Albuquerque, New Mexico was hot last week. They broke heat records the day it was 105°F which was also the day we rode the tram up to the peak of the Sandias. Mother said that when Larry, my brother thirteen months older than me, was a baby, Daddy drove them up the winding highway to the rim. The old photo albums have pictures taken around then of Mother sitting on the ground, on a blanket, next to the 1940’s car that Daddy had pulled to the side of the highway. She was young and beautiful, in her short sleeved sweater and slacks, eating a pickle and smiling at Daddy as he took the photo. Infant Larry lay sleeping beside her on the blanket and toddler Trevie followed Daddy around.
She said that she and Daddy had always wanted to ride the tram but never had the time or the money or the combination of the two on their various trips from California to see family in New Mexico and in later to years to head on east to visit more family in Texas and Tennessee, so this trip to Albuquerque, as we went to view Daddy’s and her headstone and to put Daddy’s ashes in the grave, this trip, we would ride the Sandia Peak Tramway.
She was tired when we got up that morning at the motel, but determined. She had come this far and she was not going to give up now, so she and my younger sister, Winzona, and I braved the heat, turned the A/C on high in the rental car and drove to the base of the mountains. The guides were solicitous of Mother’s age, her cane and her slowness in walking.
“Right this way, Sweetie, let’s find you a seat.” The woman said as she took Mother’s arm, helped her over the threshold of the cable car and guided her to a corner, where other passengers moved out of the way so that the flip down seat could be Mother’s. There was only one other corner seat so the other fifteen or so of us passengers, stood and held on to the poles or leaned against the windows.
The views headed up the mountainside were amazing and we could feel the air cooling off as we rose. They’d had two years of drought and this year has yet to tell whether or not it will bring enough rain or be a third year of drought. Mother was amazed at how dry everything looked.
“I’ve never seen Prickly Pear Cactus dying from the heat!” She said, hanging on to the pole next to her seat and peering out the window. The 78°F on top of the mountain would be a welcome relief.
Just beyond the half-way point of our fifteen minute ride, the guide, who was standing on the west side of the tram, pointed far below us and said,
“There’s the Mama Bear and her cub.”
And the people on the east side of the tram rushed to the windows on the west side. Except me. Wait a minute, I thought, are we sure we should all be rushing to the other side of the tram? Is this a good idea? I gripped the pole next to me, but the cable car didn’t even sway as people pressed against the windows to look and in a few minutes they moved back around the car reclaiming their spots near the poles or the east windows. The car can handle 10,000 pounds, we were told, so evidently some rushing around by fifteen people of various sizes was no big deal.
The landing at the top of the rim was gentle, the car swayed a time or two, then settled and the guide helped Mother over the threshold once more. The redwood decking around the tram station and down to the restaurant were the only places people were allowed. The hiking trails, ski lift, mountain biking and at the far point of the granite mountain, the rock cabin that was built in the 1930’s by the Civilian Conservation Corps, were all off limits. The fire danger was too high.
“Oh, I’m dizzy.” Mother said.
“It’s the altitude.” The guide said. “Just take it slow.”
We made our way carefully around the redwood decking that was sloped downward for people who didn’t want to use the redwood decking stairs; stopping frequently in the shade of oak, aspen, pine and locust trees to enjoy the view, point out squirrels, chipmunks, birds and butterflies, and eventually ended up at the High Finance Restaurant, where they seated us against a window that looked out over Albuquerque in the valley far below. The food was unique and delicious. Try it when you get that direction!
We talked about how much Daddy would have loved it, the heights, the majesty of the mountains, the history of the tram, the display of the various cables used, the size of the huge pulley wheels that work the cables; all of it would have fascinated him. We missed him, but that’s what this trip was about, celebrating Daddy, so it felt good to do something he would have loved.
I spotted a wheelchair as we left the restaurant and assured it was there for whoever needed it, worked off my lunch pushing Mother up slight inclines and gratefully paused to catch my breath at each landing. We were reluctant to leave the cooler mountain air, but down below in the valley, Larry’s plane would land and soon after, Trevie and his wife, Melissa, were driving in from Tennessee, so we again boarded the tram and slowly dipped our way back into the intense heat.