Today we are going to the TWA crash site in the Sandia Mountains. Back in 1955, a TWA flight headed for Santa Fe left Albuquerque in a snow storm. Sadly, the flight lasted only a few minutes when it veered off course and crashed into the mountain. There were investigations regarding the cause which changed over time, but ultimately seemed to be from some kind of mechanical malfunction. 13 passengers and 3 crew were killed instantly. A memorial has been set up on the mountain to honor these poor souls.
The trail begins at the Elena Gallegos Picnic site, which is just off of Tramway on Simms Park Rd, and heads up the mountain approximately 4 miles. It is considered a difficult trail with the last ~1.5 miles being extremely steep.
You will need to bring $2 for parking. ($1 weekdays)
Here is a hiking map for the Elena Gallegos area. We are basically going to follow the Domingo Baca Trail to its end where the TWA canyon lies. Luckily we have an experienced guide (Ruth) who has hiked the trail many times.
The trail heads north and is marked Domingo Baca Trail. The boxed area of the map below shows where we are headed which is directly under the Sandia Tram. The below map can be found at https://www.cabq.gov/parksandrecreation/documents/elena.pdf
We learned a lot about the area from our guide and some important rules such as “The Rule of 3” which states that you should always hike with at least 2 buddies. Should someone get injured, one person can go for help while the other stays with the injured person. Great advice!
I also have to admit that I was really cold on the way up (it’s mid October) and I was super hot on the way down. The low/high was 51/85F for today but I think it was a lot cooler when we were in the shade a couple thousand feet up! I’ll probably dress in more layers and carry a larger backpack next time.
Can you spot the tram line in this image?
We haven’t even gotten that far up and the view is amazing.
The first interesting thing we found was this mini rock house. I was told that it was home to a geocaching treasure.There were lots of fallen trees along the path, some of which had been cleared away.
We learned a bit about scat or poop, which was quite interesting, and saw several examples of bear scat (just a bit alarming to me), which contains a lot of vegetable matter seen in the image above. Apparently, you can often see hair in bobcat scat and deer scat looks like small pellets. Our guide assured us that bears have no interest in humans unless you are so unfortunate as to accidentally get in between a bear and her cubs. The trail we were on had a significant amount of traffic and our noise would most likely scare off any wild life.
Another choice looms later on the path, one of which involves some minor bouldering while the other does not. We braved the boulders on the way up but decided to take the alternate route on the way back. In this image we are just about to the end of the Domingo Baca trail and about to enter the TWA canyon.
Seeing the wreckage for the first time elicited mixed emotions – both awe and sadness.
There is a spot toward the end of the wreckage with a nice fallen tree to sit on and a great view for a quiet moment to take in the beauty and tragedy of the site.
On our way back down, search and rescue was on the way up and asked us if we had seen 2 boys on the trail. They had been on the way to the crash site but had gotten lost and could not find their way down. I have to admit that prior to this hike I would have thought ‘just head down’ but there are some really thick areas with surrounding trees where the trail is not obvious and places where towering rock faces are on all sides (see below). It can be very disorienting. The one thing that made me feel comfortable was being able to spot or hear the tram overhead as we got further in, but even with my map and the tram in view overhead, I would not have noticed the cairn for the first turn off or known that there were alternate paths (bouldering vs. not) later on. I would highly recommend taking an experienced guide for your first time.