Frost is now a regular visitor to the high country. The great fiery explosions of oranges and reds that lit up the Sandias are nearing their end. Late autumn and longer nights are officially here.
For many, especially in the southwest, this may be an end to a season of day hikes and excursions into our backyard mountain range, but luckily the Sandias still hold some fall wonders late into the season.
The higher elevations will be cold, but lower on the mountain early fall colors and temperatures will linger well into November. Quaking Aspens dominate much of the north side of the range, even at lower elevations, interrupting seemingly never-ending forests of spring and juniper.
And there are plenty of trails to explore the late-season glory of the Sandias.
For aspen lovers, 10K Trail is an often overlooked gem that cuts through a thick forest of young aspens before eventually entering an open and more established forest. The trail begins 4.2 miles up NM 536 from the Sandia Ski Area towards the Sandia Crest.
The trailhead is more obscure than more popular trails on the mountain, being just a small parking lot on the north side of the road. The under-advertised trailhead guarantees that there will be few other hikers on the trail. On the north side of the road, 10k Trail is about three miles in length.
For a longer excursion into the southern end of the Sandias, 10K Trail ends at the North Crest Trail, which creates a loop full of late-season aspen colors. The 6.8-mile loop meanders upward, with an elevation gain of 1,288 feet. Not only will visitors be greeted by the oranges and yellows of aspens, but the grasses at that elevation also display brilliant late-season colors as local flora readies itself for winter.
Arizona Fescue dominates the fields found on this trail and much of the meadows found in the upper elevations of the Sandia Mountains.
For more late-season colors and an area that holds countless trails is the Sandia Ski Area. Mountain bikers might dominate the more established trails in the area during the warmer months, but there is plenty of space for any activity.
Deer dominate the open fields, hardly paying attention to the hikers passing by. On quiet days in the mountains, the occasional black bear might be spotted slowly making its way through the fields before disappearing into the thick forests that border the meadows. Sandia Ski Area begins at 8,600 feet and ends at the Sandia Tram at 10,300 ft. The nearly 2,000 feet of elevation hosts a variety of ecological zones.
An empty ski area, with its vintage blue chair lifts, is a magical place. The calm and silence during the off-season services as a sharp contrast to the hustle and bustle of winter. Enjoy it when it’s empty.
Colder weather in the Southwest does not mean hanging up the trail hikers. The Southwest and especially the Sandias still boasts plenty of fall fervor well into late autumn for any taste.