. . . I've been told that I write novels for email messages. Perhaps this is the way to go. I'll try to make each entry, or Gemstone, a "precious" one. On mediocre days, all I might be able to produce is a "semi-precious" entry. In any case, an entry might be a "neat" Gemstone--something that is uniquely mine.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Sandia Peak Tramway

Sandia Mountain (Photo Source)

One of my favorite things to do is to explore new places, especially if they include an outdoor adventure. My family was able to take the Sandia Peak Tramway in Albuquerque yesterday and explored the top of the mountain. It was kind of a spontaneous event since we originally were in Albuquerque to attend the annual Balloon Fiesta but the balloons never made it off the ground for the mass ascension due to high winds. So we thought we'd do something else in Albuquerque that day. We've lived in New Mexico for 10 years now and hadn't attended Balloon Fiesta or gone on the Tramway.

The Sandia Peak Tramway website states, "A trip on the world’s longest aerial tramway transports you above deep canyons and breathtaking terrain a distance of 2.7 miles." They weren't kidding at all. It was so amazing being suspended at a height up to 1,000 feet
above the mountain. We were told at that 1,000 foot point by the tram operator that it would take us 7.8 seconds to fall to the canyon below if the cable were to break. What a comforting thought! The ride from the bottom to the top of the peak takes about 15 minutes and covers about a 4,000 foot elevation change. Yesterday, there was a 20° temperature difference from the base to the top with the top at around 35°. The summit is 10,378 feet (view, above left photo).

Of course, there's a lot of geology that I learned on this trip, which makes the adventure even better! The Sandia Mountains are a fault-block range on the eastern edge of the Rio Grande Rift Valley. The base of the tram is at about 6,500 feet elevation and is situated on a bedrock of Sandia Granite (photo, above right). The granite formed underground about 1.4 billion years ago, cooling slowly to give large crystals and phenocrysts throughout. It is rich in mica, potassium feldspar, and quartz. The feldspar is a pinkish color so the mountain actually "glows" pink at sunset. It's beautiful, for sure. I learned that "Sandia" means "watermelon" in Spanish, so the pink mountain is like the inside of the watermelon and the green conifer trees at the top of the mountain are like the green rind. And of course, watermelons are pinkish.

On the very top of the Sandia Granite is a cap of limestone that formed about 250 million years ago when the whole area was covered by an inland sea. So the granite basement rock had
limestone/shale bedding photo, above left) on top of it, then the area was uplifted about 8 million years ago along the Rio Grande Rift valley. The limestone layers are tilted at the top from roughly west to east and are filled with fossil crinoids (photo, right), bryozoans, brachiopods, and trilobites. But we only saw crinoids and bryozoans. Also abundant in the limestone were chert
nodules. Chert nodules (photo, left) form when silica (quartz) pockets within the limey mud are dissolved and then later reformed. The chert doesn't weather as easily as the limestone and so ends up in higher relief (sticking up as bumps). You may already know that "chert" is a generic term by petrologists that refer generally to all rocks composed primarily of microcrystalline quartz (without knowing it's exact rock name).

At the top of the peak was a trail (the Crest Trail) to the Kiwanis Cabin (photo, left) that was a round trip of 3 miles. The hike was gorgeous. The CCC cabin was built in 1936. The first two cabins were not built by the CCC and were built out of wood in the earlier 1930's, but lightning struck them both and burned them both to the ground. The CCC finally got smart and built this one out of the limestone in the area and it has stood to this day (with some restoration work in the 90's).

We ended our day with a treat from Cold Stone Creamery before driving back home. Sometimes plans change and good things happen because of it, like this outing.


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