Friday, March 22, 2013

Hiking Albuquerque's Southern Sandia Mountains: Eye of the Sandias

The Eye of the Sandias is a famous Albuquerque hike that takes you to a mysterious spot in the Sandia Mountains Wilderness where half a century ago an unknown artist painted an adaptation of the Eye of Horus - an ancient Egyptian symbol of protection, royal power and good health - on a large rock formation overlooking Tijeras Canyon. Decidedly New Mexican, the Eye of the Sandias features the ancient Zia Sun symbol in lieu of a pupul, while teardrops fall from the inside corner, presumably symbolic of the mountain's grief over the encroachment of suburbia.

Heading up to a blue grama meadow en route to The Eye of the Sandias

The trail to the Eye of the Sandias is not easy, but it's not a long hike, so it's do-able as long as you have a moderate fitness level and good balance. Not considered an official or maintained trail, The Eye of the Sandias route is well traveled and therefore well marked by use, so it is fairly simple to follow.

The trail starts in Albuquerque Open Space, at the Copper Trailhead, and ends in the foothills of the Sandia Wilderness at the site of the mysterious painted Eye. It is a moderate to difficult hike - a four-mile, out-and-back, inverted lollipop loop - which takes about 3 hours of steady hiking to complete round trip.

Overlook at the junction with views south of Four Hills area
From the Copper Trailhead you will go directly east - straight toward the mountain - on the 400 Trail (the center choice of three trails visible from the trailhead). This will take you up a couple of switchbacks to a saddle where you will see a set of tall electrical towers poised on the prominent ridge before you. Make your way up to the towers; here you will find a web of trails all leading up the ridge. The trail becomes more clear here as you walk, and you will continue on this path up the ridgeline and around two prominent mounds (foothills) until you come to a gentle meadow covered in blue grama, juniper trees and cholla.

You will reach a T in the trail - turn left and it will take you up to the Eye. (Pay close attention to this intersection, as you will be taking the trail to the right on your way back down to continue the loop.) Farther on you reach what feels like a small summit. Continue hiking as the trail dips down again. As you walk, the Eye comes into view before you on the wall of a great rock formation. Don't worry if you don't see it yet. Just keep walking until you find it; this is pretty much the trail's end. 

Where's the Eye of the Sandias? Can you find it in this picture?
After snapping a few obligatory pics with the Eye and having a trail snack, go back the way you came; However, when you reach the junction again, continue going straight instead of turning to complete the full four-mile loop. Descend the ridge on a winding trail that passes through some amazing rock outcroppings. At one point you will come to a point on the trail where you must choose to go right or left - go left. Then continue hiking down the mountain until you see the network of Open Space Trails again. From here you will see the parking area in the distance to the right and can easily make your way back to your car along the 401 Trail.

The Eye of the Sandias
This hike is a great workout - a real butt-burner as I call it. Plus, the trail is accessible by public transportation, which is perfect for visitors without cars who are staying in the downtown or university areas. are all the stats you need to get started on The Eye of the Sandias hike:

Trailhead: You can get to the trailhead by car via I-40 take the Tramway Boulevard and go north to Copper Avenue, where you'll turn right and drive east until you reach the Copper Trailhead parking area. Likewise you may take the ABQRide 11 Bus from Downtown Alvarado Station, UNM Hospital or anywhere along Lomas Boulevard.
Distance: 4-mile (6.4 km) out-and-back inverted lollipop loop
Elevation Gain/Loss: 1,650 feet (503 m)
Map: This hike is listed in the Sandia Mountains Hiking Guide and highlighted on the accompanying map. You may also find a map of this hike online at the Trimble.Outdoors website.
Hiking Time: About 3 hours, depending on your personal speed.
Best Times to Hike: This hike is great in the winter and also in the spring and fall, but there is no shade, so you might choose a more suitable hike for summer. Also, make sure you take plenty of water and snacks. It's a short hike, but strenuous.
Difficulty: Moderate

For more information on this hike or other hikes discussed in the blog HikeyHikey, feel free to leave a comment below. Check out my other blogs Man of Merit and MyFitLife2Day. Or contact me via my splash page at