I don’t drive that much. Repeat visitors to my blog might have noticed. Dozens of posts about parts and projects, but no drives. Till now.
It’s not that I don’t enjoy driving. I really do. And Sharka is very enjoyable to drive. I just am more at home underneath the car than behind the wheel. I love wrenching. But there’s more to life than just skinning knuckles and swapping engines. So… here’s my first post in the Drives category – Sandia Crest.
Sandia Crest is pretty much THE drive that you ever read about in New Mexico. I mean, there’s a ton of great roads here, but Sandia is the one most non-natives know about and love. If you tell someone you’re visiting NM, someone else will chime in “you have to drive up the Sandias.”
You might notice on the above image that I’ve got a lot more road than just the 14 miles up the crest mapped out. My buddy Stoly created this drive for us. We started in Albuquerque and went down 337. Then through the rolling foothills on 217 (it looks straight but is actually quite awesome). And finally up the Crest Road and back. About 100 miles of some fine mountain driving.
We left town late morning after most people had arrived at their day jobs. Nice to have a mostly empty freeway and few drivers on the backroads. And also, rolling shot of Sharka? YAY! I have so few of those.
State Road 337 really is a gem. You could just drive down it and double back and have a grand time. There’s nothing like the elevation changes on the Crest Road, but there’s plenty of fine corners. And did I mention the generous shoulders and fresh pavement?
We continued on to the foothills along 217. There aren’t many twisties… okay, there’s none, but the rolling hills are extremely beautiful. Very relaxing to drive. And with temps in the low 80s, it was a nice break from the mid 100s Albuquerque has recently been experiencing.
Yeah. My backyard thermometer hasn’t shown me a high below 99 in about 3 weeks. June has been brutal.
Sandia Crest Road
A quick left off 217 dumped us right on the Crest Road (possibly known as NM536). A couple miles through foothills and we were climbing 5000 feet over 14 miles. The top of the Sandias are around 10,000 feet above sea level.
And… well… it’s great. Tons of turns and switchbacks. Sadly, not much opportunity for passing or pulling off and very easy to catch up to slow goers. And I’m not saying that we were blazing up the mountain at hyper-legal speeds. Anything is lightning fast compared to the 10-15 mph at which most sedans ascend the mountain.
Pulling over to stop and enjoy nature and build up a buffer zone between you and the slow moving pace cars is highly recommended. Often.
Sharka and Flipper would like me to type a paragraph about how little their radiators like the air at 10,000 feet. They don’t. It’s far too thin for keeping things cool. Sharka’s temps were kept at bay with FM’s incredible Big Ass Fan Kit. Flipper had a recently-installed radiator. But it was still a bit much for the poor cars. 10 minutes with the hoods popped helped out considerably. And, of course, the downhill.
Oh, the downhill.
The downhill is the reason for going up in the first place. It’s fantastic. When you’re on the top, you can plan your exit so that you have as large a buffer between you and other cars going down. I think one car left to return down in the 10 minutes Stoly and I were on the crest. The drive down was truly excellent.
It probably doesn’t need to be said, but conserve those brakes. Because there’s always another turn asking you to use them.
No, I didn’t forget. Almost, but not quite.
If you’re coming from the ABQ airport, drive north on I-25 to I-40 east. This will take you out of town. In about 10-12 minutes, you’ll reach NM-14. To go straight to Sandia Crest, drive north through the town of Cedar Crest. You’ll then turn left (west) on 536, also known as Sandia Crest Road. It is very well marked and hard to miss. 14 miles up and 14 miles back down.
And if you want to take 337, it’s in the opposite direction of NM-14. Instead of turning north on NM-14, you go south on 337.
There are no additional words needed but I did manage to get a few shots worth sharing.