Since just about every major road heading east from Tramway Boulevard ends at a trailhead in the Foothills, its one of the most easily accessed open areas in the city. On the weekends, the trails can be a bit crowded, especially with mountain bikers who don’t seem to understand the word “yield” on those steep, narrow paths.
This strip of land is maintained by the City and primarily keeps the subdivisions from encroaching any further into the Cibola National Forest and the Sandia Mountain Wilderness and the area runs, more or less, from I-40 on the south to the Sandia Tram on the north.
From any trailhead, just pick a path and go. Most trails are open to hikers, walkers, runners, and mountain bikers. Some, especially further into the wilderness areas, are designated as horseback riding trails. While the Open Space is quite tame and the trails well maintained, the further east you hike into Forest and Wilderness land, the higher and wilder the terrain becomes, and the better the views. Since this end of town is already several hundred feet than the Rio Grande Valley, even a short walk into the Open Space gives you a spectacular view of the city.
If you want to climb up a small “mountain” one of the more popular ones is the “U” hill at the end of Copper Avenue and, believe me, the view from the top is worth the climb. You can still see a few of the white painted rocks that originally formed the “U” (for University of New Mexico) on the south side of the hill, and you can almost always see people climbing around on the hill. This area was also a favorite place for local runner John Baker (subject of “The Shining Season” – both book and movie) to train before he died of cancer.
There are a couple of waterfalls you can hike back into and in the spring there is actually water in them. The rest of the year they are a tumble of boulders you can climb up and there are plenty of places to settle in for a picnic. One of the waterfalls is a half-mile or so beyond the saddle at the end of Copper. At the top of the waterfall, is a small pond where deer come to drink.
Even with weekend traffic – foot and bike – the hills are crowded with wildlife. I’ve seen coyotes, mule deer, quail, red-tailed hawks, roadrunners, piñon jays, cotton tailed rabbits, jack rabbits, numerous small song birds and, in the last 20 years, one snake, fortunately non-poisonous. I have yet to encounter the cougars and bears that live in the high country, though I did have one of the latter visit my back yard this past summer.
There are small parking areas at most trailheads, or you can park on the street.