Saturday, April 13, 2013

The World's Longest Suspended Tram Ride - Sandia Peak Tramway

OK, Wikipedia tells me that I'm lying about it being the longest. Apparently, it's the world's third longest. Oops. Fact checking FTW!

We timed the tram ride perfectly to coincide with the sunset. It was a beautiful, clear day and while it was a delightful 60-something degrees at the base (which is, by the way, still over 5,000 feet above sea level), it was roughly 23 degrees at the top, which is a good 10,000 feet. I had packed for Mexico, and not vast variances in temperature, and thus ended up having to wear two sweatshirts (one of which belonged to The Gentleman) underneath my light spring trench. We didn't spend all that much time outside once we got to the top. Anyway, the real treat of the experience is the ride itself.

For about $20 per person, you can purchase a round-trip ticket on the Sandia Peak Tramway. It starts at the base of the Sandia Mountains just at the edge of Albuquerque. The unit at the base reminded me a lot of The Funicular in Prague, except this thing is suspended from cables, not running on a track. It's probably best not to think too much about the mechanics of this until you're back, safely, on the ground. Or maybe you're one of those people who feels safer when you understand every detail. Either way, here are some basic things you should know:

This is where you'll start. This image was taken as we were returning safely to port.

This is what the cable cars look like. This was an oncoming car. The Sandia Tramway is a "double reversible jigback aerial tramway" which is also a move perfected by Olympic gymnasts, but basically means that the tram cars have to move in unison with one ascending as the other is descending.

This is what a tram car looks like as it's headed back down to home port from the top.

These are the giant fixtures, placed periodically along the climb, that hold up the cables. There are no access roads up the mountain sides, and so most of these fixtures were built by helicopter. That kind of freaked me out, so I decided not to think about it too much.

These super-strong cables are the only things supporting you hundreds of feet in the air and preventing you from crashing into the side of the mountain. Don't worry - they're pretty strong.

This is one of the giant wheels that supports the double reversible jigback aerial tramway. Don't touch it.
I am not afraid of heights, and I didn't really have a problem with the tram ride, but I can easily see how it would be intimidating for some. But however freaked out you may be by the thought of being suspended hundreds of feet above a desolate mountain landscape in a tin can by a triplet of strong wires, the view is pretty freaking fantastic. And, once you get moving, it's a pretty smooth ride.

Passing the other tram car at the midway point.

Our shadow on the mountainside.

Icicles dripping down the mountain side nearer the top. It's cold up here.

View of Albuquerque from the top of Sandia Mountains.

See, now, we just came up THE SIDE OF THE MOUNTAIN, so I was sort of prepped for mountainous terrain for the last 30 minutes....

The cables from whence we came.

The top of Sandia Mountain in this area is actually the back side of a ski resort that runs on the other side of the mountain. It was past ski season by the time we were there in late March, but some snow remained.

They show you this at the top of the the little port area where you wait to board the tram running back down. Soooooo, there's roughly a bit less than 4" of cabling holding that tram aloft. Awesome.

Don't molest the animals.
There is another feature of this particular double reversible jigback aerial tramway system that should be pointed out, and that is the High Finance Restaurant at the top. We enjoyed appetizers (cocktail shrimp and spinach artichoke dip) and some cocktails. Which brings up another important point about high altitude.

Not only is working out more difficult at high altitudes, so is drinking. I ordered a martini (Ketel One, straight up) which was dumb. At the High Finance Restaurant, you are 10,378 feet above sea level. If you're not used to it, one drink is about the equivalent of three. Also, breathing is not easy. Also, we had 2 rounds of drinks. It was not pretty.

Boarding the tram to head back down. After two drinks at 10,000+ feet, the ride down seemed a bit faster. Or maybe that was gravity. I don't know.

Moon peaking over the edge

Back safely at the base port.

 Stay tuned for: Adventures in Santa Fe, and New Mexican eats and bevs!

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