When families in Albuquerque want to get away from it all, they need only look east, to the Sandia Mountains, where foothills begin just beyond the city limits. So residents and elected officials were shocked when a federal judge issued a ruling in July that was widely interpreted as handing over much of the western face of the mountains to an Indian tribe.
"This places hundreds of Albuquerque
homeowners' property rights, and the public's traditional access to
the public lands, in doubt," said Sen. Pete Domenici and Rep.
Heather Wilson, both Republicans, in a letter to Attorney General
Janet Reno, urging the Justice Department to appeal the judge's
The nearly 10,000 acres covered by the
ruling includes a hiking trail that goes 4,000 feet up from the
city's edge to the crest of the mountains, prime rock-climbing
routes, and the Sandia Peak Tramway, a major tourist
The land had been part of the Cibola
National Forest. But the 500-member Sandia Pueblo, just north of
the city, went to court almost four years ago to argue that its
eastern boundary was erroneously drawn at the foothills of the
mountains by federal surveyors in 1859. The pueblo argued that,
according to a 1748 Spanish land grant, the boundary should have
extended all the way to the crest, and U.S. District Judge Harold
The land claimed by the pueblo
includes some of Albuquerque's toniest neighborhoods, including the
home of Republican Gov. Gary Johnson. The pueblo says it's not
including those neighborhoods in its claim, but residents say they
fear the pueblo might one day shut down access or cut off utilities
to their houses.
"We think the fears are
unfounded," Sandia Pueblo Gov. Alex Lujan wrote the Albuquerque
Journal in August. "Our policy simply is to be good stewards of the
land as well as good neighbors."