The Sandia Mountains and the Old Town

My visit to Albuquerque was a pleasant one despite the fact that my gum infection was raging on and I was in a continual nuisance of pain. The night before my day of Albuquerque exploration I had a hard time sleeping as the pain was throbbing and so bad that it was creating a vibration sensation in my ears. I took some Tylenol and was able to sleep a bit on-and-off. In addition to the pain was the anxiety that this infection could escalate to the point that it could hinder or even stop my summer adventure.

I was visiting my cousin Rachel, her husband Alex, and their four year old son Malcolm. They devoted the whole day to introducing me to the city and sites of Albuquerque. It was a brightly sunny day and we started with a visit to Old Albuquerque, the historic center of the city from its founding in 1706. Here the church of San Felipe de Neri stands overseeing Old Town Plaza, the birthplace of the city, which is very reminiscent of the zocalos I’d seen in the center of many Mexican cities. It had pathways, areas of green grass, benches, and a gazebo for occasional performances. Surrounding the square were narrow streets with adobe structures one after another boasting artisan shops and local eateries. After taking our picture together in front of the church we went into a few stores and I saw the touristy nick-knacks and patty-whacks. I did not buy anything except a sticker of the Sandia Mountains. I knew we’d soon be going up them. I found it humorous that Sandia is a Spanish term for watermelon. I thought it was a coincidence but Rachel explained how the mountains can look pink with the sunset cast upon them in the evenings. We also stopped by Old Barrel Tea Company where I bought myself a cup of iced tea.


Here in the old town I also called my dentist’s office to see if they could prescribe any antibiotic for my gum infection. They informed me that they could not send a prescription to another state nor give me any recommendation except that the best thing I could do was to schedule an appointment to see a dentist in New Mexico. Given that the dentist would most likely be out of the insurance network and unreachable in a reasonable time frame, I realized I was on my own and was very disappointed in the healthcare system. This situation weighed heavy on me.

For lunch I enjoyed some New Mexican fare. I did not know that New Mexican cuisine is its own category. It’s a fusion of the cuisine of Pueblo Indians, Mexican, and Spanish and it incorporates a lot of local spice. I thought my experiences having studied and lived in Mexico would be enough to understand the menu, but I needed a little explanation. I had enchiladas de carne adovada with red pepper sauce. Carne Adovada? Pork slow-braised in a spicy red chile bath for hours.

After lunch the highlight of the day came, our trip up to the top of the Sandia Mountains on the Sandia Peak Tramway. Leaving the desert floor the tram glided above the Cibola National Forest. Below were a plethora of rock jumbles and desert shrubs hugging the sides of the mountain. Higher up pine trees started to make their appearance. The tram was very much like the one in New York City that travels between 59th and 60th street and over the East River onto Roosevelt Island but unlike that one, this one ascends 5,300 feet. In the winter this is also used as a ski lift but now in summer its a scenic tram ride. At the peak there are trails that venture off into the mountains and a platform to observe the city of Albuquerque so far below that it’s nearly unrecognizable.


Up here in the mountains we all started off on a short trail together, but I traveled a bit further as the rest went back to the lift area. I didn’t want to keep them waiting for me long, so I ran the trail two miles to the Kiwanis Cabin. An old rock shelter built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s. The work of the Civilian Conservation Corps pops up in various National Parks, National Forests, state parks, and other public lands. I enjoy coming across their work because the quality and rustic craftsmanship is to be appreciated. Not only have they built cabins and lodges but also park roads, bridges, and trails. They are no longer in existence but functioned as a voluntary work relief program for unemployed young men primarily in the 1930s. This was a part of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal, which I am very hesitant to praise, but I am grateful for this part of it. Up here by Kiwanis Cabin I was at a rock protrusion. I enjoyed the great unobstructed view of the world below.


On my way back, on the narrow path between the trees, I began to pray to God about my gum infection and about this trip in general. I felt a great sense of peace come over me. All of my anxiety regarding my gum infection was hushed. Also up here in the mountains I felt way more in my element. I enjoyed Albuquerque below but something about the cooler mountain air was soothing. And amongst the pines and aspen I felt in the company of reassuring friends. The sweet smell of the western pines, brought back memories of prior summers, rekindled my spirit of adventure, and made me feel alive and vigorous.

After joining back with the others, we soon descended the mountain on the tram to the mainland. We stopped by a Bubble Tea cafe before heading to the house. 

Back at Mesa del Sol I was able to kick off my boots and relax. I brought together all the stickers I had accumulated on this trip so far and began to sticker up my new dark green Nalgene bottle. I have a new tradition that each summer I buy a Nalgene and place stickers all over it from the parks and destinations I visit. I use the water bottle all summer, and then I retire it to a display shelf. Sometimes I’ll pull off a bottle from the past and use it again, but mostly they are momentums from the summer trips, and as I look over the bottle in hand, with all its stickers, I’m reminded of all the memories. Malcolm even made me a sticker for my bottle of his house, and although the bottle did sport it for a long while, eventually it fell off. 

In the evening, nearing sunset, I went for another walk around the neighborhood. This time solo. I observed the Sandia or Watermelon Mountains in the distance and the pinkish color they reflected in the evening. I also walked by the Albuquerque movie studios. Out back they had the facades portraying an old Western main street for a Western sci-fi Netflix series in production. 

Back at the house I visited with Rachel over yet another cup of tea. I learned that both Rachel and I have an affinity for hot teas of all kinds. I then told Rachel how I thought Malcolm looked like the child and protagonist, Elliot, from the recent Disney movie Pete’s Dragon. We ended up watching the movie. It is one of my favorite Disney movies. It makes sense for me taking place in the Northern woods, having a park ranger as a major supporting actor, and symbolically tying in themes and messages about life and spiritual matters.  It’s soundtrack had been the background music for much of my traveling this summer. 

And like this my visit with my Cousin Rachel and family came to an end. The following morning, I would hit the road. Just as one of the songs from Pete’s Dragon repeats, I would “go north,” and make my way to Colorado. 


Read my previous episode “From Carlsbad to Albuquerque?” here:

Check out my new book “Canyonlands: My Adventures in the National Parks and the Beautiful Wild,” here:

Canyonlands Cover


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