Location: Albuquerque, New Mexico
Hiked By: Snuggles
Take Tramway Blvd. heading north. Once you pass Academy, keep an eye out for a sign to the east alerting you of the Elena Gallegos Open Space Area. Once on this paved turn off watch out for cyclists! Take this road down to the Guard Building and pay a small fee for parking ($1 to $2). Before you go check out the website to verify fees and hours of operation via this link Elena-Gallegos. There are multiple parking areas however I would recommend the small lots to the Northeast. Some of these are reserved for events and blocked off however you will find additional parking that is always open to the public.
Depending on your starting location this hike will be around seven or eight miles total (out and back). It would be wise to carry lots of water and snacks. This trip report will describe around a 7 mile to 7.5 mile hike.
I would highly suggest starting this hike early as to avoid excessive heat and sun exposure. The first major section from parking lot to the last step of the Domingo Baca Trail is completely exposed leaving sunscreen and water a must. As you continue up into the canyon you will be primarily in tree coverage and hiking along a small stream so a water filter could be used if needed.
During this hike you will be surrounded by a variety of flora and fauna from barrel cactus to aspens and from lizards to deer. As you hike through a variety of environments you are increasingly gaining in elevation which makes some sections extremely steep. Most of the trail is clear and easy to locate however the closer you get to the actual crash site the trail becomes more overgrown and less defined. A GPS could be used however this hike can still be done without one (I did not take one on this trip, hence the lack of exact mileage of trail markers, intersections, total hike, etc.) however taking a friend along with you would be recommended for overall safety.
The crash site itself is both amazing and humbling. Please show respect for the persons that perished at this site and respect the debris that was left behind. Check out this link for more information on the crash: TWA.
There are several ways to start your hike to the TWA Canyon (unofficial name) however during the trip my hiking partner Abigayl and I started out on The Nature Trail. Sections on this trail are partially paved. Depending on your parking location or how much open space hiking you would like to do, there are other options to starting this hike besides The Nature Trail such as Trail 341, 342, or again 230. Check out this link for a detailed map of the area.
We took a small section on the Nature Trail to Trail 342. Trail 342 heading northeast will intersect with Trail 230A. Trail 230A then intersects with the Domingo Baca Trail. Once you step on the Domingo Baca Trail you have officially left the Open Space and have entered Wilderness Area. The Domingo Baca Trail terrain is primarily open desert with no tree coverage. The trail is very clear and very easy to identify as you hike alongside the beautiful Sandia Mountains and various desert flora. As the trail turns east towards the mountains you will start to notice more rocks within the trail and large boulders along side it. The trail will also start to climb slowly as you hike closer to the canyon.
You will hike by the ruins of an old rock shelter which will be on the left of the trail at the very mouth of the canyon. Past this rock shelter consider yourself off officially marked trail. From here you will follow the trail right making your first stream crossing. Finding water is very surprising for the very dry environment the Sandia’s provide. Finding flowing water was even more of a surprise for both Abigayl and I. Once crossing the small stream you will notice a big difference in your surroundings as you now continue east following alongside the stream. You will now be surrounded and covered by shady trees, bushes and various other floras causing you to forget you are in New Mexico.
Eventually you will arrive at a split in the trail around a half mile away from the old rock shelter. At this noticeable split, you can take a very steep left to a dead-end view of the surrounding area or a right, up a rocky five foot embankment. This embankment can be slippery so use caution!
You will continue deeper into the canyon crossing the stream occasionally. The trail is well-worn and easy to travel but does have a few boulder crossings and or will be littered with rocks in other sections. This will not be a problem for most hikers and even smaller children. You will notice along your way small off shoot trails that will lead you to a few campsites on both your right and left. The trail will become noticeably steeper in sections as you continue gaining elevation the further into the canyon you hike.
The trail will again split slightly while on the well-worn section of trail. This split will usually be marked by a rock cairn on or against a log to the right of the trail (you may also notice with a few larger branches laid down in the stream bed further to the right of the rock cairn designed to function as a bridge of sorts). If you take this less defined trail you will be hiking around a very steep sandy embankment that awaits you on the main trail. Abigayl and I chose the main trail towards the sandy embankment but took this go-around trail on our way back from the plane crash site.
If you stay on the main trail you can’t miss the large and very steep sandy embankment as you will be fully exposed, free of tree cover. From here the trail will not as defined and goes in and out of tree coverage. I would recommend occasionally stopping and evaluating your surroundings to ensure you are on an actual path. Abigayl and I found ourselves at times unclear if we were heading in the right direction or on the right path. We would at times utilize visuals of the tram for direction and luckily the occasional sounds of small talk from other hikers ahead of us..
Finally the trail returns into tree coverage running closely alongside the canyon walls (to your right) here it will noticeably dead-end running into what looks like a stack of branches and logs. Look to your left and you will see the trail continues up another stream bed that transitions into another desert like setting. This section is again less defined and you may find other trails taking you to the same location, and exposed area with a large rock cairn. When we arrived at this point there was an old red sweatshirt placed on the cairn making it very obvious we were heading in the right direction. At this point you are maybe a half mile away from the crash site. From the rock cairn you see the trail continues up and to the right. At this point you are almost directly below the wires of the tram and may see it pass depending on tree foliage, regardless you will hear the tram if you haven’t already at this point.
The trail leaving the rock cairn is very over grown taking you through dense foliage. You will soon see two tires on your left then a few steps more you will notice the first large piece of wreckage. This first piece of wreckage has a plaque mounted on it with information on the crash and its crew. Following the trail further up and you will see other various pieces of the plane including stairs and engine pieces. The trail takes you along three levels of wreckage the first being the large piece with the plaque, the second various scattered pieces and the third is the largest collection of scattered pieces along with the largest fully intact piece in a concave section of canyon wall.
To get to the third section of wreckage you must do a small bit of bouldering as the trail goes up a 10 foot boulder that is lying against one side of the canyon wall. You can also locate a small steep path that goes around this small rock obstacle. We went up the boulder but did have to throw up trekking poles and packs ahead of ourselves. On our return we did take the trail around the boulder.
Overall the terrain to the crash site is amazing leaving one to forget they are in New Mexico. It will take the average hiker several hours to complete the hike (out and back) so allowing a full day to hike would be would be best. I personally found the hike refreshing enjoying both the steeper sections and small rock scrambles some however may find this hike somewhat difficult (more so the last mile and a half before the crash site). The crash site itself was very humbling and I was glad to have researched the event prior to hiking having a better understanding on what happened.
(Domingo Baca Trail Going Into Canyon)
(View From Last Rock Cairn Before Crash Site)
(First Piece of Wreckage With Memorial Plaque)
(Scattered Pieces of Wreckage)
(Another Large Piece of Intact Wreckage)