South of the small town of Placitas, New Mexico, located high on the side of a cliff wall in the Las Huertas Canyon is the Sandia Cave. Despite the controversy surrounding the cave’s discovery and claims about the early inhabitants, it is a place both locals and visitors enjoy.
The cave is a little over 15 miles from the RV park. On a warm Saturday in mid-February, we drove east on Hwy 165 past Placitas, where the highway curves to the south. Just past the 9-mile marker, the pavement ends and the highway becomes a gravel road. Parts of the road were smooth, but there are many ruts and bumps. I was glad we were in the truck.
We soon arrived at the cave parking lot. The narrow trail up to the cave is easy and offers spectacular views of the Cibola Forest and the mountain.
There are two sets of stairs on the trail. The first set is concrete. A little way further up the trail is a metal spiral staircase. The staircase is very narrow, with textured steps that grab your shoes. The website indicated it was dog-friendly, but I don’t think a dog’s paws would like those steps. We were glad our dogs were waiting for us at the RV.
From the platform at the top of the spiral staircase, you duck under a gate to reach the cave entrance.
The inside of the cave is dark, dank and dusty. A 4 ft. wall has been built across the tunnel that leads down into the cave. The tunnel is extremely dusty and dark. I was content to shine the flashlight into the tunnel while Andy took some photos. We were not prepared to climb over the wall to go down the tunnel.
The cave was a popular spot that warm Saturday afternoon. As we were coming out of the cave, several others were climbing up the steps. Looking out from the platform, we saw another group walking up the path towards the stairs. It was time for us to go down the staircase.
Walking back down the cave trail, we heard water running.
Are there falls nearby?
When we reached the parking lot, we crossed the street and walked in the direction of the sound. Not falls, but some nice rapids in a clear stream.
When we pulled out of the parking lot, Andy turned left. This was not the way back to Placitas. “I just want to explore a little. See what is up this way.”
We were soon driving up a rough, gravel road into the Cibola National Forest. The Garmin showed we were still on Hwy 165. Once again, I was happy we were riding in the truck.
We stopped several times to check out the view and look at the snow. After we had crept along the road for a while, we saw many tire tracks up the side of a hill. It was messy and looked like a favorite spot for offloading. We parked along the road at the bottom of the hill and walked up.
The view was spectacular. Let’s just say it was of the high point of our drive.
The road is narrow and the few times a truck or jeep approached us from the opposite direction, both vehicles slowed down and pulled over as far as possible to allow room to pass.
We knew those trucks and jeeps had accessed the road from somewhere. After checking the map to find where Hwy 165 was taking us, we saw it eventually intersected with Hwy 536.
After slowly driving a bit further down the slush-covered gravel, we saw pavement up ahead. The road ended in the parking lot of the Balsam Glade Picnic Site. There were many families enjoying the snow, carrying brightly colored discs up the nearby hills.
A curious man walked over to our truck and asked if the road we had just taken was rough. Andy suggested that he not attempt it without 4-wheel drive.
Leaving the parking lot, we turned south on NM-536, also known as the Sandia Crest Scenic Byway. If we had turned the other direction, we would have driven to the 10,678-foot crest of Sandia Mountain.
The drive back to the RV park was a long one. We were on the other side of the mountains and had to drive around them to return to Bernalillo. It was dark when we arrived at the RV and the dogs were ready for dinner.
I did some research on HWY 165 through the Cibola Forest and the Sandia Mountains for this post. One site listed the gravel part of the road as 7.8 miles, with an elevation increase of 2200 ft. It seemed longer than that, however, we were driving very slow. After the snow melts we will take HWY 165 through the mountain again, and turn north on NM-536 towards the crest.