Escaping the Heat (Swiss Alps Style)

I love desert heat. When I was expecting my first child, I would escape to Death Valley in the summer to get more of the heat I craved. I visit friends in Phoenix in July, and have been known to head to southern New Mexico in the summer when it is just too cool here in Albuquerque.

My heat cravings translate into rarely cooling my home in summer. (This is also partly due to my desire to reduce my carbon and water footprints.) Living in remote areas on Forest Service and BLM land taught me the value of using resources in measured ways – habits I still keep in the city.

The City of Albuquerque does its part in encouraging us to reduce our water footprints by offering rebates for low flow toilets, xeriscaping, high efficiency washing machines, and hot water recirculation systems. AlbuquerqueGreen touts plans for energy and emissions conservation, but as far as I can tell, those of us living in home with lower carbon footprints don't get any rebates. Virtue is its own reward, it seems.

Our swamp cooler sat unused during our first three years in Barelas. I was lazy and never got around to hooking it up. Adobe walls 24 inches thick, 9 foot high ceilings, ceiling fans and judicious use of window shades keep us about 20 degrees cooler than outside temps. There just wasn’t enough incentive for learning how to operate a swamp cooler – not when I could spend the time reading or writing or hanging out with family and friends.

And truth be told, Jim Belshaw's Dr. Swamp Cooler scared the dickens out of me.

At the start of our fourth summer in Barelas, we sold the swamp cooler. A few years later, we installed a new HVAC system at the urging of my family members, who do not share my passion for heat and who claim that the computers in the house need cooler temps.

So now, the AC gets used for a five hours a day for about two weeks a year – not my preference, but you learn to compromise when you are in a family and when your livelihood depends on functional computers. I'm not sure whether we came out ahead in the carbon/water footprint sweepstakes, but heat-related grumpiness has gone way done around here since we installed AC.

Last Friday, as I watched the other members of my household wilt, I took pity on them and offered an escape from the heat. In keeping with my plan to try something new every week this summer, we headed up to Sandia Peak on the tram – something I had never done before.

Several other people had the same thing in mind – the parking lot was full! It was marginally cooler in the foothills than in the valley, and the building was even cooler, which made waiting in line for tickets quite bearable (for some).


We were able to get tickets for the next tram leaving (they leave approximately every 20-30 minutes).


Once we got outside, I was stoked to see the awesome gear mechanism.


Our tram car was filled to capacity. Taking photos was a bit of a challenge since I could barely life my arms without elbowing someone. Fortunately, everyone was in high spirits.


I struck up a conversation with a woman standing 8 inches away – she and her husband were visiting from California. We chatted for a moment, when she asked me if I was an academic. (Huh? Do I really look like the absent-minded professor?) And then when I told here where I worked, she revealed told me she was a CODA. So we slipped from English into American Sign Language and then back to English again. I counted 5 languages spoken on the tram car as we ascended, and most people identified themselves as tourists from outside NM.

From the tram car looking south.


The tram mechanism at the top of the mountain.


A view from Sandia Peak.


Albuquerque Alpine habitat – conifers and grass, plus a glimpse of the ski lift on the east side of the mountain.


Despite this sign, we didn't see any wildlife other than a few raptors.


Sunset at the top was lovely, but my camera doesn’t do it justice.


Upon returning back to warmer climes, I asked one of the tram employees about the engineering involved in building the tram. He directed me to this display window, where you can read about the tram technology and specifications.


You can also see the enormous counterweights in action - intimidating and to my eyes, cooler than the temps at the peak!


Muchas gracias to Robert Nordhaus and Ben Abruzzo for having the vision to put this attraction in Albuquerque. Details about tickets and more can be found at the official Sandia Peak Tramway website.

Views: 23

Comment by akoolstik on July 21, 2009 at 4:31pm
geez, i wish i had known this! i would have sent you on my business trip to phoenix last week!
Comment by Barelas Babe on July 21, 2009 at 5:00pm
Hahaha. I was there last week! I could have DONE it for you. Next time I'll let you know in advance.
Comment by akoolstik on July 21, 2009 at 5:09pm
you could have done it! that is too funny!
Comment by Barelas Babe on July 21, 2009 at 5:27pm
Well, I suppose it depends on what kind of work you do. If it is music-related, you might keep in mind that I've got a significant hearing loss. (Though some do not see this as a deterrent).
Comment by killbox on July 21, 2009 at 7:23pm
wow, your love of heat makes me cringe a little on the inside, anything over about 90 and my brain just starts to shut down, and i wind up dripping with sweat.

Im also the last person you want to ask if the temperature is ok, because where im comfortable most other people have teeth chattering. And its not like i grew up in very cold climates, in fact i grew up about 20 miles outside Albuquerque.
Comment by Ben Moffett on July 21, 2009 at 9:59pm
Are you a BLM/Forest Service brat or do you just visit these areas for pleasure?
Comment by Barelas Babe on July 21, 2009 at 10:09pm
@ Ben Moffett - you are close!
Comment by Barelas Babe on July 21, 2009 at 11:14pm
Brrr....64 degrees is just too cold for me!
Comment by Tricross on July 24, 2009 at 8:24am
BB - you and I are kindred souls. I too love heat. I joke that I shiver below 90! If you have HVAC, turn the blower on (not the cooler) before you go to bed. That will take the house temp down to whatever the outside temp is at night. Then shut windows and doors and lower the shades and the house should stay cool throughout the day and keep the non-heat loving residents content while still reducing energy usage. Great post.
Comment by Barelas Babe on July 24, 2009 at 12:07pm
Tricross - thanks for the tip on the blower. We do shut down the house in the morning and it stays remarkably cool through the day - I flit around raising and lowering shades as the sun makes its journey. My kids find this mildly amusing.

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