Looking for Medallion Trees on the Faulty Trail


The Sandia Mountains, immediately east of Albuquerque, have several dozen if not over 100 Medallion Trees. They are very large trees that have a round metal medallion (smaller than a silver dollar) mounted on them about chest high from the ground. Each medallion is named for an event that occurred on or around the tree’s germination date. The medallions are briefly mentioned on page 100 of The Gentle Art of Wandering.

The medallion’s creator (or creators) has not been made public. Whoever did make the medallions had the patience to locate very large trees in the Sandias, drill core samples, carefully count the rings, make the medallions, and then return to the tree to mount them.

What an incredible pastime for the medallion creator. And for us, what an incredible way to enhance a hike by spotting one while walking through the mountains. Many of them can be found along or near the Faulty Trail on the east side of the Sandias. The Faulty Trail is featured in Hikes 2 and 14 in the 3rd Edition of 60 Hikes within 60 Miles: Albuquerque.

If you search hard enough on the Internet, you can find a list of the medallions with their GPS coordinates. The lists are probably not complete, but they are a good start. As for using a GPS to find a medallion, I have oftentimes found it easier to just spot a medallion rather than rely upon the GPS. A handheld GPS device can get you into the vicinity of a medallion, but with variables such as map datum and inherent inaccuracies in handheld devices, there is a very good chance that you’ll have to do some searching before finding the medallion.

To look for medallions along the Faulty Trail, we’ll start at the trailhead of Hike 2 at Canyon Estates in Tijeras. If you don’t have the book, there is an excellent trail map at the trailhead. The hike actually begins on the South Crest trail, and we’ll have to follow it for a mile before reaching the Faulty Trail.

When you reach the very small stream or trickle of water crossing the trail above the travertine cave, you might want to look at the limestone wall to your right just before the stream. It’s loaded with marine fossils.

We’ll actually find our first medallion tree on the South Crest trail after the stream and a little before reaching the Faulty trail.

GPS Coordinates: N 35 05.798 / W 106 23.777

Soon after the Huygens Manometer tree, we’ll reach the Faulty trail. The first part of the Faulty is very steep, but it soon levels out and enters a mixed forest of piñon, ponderosa, and wavyleaf oak.

The Faulty trail is identified by diamond shaped blazes.

If you’re lucky, you might spot what was once a path or route heading off to the right. Our next medallion is around 200 or 300 feet off to right on the old trail. It celebrates the First Performance of Hamlet. I found this medallion a few years ago totally by accident. I bumped into it when I left the main trail to use the facilities.

GPS Coordinates: N 35 06.284 / W 106 23.923

While wandering around the area near the Hamlet medallion looking for other possible medallion trees, I spotted something unusual for the Sandias – a small chunk of obsidian and a potsherd. With Native-American settlements at the base of the mountain, the mountains were a place for hunting or gathering wood and acorns. When you let yourself wander, you’ll always find something. Even if it isn’t what you were looking for.

Not long after the Hamlet medallion, you might see another medallion off to your left and high up the slope mounted on a large ponderosa.

GPS Coordinates: N 35 06.300 / W 106 23.946

Here is the view from the Mozart medallion.

Continuing up the trail, there will soon be a cluster of three medallions. Two will be 20 or 30 feet off to the right in the middle of the woods but still visible from the trail. And one will be off to the left right on the trail. It’s so close to the trail that it is easy to miss.

GPS Coordinates: N 35 06.384 / W 106 23.836

GPS Coordinates: N 35 06.391 / W 106 23.829

GPS Coordinates: N 35 06.394 / W 106 23.837

Here’s how close the Phosphorous Tree is to the trail.

In addition to medallions there are great textures to spot as you walk along.

Very soon after the Phosphorous medallion, the trail will enter a ponderosa grove. Off to the left you might see a huge, now fallen, ponderosa with a medallion celebrating George Washington’s Birth. According to the list I found on the Internet, there are two other medallion trees right in this area. So far I have never found them. I don’t know if the trees have fallen or if I’ve just missed them. Regardless of what you find in this area, you’ll still be able to breath in the wonderful scent of the ponderosa grove.

The scent of the ponderosa is absolutely wonderful!

Here is the fallen George Washington Birth Tree. The medallion is underneath. GPS Coordinates: N 35 06.492 / W 106 23.853

Here’s a picture of the medallion from underneath the tree.

This picture was taken two years ago when the dead ponderosa was still standing.

From here, there is a gap in medallion trees (or at least in what I have found). If we continue north on the Faulty trail, we’ll soon pass the junction with the Upper Faulty trail. There are two more medallion trees very close to each other maybe a half mile or so north of the junction.

GPS Coordinates: N 35 07.004 / W 106 23.830

GPS Coordinates: N 35 06.983 / W 106 23.821

At this point, you might want to turn around to keep your hike within the five-to-seven mile range. You might even want to complete the route of Hike 2 by taking the Upper Faulty trail back to the South Crest trail.

If you have the time or, even better, have a car spotted at the trailhead of Hike 14, you can continue north on the Faulty trail. Along the way, you’ll have a chance to spot several more medallion trees – including these.

When you reach the Native-American thong tree, you’ll be entering the area of Hike 14 and will have one more medallion tree to go. It’s on a section of the trail that has now been bypassed. The Forest Service has mounted a trail sign pointing the way to the medallion tree.

The Forest Service has never authorized the medallions and does not encourage these types of endeavors. But they do recognize that they are out there and that people like to look for them, and that’s why they erected the sign pointing the way to the medallion.

This is a thong tree. The distortion was caused by being tied with a thong when it was sapling. The distortion points to a spring.

