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for people who care about the West

Odes to an urban mountain range

  Like other mountain ranges that dominate city skylines, Albuquerque’s Sandia Mountains are too easily taken for granted.

The Sandias’ diverse hiking trails range from the lung-busters that scale the west side’s granite face to lush trails on the east that meander through mixed conifers. But how many of the city’s half-million residents take advantage of those trails? Far too few, and most of them can’t name more than a handful of the hundred-odd wildflowers that bloom every year. (My own favorites are the skyrockets, wild roses and Mexican hats; other surprises include the fairy slipper orchid, the mariposa lily and the pasque flower, which blooms at Eastertime.)

Now, the University of New Mexico Press has published two new books to guide adventurous folks through the trails — and histories — of these mountains. Mike Coltrin’s Sandia Mountain Hiking Guide describes almost 60 trails, including the 26-mile long Crest Trail, and the Movie Trail, created for the 1962 movie Lonely are the Brave, which was based on Ed Abbey’s novel The Brave Cowboy. Coltrin’s book rates the difficulty level of trails and offers GPS waypoints and a great topographic map.

Curious hikers who hope to do more than break a sweat can tuck the Field Guide to the Sandia Mountains into their packs. Edited by Robert Julyan and Mary Stuever and funded by local donors, this book is the brainchild of the nonprofit Friends of the Sandia Mountains. The book’s 18 chapters are written by regional experts on everything from weather to lichens, trees to birds, archaeology to cross-country skiing. It’s a fun book, offering a comprehensive view of the mountain range that frames the eastern edge of the city, and at sunset transforms its dusty western face to a glowing pink.