As many of you know, I often accept speeches in areas where I can pursue my love for hiking. For that reason, returning to Albuquerque, New Mexico was an offer to give the keynote at the Judicial Conclave that did not need to be repeated. New Mexico is an amazing state with some of the most challenging but spectacular trails in the world. I used my free day on Saturday to tackle the famed La Luz Trail that runs through both the Sandia Mountains and the Cibola National Forest & National Grasslands. This is a punishing trail that can be extended to 13 miles. It is not for the faint of heart. It is a steady and sharp climb for miles under the beating sun of New Mexico. You literally walk to toward the light on La Luz. Much like my Pino trail hike a few years ago, I was entirely spent by the end of this hike.
I love Albuquerque and woke up to hot air balloons doting the skies just outside of my window. These were taken from my hotel room:
I set out to start La Luz in the early morning before the heat and sun hit the trail. However, I had only 30 sun block and drove to find a 70 block. It was a smart move for what was to come. The parking lot was crowded but I parked off the road. Spaces open up as the day burns on. By noon, most rational people have left the trail. I recommend the use of sticks on this one (I tend to use just one) because of the sandy and gravelly conditions as well as the steep climb and descent.
The park service stresses the risks of this particular hike:
Do not attempt this hike unless you are well prepared physically, and able to take care of yourself in the event of a mishap in the wilderness. If you complete the hike as described, you are in for five hours (or more) of strenuous hiking.
First, you will need A LOT OF WATER. I brought my large camel plus my emergency bottle. I ran out of water on the way back to the trailhead. I held out on the emergency bottle until the final two miles, but it was grueling with temps reaching the mid 90s and a cloudless sky. The sun just beats you down. You also have to keep your eye out for rattlesnakes which curl up under the ubiquitous boulders. I saw a number of rattlers including this guy, which eventually decided to take a nap out of the sun.
However, if you are up to it, it is an amazing hike into the towering mountains overlooking Albuquerque. You pass through the Upper Sonoran Zone, the Transition Zone, and then the Canadian zone with incredible changes in flora and fauna along the way. You start with juniper and piñon trees which give way to ponderosa pines and blue spruce trees. You will see a lot of prickly pear cactus, and cholla cactus. However, one of the great draws of this hike are the wild flowers. It is simply amazing to walk through this blast furnace and find vivid flowers thriving in one of the least hospitable places:
The elevation gain is steady and punishing at 3,200 vertical feet. However, these flowers appear throughout the hike. I saw deer, snakes, and other wildlife on the trail. I did not see any mountain lions, but some are known to be in the area.
Here are some of the pictures of the spellbinding and back-breaking trail: