Rich with history, the Carlito Springs Trail takes you half way up the slopes of the Sandia to a 179 acre lush oasis consisting of historic cabins, fresh spring fed ponds, and orchards.
Just on the other side of the Sandia Mountains and minutes from the city of Albuquerque sits a dreamy and lush property that seems to pop off the pages of a fairytale. Fruit trees, ivy, and thousands of flowers among terraced gardens create a magical space among the typical juniper brush landscape of this side of the Sandia Mountains. There are also historical travertine cabins, natural ponds, and an extensive orchard on site.
The actual property is located one mile up the trail and is only accessible by foot. There is a parking lot and informational sign at the trailhead. Once you set out on the trail, you will enter a nice shaded forest and cross a couple of bridges. Though it can be a hot day, this is a pleasant walk, even in the summer months. The walk up to the property is uphill. But the path is well marked and manageable. If you start to feel out of breath, just take it easy and take a water break. Before you know it, you will arrive at the property and be rewarded with the beauty of this historical living history oasis that combines n amazing mix of natural and manmade features.
The trail makes a large loop, just shy of two miles. The most direct and shortest route up to the property is to take lefts at both forks in the trail. This is route is less than a mile each way. The forks are not marked, but staying left twice will take you directly to the cabins and is also the more shaded route, and therefore, less hot.
Carlito Springs Open Space has a unique and interesting history that began long before Bernalillo County obtained the property. The springs were first owned by Horace Greenwood Whitcomb in 1882 who formed Camp Whitcomb that included six cabins, a stable, and road leading up to the property. The property had various owners until Carlton Cole Magee bought the property in 1930. Magee, who founded the Albuquerque Tribune and invented the parking meter, renamed the springs "Carlito" after his son who died in a plane crash. The property even served as a boys’ ranch and sanitarium for those with tuberculosis in the 1930s. Eventually, Magee’s daughter lived there with her atomic scientist husband. Together, they planted a quarter million tulip bulbs and added English black walnut, nectarines, cherries, wild plums, almonds, apricot, and fig to the orchards.
The county purchased the 177 acre property in 2000 as part of the Open Space Program. It wasn’t until 2014 that the county opened up the space to the public. Though visitors are now allowed, it won’t be until the completion of Phase 2 (water and sewage system) that will eventually make the cabins operational. For now, you can only peer in the window to get a glimpse of what the past was like at Carlito Springs.
We had a fun time exploring around the interesting and beautiful property. The kids peered in cabin windows, climbed deck stairs, and loved sitting around the spring fed ponds. I love the lush and beautiful landscaping and get a kick out of knowing we are only 20 minutes from the city. I always feel transported to a “Garden of Eden” and can picture a scene out of Narnia while I am at this serene property. We did see one picnic table on the property, but it was sitting in the sun. However, there are many shady ledges and walls to sit have a snack break and take in the amazing beauty of Carlito Springs. There are also trails that lead off from the property that you can explore further.
Bernalillo County now maintains the trails, property, and parking area. The open space is open daily dawn to dusk and leashed pets are allowed.
For something fun…when visiting Carlito Springs, there is the “Singing Road” nearby in Tijeras. This stretch of Route 66 was put in as an experiment by the National Geographic Channel as part of a series called, "Crowd Control.” But drivers can only hear the song if they go the posted speed limit of 45 mph. The road uses “rumble strips” to play music. You must stick to the speed limit to hear the song. The goal of this experiment was to change driver behavior in a fun way by giving them a reward if they obey the speed limit. We always have to turn around and drive the rumble strip a few times to hear the song and it is always a hit with friends.
East of Albuquerque near Tijeras