Sunday, March 22, 2015
For those who don’t know, in February, 1955, TWA Flight 260 took off from the Albuquerque airport in a snowstorm. Within minutes, it crashed into the mountain killing all 16 souls on board. Some debris from that crash remains in the mountain to this day. The canyon where the crash site is located is now referred to as TWA Canyon. There is a trail that leads to the crash site which I have known about since moving here. Today felt like a good day to do this hike.
My hiking buddy, Marty, and I did an exploratory hike out here last Sunday just to see where the trails for this hike are located. There appeared to be three trails going out of the trail head but no signs to indicate which trail was 230A. Naturally, we took the wrong trail! After correcting for this mistake and getting on the right trail, a little further into the hike, we took a wrong turn and ended up going into the wrong canyon (see yellow trail on the map). Okay, so it just wasn’t our day! About 3/4 miles into the wrong canyon we realized our mistake and turned around. Good thing it was an exploratory hike because we certainly did some exploring! We finally got it all figured out but decided to hold off on doing the real hike until today.
The first trail head for this hike is located in the Elena Gallegos Open Space east of Tramway. Go east on Simms Park Road from Tramway to get to the entrance gate. Parking fee is $1 during the week and $2 on the weekend. Once you’ve paid your money, make an immediate left at the guard shack and head straight north on the only road heading straight north. This road will lead you to the Cottonwood Springs Trail Head and parking area.
Take Trail 230A from the parking lot, which will lead you to Trail 230, and Trail 230 will lead you to the gate where the Domingo Baca Trail Head is located. This part of the hike is only 0.7 miles from the parking lot with almost no elevation gain. Another mile at an average grade of 7.5% and you will come to the ruins of a rock dwelling. From the dwelling, it is only about 1/4 mile to a place where you will need to take a right fork, up the rocky south embankment, in order to access the trail leading into TWA Canyon. Watch for it because it’s easy to miss. In fact, there is a left fork, up the mostly dirt north embankment that makes you think that is the main trail. It isn’t! How do I know? Because that trail is what lead us into the wrong canyon last Sunday. 😉 (see pics on the map for a visual reference) And don’t go straight, either, because that will lead into a box canyon.
Once you are on the trail leading up into TWA Canyon, it is 1.9 miles to the crash site at an average grade of 17%, which means some of the grades are over 20%, and on short stretches, even approaching 30% . Yes, there is a lot of climbing on this hike, especially in the last mile or so. In fact, the last mile has an average grade of 21% and the last 1/2 mile has an average grade of 25%. Yes, that is pretty steep, so make certain you are prepared for those grades before doing this hike.
If you do this hike before things dry out, once you are on the trail to TWA Canyon, you will follow and criss-cross a live stream numerous times, see a couple of small waterfalls, some nice pools, and mostly hike under tree canopy. This is really a beautiful hike and there is one place where you come out into the open on a rise that will give you some really impressive views of the cliffs and rock formations along the west side of the Sandia crest. The first pic with the tram car, and the pic right after that, was taken from this spot. When you get to this opening, it will be very obvious and, from there, it is only another 3/4 mile to the crash site, which is directly under the tram cable.
On a cautionary note: About 1/4 mile from the crash site there is a very large boulder you will have to climb in order to access the remaining part of the trail. If the trail is wet/muddy, climbing this boulder can be a bit dicey with wet/muddy boot treads, and on the way down, it can be downright dangerous, so be very careful. In fact, it’s best to give the trail time to dry out if has rained up there in the past week or so. Keep in mind, the trail is under tree canopy so it will take more time to dry out.
Having said that, there is an alternate route through the woods that will allow you to bypass the boulder (see the red trail on the map). The bypass route is only 1/4 mile long with an elevation difference of only 243 feet. The grade is around 20%, but it only felt like 10%. Of course, we were going down, not climbing up! 😉 However, it is off trail and without a GPS with this bypass route loaded, or a track loaded showing the main trail, or at the very least, the bypass waypoints, it probably isn’t a good idea to try finding this route on your own.
Coming down, you could probably find the upper bypass way point because it is just a stone’s throw above the boulder. And if you had, and knew how to use, a compass, you could probably find the bypass route and relocate the main trail. Going up is a different story because there is no way to know when to leave the main trail without being able to locate the lower bypass waypoint, which is 1/4 mile before reaching the boulder. Just remember, on the bypass route, there is no obvious trail to follow. It is just a walk through the woods. When I do this hike again, if the trail is dry, I will do the boulder on the way up and take the bypass on the way back down. Hiking off trail through the woods was nice and pleasant experience.
The total distance to the crash site is 3.8 miles at an average grade of 10.5%. Total climbing was almost 2,400 feet, with 1,300 feet of that coming in the final 1.25 miles. Our total hiking time up was 2.75 hours, but we stopped a lot to take pictures and for breaks. Actual hiking time was only 1.75 hours. This is a popular trail/area, so if you do this hike on the weekend, be prepared to see a lot of people on the lower part.
See the trail map for additional notes and a visual reference to some of the points made in this article.
Click Here for the topo map with the trail route, then click on the individual icons for trail notes and/or pics. If the icon info comes up empty, try reloading the map.
Click the first pic to start the manual slide show: