Located high on a cliff in Las Huertas Canyon, Sandia Man Cave is a unique slice of history in New Mexico. First discovered in 1936 by a University of New Mexico anthropology student, the cave was excavated from 1937 – 1941. Scientists and students found the skeletal remains if Ice Age animals like mastadons in the cave, as well as stone arrows and lance points, basket scraps and bits of woven yucca moccasins.
The finds caused great excitement since the oldest dated presence of man in the United States (at that time) was in Folsom, New Mexico, which dates to 10,000 years ago. At first blush, this cave and its inhabitants seemed to be about 10,000 older. As it turns out, more recent dating shows the inhabitants, who lived in the first cave only, either lived of used it as a seasonal stopping point between 12,000 and 10,000 years ago. That still makes Sandia Man Cave one of the earliest known habitats for early man.
About 25 miles outside of Albuquerque in the Cibola National Forest & National Grasslands, Sandia Cave isn’t as spectacular as Carlsbad Caverns for example, but it has a spectacular view and great history. A curtain of stone nearly blocks the entrance, causing visitors to stoop or crawl to enter. However, that’s probably why early man selected the site — that stone curtain makes a great wind break. The cave continues 300 feet into the cliff and the tunnel is tight, dusty and very claustrophobic. Sandia Man only lived in the entrance, and that’s where the excavations were concentrated.
It is a half mile hike to the cave entrance from the parking area, plus a climb up a steep spiral staircase to the entrance. The view from the top of the staircase offers a stunning panorama of the forest covered slopes of the Sandia Mountains. Because of the curtain of stone, the cave is pitch black and can by very chilly, so dress accordingly, and be sure to bring a flashlight if you want to go in farther than the entrance.
The nearby town of Albuquerque offers every form of amenity – great hotels, motels and resorts, shopping, dining, museums and historical sites. Here are several other places of interest if you are in the area:
- New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science
- Albuquerque Biological Park which contains the Albuquerque Aquarium, the Rio Grande Botanic Garden, the Rio Grande Zoo and Tingley Beach.
- Petroglyph National Monument
- Sandia Peak Tramway
- Salinas Pueblo Missions National Monument
- Bandelier National Monument
Cibola National Forest & National Grasslands
2113 Osuna Rd NE
Albuquerque, NM 87113