And here’s our final Faulty trail medallion.

As for us, the medallions are one more incentive to get out there and wander and to see what we can find when we go on a hike. Even if you don’t find a medallion, you’ll still have a wonderful hike, a chance to take in the scents of the ponderosa, and also get in some great views along the way. And if that isn’t enough, with forest cover the entire way on the Faulty trail, you’ll have the chance to engage in the Japanese practice of Shinrin-yoku – or forest bathing!


  1. Does the Forest Service have any information when (approximately) these medallions mounted on the trees?

    • The Forest Service does not have dates when these were mounted as they were done without official approval. I am sure that many of the medallions are more than 50 years old.

  2. Fascinating information and, as always beautiful photos. Some hard-core detective work goes along with this hike! Thanks for sharing your expertise and talent for choosing fun facts in nature. Hope you and Claudia are staying virus free and healthy otherwise. Hard to believe we don’t have an end in sight to this lockdown and any info as to when we might be able to gather w/o social distancing again. In the meantime take care. Special hello to Claudia.

  3. What a great hike to do with kids to talk about historical events!

  4. It was nice to find this article. I was hiking on the Pino trail on 10/14/2020, just a few days ago, and found that the Galileo’s Death tree had fallen over, unearthing a lot of the trail along with it. The last time I was along that stretch of the trail was only a year ago – 10/19/2019 – and the tree was still standing. It was sad to see.

  5. Thank-you very much Sandy. I could not get the GPX file to download, but I had already started entering coordinates into my Garmin anyway. We’ve had fun looking for the Medallion trees, and so far have 36 of them. Some we had already found during our numerous hikes here started about a year ago, but now we’re making a concerted effort to look for them. And some we hiked right by on prior hikes without even noticing (!). It looks like the medallion on the Pueblo Indian Revolt tree on the Embudito trail is now missing. It looks like the Robinson Crusoe tree at Ponderosa Point on the La Luz trail must have only recently died, because it still has needles (which are all brown). My favorite one so far is Lonely Pine, which is not a pine at all, but a healthy contorted Douglas Fir up near South Peak.

  6. Hi Stan: Thanks for reporting the broken link to the GPX file. Here is a link that works: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1s-ld6dKIK9jyCY175zC41_e8jhI6rXmM/view?usp=sharing

  7. I’ve have accumulated a bunch of digital resources related to medallion trees. Links can be found in this document:

    If you are aware of other appropriate links, let me know and I will add them.

  8. I have an update on the Pueblo Indian Revolt tree on the Embudito Trail (not too far down-trail from Oso Pass). On 2/3/2021 I was hiking down the trail and came across a large Ponderosa pine close to the trail on the west (uphill) side. Almost on a whim I got off the trail and climbed up around the back side of it and found a very new (2020) medallion on the tree. However, this tree, although in the vicinity of what I thought was the “original” medallion tree (whose medallion was missing) is significantly up-trail from the “original” – much more so than could be attributed to uncertainty in my GPS coordinates that I used to find the “original” one and which I obtained from the online listing. So the good news is that the medallion has been replaced. What I find odd is that my coordinates for the “original” tree could have been so far off, when those for all the other trees I’ve found have been highly accurate. I did not have my GPS with me on this last hike, so next time that I do and I come across this tree I’ll take a reading to compare. GPS readings can certainly be off in the mountains and under tree cover, but again it’s odd, that the online-listed coordinates for the “original” tree took me straight to a fat, tall, massive Ponderosa right next to the trail.

  9. We were unable to find the medallion for Lorenzo Log Water Trough #22 Tree (#51 in the spreadsheet listing). It is supposed to be close to the junction of the Faulty and “Forest Park Canyon Bottom” trails. We did find a large Ponderosa closest to “ground zero”, and suspect that might be it. Does anyone know whether this tree is supposed to be a Ponderosa? (Do many people even read the older articles in this blog site?!).

    • The Lonrenzo Log Water Trough is quite literally a water trough; a hollowed log used to water livestock back in the day. It is located in a stream bottom very close (~10 ft) from the Faulty Trail. The trough is oriented more or less perpendicular to the trail, on the south side of the trail. If you are standing on the trail looking down the length of the trough, the medallion is at the far end, low down on the right side. It is one of the old school steel medallions. It is small and dark colored. Hard to spot. It was there a few months ago.

      You can find some discussion of medallions on a Facebook page here:

  10. We found the Stamp Act Tree #40 (#49 in the spreadsheet listing) on the Faulty trail yesterday (04/07/2021). Is this tree a Douglas Fir? All the branches with needles were very high up, so it was difficult to tell if it was perhaps a pinyon. I did not think firs were common this far down the mountain. However, all the cones scattered around the floor below the tree resembled Douglas Fir cones, which are very distinctive from Pinyons. It’s a nice big tree, very dark green too. I suspect it is indeed a DF, but am hoping for independent confirmation from someone who knows for sure.

  11. Regarding the USAC Northrop A-17 Crash Site Medallion Tree #17 (#14 in the spreadsheet listing), has anybody really ever seen this? This Tree is located in the Remote Bear Canyon Wilderness, but access from the Bear Canyon Arroyo is blocked by the Albuquerque Academy private property. I emailed the Academy months ago requesting permission to skirt the side of the property boundary for just a single day in order to hike back there, but I never heard a reply (I sent it to their Security address, so maybe I should try a different one).

  12. On 07/02/2021 I observed that the medallion on the Galileo’s Death Tree (up high on the Pino Trail) had gone missing. People just can’t leave well enough alone. The last time I had observed it was back on 12/30/2020.

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