Tour #16: Sandia Peak Aerial Tram

Thursday, June 27, 10:30 AM – 2:30 PM Tour Price: $55
Note: An evening version of this tour, with dinner included, is offered as Tour #10 on Tuesday

Enjoy a spectacular 11,000 square mile panoramic view of the Rio Grande Valley from the 10,378 foot high Sandia Peak. The 2.7 mile tramway, one of the world’s longest, transports you above deep canyons and spectacular terrain.

Caution: this is high altitude ride and may not be suitable for persons with breathing or other health issues.

Lunch at either Santiago’s Restaurant or ??? and is at you own expense.

Sandia means watermelon in Spanish, and is popularly believed to be a reference to the reddish color at sunset — hence they are also known as the Watermelon Mountains. However, Robert Julyan notes “the most likely explanation is the one believed by the Sandia Indians: the Spaniards, when they encountered the Pueblo in 1540, called it Sandia, because they thought the squash gourds growing there were watermelons, and the name Sandia was transferred to the mountains east of the pueblo”.1

1.  Julyan, Robert, The Place Names of New Mexico, (revised edition), Albuquerque, NM: UNM Press, 1998.

About the Tramway

The Sandia Peak Tramway is an aerial tramway located adjacent to Albuquerque. It stretches from the northeast edge of the city to the crestline of the Sandia Mountains and has the world’s third longest single span. It is the longest aerial tram in the United States.

Bell Engineering of Lucerne, Switzerland, constructed the tramway. Entering service on May 7, 1966, the tram makes 10,500 trips per year. The tram is a type known as a “double reversible jigback aerial tramway”, where “jigback” implies that when one tram car is ascending, the other is descending. Its two cars are capable of carrying 50 passengers each and have numerous safety and backup systems, such as multiple emergency braking systems and a grounding system that ensures the safety of passengers in the event of a lightning strike. New tram cars were installed in 1986, and new track cables in 2009. New tram cars were again installed in May 2016.

The tramway ascends the steep western side of the highest portion of the Sandia Mountains, from a base elevation of 6,559 feet to a top elevation of 10,378 feet. A trip up the mountain takes fifteen minutes to ascend 3,819 feet, and the normal operating speed of the tram is 12 miles per hour. Approximately four “flights” leave every hour from the base and top departure stations. The view from the tram includes all of Albuquerque and roughly 11,000 square miles of the New Mexico countryside

The tramway only has two support towers. The first tower, which is 232 feet tall, is situated at an elevation of 7,010 feet above sea level and was built as an inclined tower with an inclination angle of 18 degrees. The second, just 80 feet tall, is situated at the end of a major spur of the mountains at an elevation of 8,750 ft (2,667 m) and was built with the aid of helicopters.

The longest span is between the second tower and the top terminal. This span is the third longest clear tramway span in the world, at a length of 7,720 feet (2,353 m). Mid-span, the cables are 900 ft (274 m) above the mountainside. This span passes over Domingo Baca Canyon, part of which is referred to as TWA Canyon. This is the site of the crash of TWA Flight 260 on February 19, 1955, in which the lives of all 16 passengers and crew were lost. While much of the wreckage was removed during construction of the tramway, some still remains on the canyon floor and may be visible to riders of the tram.

Sandia Peak Tramway website

One-way Driving time: 20 minutes.

Tour includes: Round-trip motor coach transportation, tram ticket, taxes and gratuity.

Special Wear: None

ADA Compliant:  YES