may surprise many to learn that the world's longest aerial tramway is located in Albuquerque. From its base on the desert floor at the foot of Sandia Peak to the mountain's 10,378-ft summit, the tram travels a 2.7-mi round trip above some of New Mexico's most magnificent terrain. Inside the large tramcars, passengers enjoy a succession of extraordinary views encompassing roughly 11,000 square miles of mountains, deserts, and mesas—including vast expanses of the Cibola National Forest, the Rio Grande Valley, remnants of extinct and dormant volcanoes along the western horizon, and a series of spectacular canyons on the western face of the Sandias.
Tickets for the tram are purchased at the base station and are generally for a specified departure time. Once on the summit, visitors are free to explore the Peak's attractions, returning down the mountain on the first available tramcar. The tram’s Peak complex houses the High Finance Restaurant and Tavern, a gift shop, and a nature center—all linked by railed platforms and walkways taking full advantage of the panoramic views.
Activities on the Peak include hiking, biking, skiing, and fine or casual dining. Chair and surface lifts on the eastern face of the Peak offer scenic tours year-round and access to 25 miles of slopes during the ski season. Evening diners can reserve their tables, take discounted tram fares to the Peak, and enjoy spectacular desert sunsets as a memorable mealtime entertainment.
Himself and I found the hiking trails well kept, wide, and easy to follow—inviting even for aging lowlanders like ourselves. Nature offers marvelous views of both sides of the Sandias and provides plenty of resting places for catching one's breath—no small requirement at an elevation of over 10,000 feet. At one off-path location, we sat gazing in awe at a succession of ridges and outcrops extending west and south below us. We found it impossible to resist the lure of inching toward a glimpse over the edge of the world. And literally at our feet, we found the fossilized impressions of seashells. The same earth that now occupies a position high atop this geologically young mountain range was once part of a vast seabed.
A ride on the tram is, literally above all, a photographer's dream. On my last trip up, armed with my trusty digital, I took more than a 150 "keepers" within a space of about 4 hours. While on the gondola itself, the key challenges faced by photographers are (1) making sure they position themselves next to one of the large windows and (2) doing their best to compensate for the sun's glare through those windows. Once on the summit, the chief hazard involves curbing the photographer's mad urge to rush to the sharp edge of a long drop in order to capture a magnificent panorama. All these hazards can be managed to the safety and satisfaction of most photographers—even for not-so-surefooted grandmas.