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:

12 thoughts on “WALKING TOWARD LA LUZ”

  1. Prof Turley, thanks for your visit and for making us look good! Your photos are spectacular! And thanks for not killing the rattlers in their natural habitat. Most of us in Albuquerque don’t do that either, unless they’re an active threat, and we can identify a rattler v bull snake. (Harmless bull snake = no rattles on tail.)

    It’s also a pleasure to walk through the GW campus and WDC. Beautiful as well. I always chuckle when people there ask about the heat in NM. No comparison. Nothing like the DC heat and humidity. 🙂

  2. Thanks. Love the pictures. I’ve hiked in NM but nothing like what you accomplished. Good job!

  3. Mountain lions, poisonous snakes, thirteen miles of uphill climb and downhill run in 90 degree heat on loose gravel and sandy soil with a stick and 70 sunblock as your only protection and the only water being what you can carry. You do get lovely scenery and a sense of accomplishment. That’s the cost-benefit analysis.

  4. Your double-entendre title was not missed, JT. Nor should you neglect the fact that your blog is a venue of Walking towards Darkness.

    Sacrifice your thirst for quantity of comments and web traffic that peddles insults. Strive instead for a blog of quality and enlightenment.

    Et tu Jonathan in tenebris ambulant?


    Pope Francis hits out at modern ‘culture of insults’

    Pope Francis has criticised a ‘culture of insults’ in the world and warned that ‘the more we use social media, the less social we are becoming’.

    In his homily during Pentecost Mass in St Peter’s Square, Pope Francis also said that the Catholic Church risks becoming an organisation with propaganda as its mission, instead of a drive to foster joy and harmony.

    He warned of the temptation to cling to ‘our little group and to the things and people we like’, saying it was only a ‘small step from a nest to a sect, even within the church’.

    The pope added that there was a lack of harmony in the world and that it was leading to ‘stark divisions’.

    In his speech, he also claimed that it was ‘fashionable to hurl adjectives’, and recommended people respond ‘to malice with goodness, to shouting with silence, to gossip with prayer, to defeatism with encouragement.’

    Pope Francis said: ‘In today’s world, lack of harmony has led to stark divisions.

    ‘There are those who have too much and those who have nothing, those who want to live to 100 and those who cannot even be born.

    1. The experienced climbers head up those mountains at dawn and are off the mountain by noon. This time of year, you can get a monsoon rain that can come down those gullies and wash you away, to say nothing of the lightning danger. Start earlier next time you hike in the southwest and being more water.

  5. When I was in grade school, 50 years ago,my father would drop my friends and I off at 7 AM. We would walk to the Crest, eat our peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and walk down. All of us 11 and 12 years old. Imagine letting that happen today.

    Kirk Douglas and Walter Mathau starred in Lonely are the Brave which was filmed extensively on the trail in 1962.

  6. I take nothing less than a gallon for that type of exercise in those temps. I’ll even chug water at the car before leaving. The first 2 quart plastic soda bottle I drink as fast as I can to reduce weight, and the second one I sip making sure to save a quart to have left over for emergencies. Besides water one should always have a locator beacon, a GPS, and a headlamp.

  7. Great Hike!

    Those purple poppies can be found on trails above Hollywood right now. Wonderful photos.

  8. When your getting old..
    And need to hike…
    Get some shoes on..
    And ride a bike!

  9. I’ve worked and fought fires in the Sandia’s for years, along with fires all over the US. I worked out of Sandia Ranger Station. Sandia means watermelon and don’t ask me where one can see a watermelon in the Sandia’s. Unbelievable there are not many fires there as the conditions are often ripe. Oh yea and 90+ F isn’t hot, just very warm…lol. We used to say they were fireproof. Parts declared some sort of wilderness where chainsaws were allegedly not allowed, we paid no attention for good reason. The front of the mountain faces Native American land which many still consider theirs. On that hell of climb up we came upon a ram’s skull facing outward like a lookout. It was not put there by a white eyes. So steep we were boasting the crew up over the rocks, pulling them up etc. There was an urgency that doesn’t always exist. I’ve made some rough climbs and rough “beat feet”, along with just getting back down off a mountain so exhausted if we had not been able to see the trucks waiting for us I’m not sure we wouldn’t have been carrying some, but that short climb was one of the worst. We were in good shape and yet members of the crew were vomiting on the little fire. Never got any size for what ever reason but one to be remembered.

    Too damn many people there these days. BTW, there are NO wildernesses existing in New Mexico. Somebody has always been there. I’ve found wagon trails, left over sawmills, railroad right aways, even rough roads and dugout adobe houses with abandoned Model T in areas that are supposed to be pristine and closed to vehicular travel.

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