DIRECTIONS TO SANDIA CREST; HANDICAP ACCESS
Do not confuse the base of the Sandia Peak Ski Area, at the 7 mile mark, with Sandia Crest, at 13.5 miles, the very top. There are no Rosy-Finch feeders at the Ski Area! The Tram from Albuquerque goes to the Peak, which is a mile south of the Crest. The 1.5 mile trail connecting the Peak and Crest should not be attempted by casual hikers, especially in winter.
Take I-40 East out of Albuquerque to Exit 175 (Cedar Crest/ NM 14). Exit 175 is about 20 miles East of the I-25 / I-40 intersection. Exit right from I-40 but bear to the left and then (at the traffic light) pass under I-40 to the north, following NM-14
Take I-40 West from the Texas Panhandle to Exit 175 (Cedar Crest/ NM 14). Exit right from I-40, and turn right on NM-14 Northbound.
Follow NM-14 signs north past Cedar Crest, total of about 6.0 miles, to NM 536 westbound, also known as the Crest Road or the road to the Sandia Ski Area. There is a gasoline station on the right side of the street just before the left turn.
Take NM-536 all the way to the top, about 13.5 miles (10,678 feet elevation). Look for Clark's Nutcrackers and Northern Pygmy-owl at the ski lift area, and Cassin's Finches and Pine Grosbeaks all along the higher reaches of the road.
The road to Sandia Crest, which is fully paved, is usually well maintained (plowed and heavily sanded). Because of the ski area, it is essential for the Forest Service to keep it open to the ski lifts, which are about 2/3 of the way up the 13 miles to the top. Sometimes after a particularly big snowfall, or if there is a lot of blowing snow, there can be drifts and early morning ice in the upper reaches.
Be particularly careful at curves and at stretches of road that are in the shade. We never had trouble in our 4WD Nissan Pathfinder, and a front wheel drive sedan should be able to make it even without chains if the road is sanded and there are no drifts.
If you arrive after a snowfall, call the Sandia Ranger District (505-281-3304) and ask about road conditions. The State Highway Department Web page provides information about road conditions. Note the date and time of the advisory as it may be out of date, or call Road Advisory Hotline at: 1-800-432-4269. Be sure to check the weather and not attempt the drive up the mountain in heavy snow or immediately after a snowfall.
Be alert for rosy-finches on the way up, at the Ellis and 10K Trail heads. Check for rosy-finches from the lower Crest parking lot, just before the the very top. They often roost in the trees around the parking lot, and can be observed if you use your car as a blind.
Feeders will be maintained there or relocated to the upper parking lot. The lower lot may not be maintained and plowed while Crest House is closed, but we expect the upper lot to be cleared.
In any case there is danger from slippery conditions. Plan to have a companion with you in the event you are injured and incapacitated, as hypothermia is a great danger at high altitudes with extremely cold and windy conditions. At least carry a cell phone.
Notes about Handicapped Access; Health and Safety Considerations:
The Crest House has designated handicapped parking in the upper lot, but snow and gravel may obscure the stripes and markings. The lot is paved but at a moderate uphill grade. It can be slippery.
Because of the very high high altitude (each breath at 10,678 feet delivers one third less oxygen than at sea level), it is safer to acclimatize by spending at least one night at 5000 to 7000 feet, and making several short trips rather than venturing up for a long period of time. Even if you are in good health you should avoid over-exertion and drink plenty of fluids, and retreat to a lower elevation if you suffer symptoms such as headache, weakness, nausea, or dizziness. If you have heart or circulatory problems you should consult your physician.
All developed Picnic areas have handicapped spaces in the parking lots and usually have one or two tables that are more accessible. When open and snow conditions permit, Doc Long, Capulin Spring and Nine Mile Picnic areas have parking places amid the trees (Ponderosas at Doc Long and mixed conifers at Nine Mile). The trail at Balsam Glade, while not paved, is quite clear and level. It is possible to bird effectively from your vehicle in the parking lots and along the Crest Road, but do not stop in the roadway and especially not on curves. Use pullouts or the shoulder where not prohibited.
Be patient. The Rosy-Finches seem to come and go about every 30-60 minutes, in compact flocks. Once the juncos start feeding, it is a good omen (though the Rosies will not alight on the feeder if Steller's Jay is present).
For more information visit this link.
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