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Madrid & Other Gems of the Turquoise Trail

Madrid & Other Germs of the Turquoise Trail Courtesy of The Essential Guide.jpg


In the mood for a leisurely, relaxing day trip? If you’re in Santa Fe or Albuquerque, the perfect day begins only a short way from either city. The Turquoise Trail National Scenic Byway (NM State Road 14) is a delightful alternative to the interstate that connects the cities. The reason: the 50- mile byway offers breathtaking views as it winds through old mining towns and charming villages. From Santa Fe, they include Los Cerrillos, Madrid, Golden, Sandia Park, Cedar Crest and Tijeras.

But first, on the way to the Turquoise Trail from Santa Fe, stop by Mortenson Silver & Saddles, a shop well known by both local and international ranchers. Check out their custom buckles, conchos, jewelry and horse-related goods before continuing down the road to Los Cerrillos.

Los Cerrillos (“The Little Hillls”) is a picturesque town that reminds you that you are in what was once the Wild West. At its zenith, when the village was awash in miners searching for gold, silver, lead, zinc and turquoise, the town had 2,000 residents and 21 saloons. That makes it all the more surprising to come across the Turquoise Trail Sculpture Garden, a private residence, studio and gallery nestled in the Little Garden of the Gods. Meander through towering, monumental rock formations intermingled with art. Jennifer and Kevin Box are the masterminds behind this zen-like garden, which was inspired by the Boxes’ visits to magnificent gardens in Japan.

On down the road is Todd and Patricia Brown’s Casa Grande Trading Post, which is housed in a sprawling adobe hacienda, and their Cerrillos Turquoise Mining Museum and Petting Zoo. Browse through nearly half-a-century’s worth of antiques that chronicle the area’s history and view the large mineral collection that includes turquoise in rare shades of green, blue and a green/blue combination. Turquoise has been mined in the Cerrillos Hills for a millennium but, says Todd, “I’m one of the last miners in the area that still mines up in the hills. You never know what color turquoise you’re going to get when you’re in the mountains. That’s why it’s still so fascinating.”

Check out Cerrillos’ other shops and galleries, and the hiking and biking trails. Plan to stop at Cerrillos Station, which provides urban amenities, as well as crafts, gifts and Native American jewelry and pots. It also houses an art gallery and spaces for art, yoga and ballet classes — all in a beautifully restored historic building updated with state-of-the-art green technology. If vintage Western wear, cowboy boots and Native American jewelry are your thing, and you’re in Cerrillos on a weekend, make tracks to Cowgirl Red. However, if romantic clothing and jewelry are more to your liking, take a step back in time and visit Heaven Boutique. Don’t leave Cerrillos without dropping in the Black Bird Saloon, where owners Kelly and Patrick Torres offer delicious, creative food and several local brews. Whenever possible, they start with fresh, local, sustainable products. Then they transform them into inventive, mouthwatering breakfast, lunch and dinner dishes.


Madrid (pronounced MAD-rid) is a small but colorful cultural center situated 30 minutes south of Santa Fe and an hour north of Albuquerque. Once a ghost town, Madrid now has a bustling main street lined with more than 40 unique shops, galleries, restaurants and museums. Over time, the town has been reborn as an arts destination, and today the village of 300 is populated largely by artists, artisans and rugged individualists. Year round, Madrid hosts festivals, parades and other special events, but it wasn’t always the vibrant town that it is today.

Founded in the mid-1800s as Coal Gulch, the town was later renamed Madrid. In its heyday the coal-mining boomtown was a model company town with a population approaching 3,000. Thomas Edison lived there for a time, and he left behind a power plant that made Madrid the brightest town west of the Mississippi.

In the early 1920s, the village put on its inaugural Christmas Lights Display, a festival that featured 150,000 Christmas lights and attracted national attention. But with World War II and then the area’s switch from coal to natural gas in the early 1950s, Madrid found itself in a swift decline. When its power plant closed in 1954, Madrid went dark. Finally, in 1973, the land was split into 200 parcels that were priced between $500 and $2,000 each. It’s hardly surprising that the entire town sold in less than three weeks.

Eventually Madrid began attracting peripatetic young people and became a home for artists, craftsmen and others who bought property and settled there. Today, decades later, it has become a miniature arts capital with a spectacular series of exciting activities and events. It brims with colorful houses-turned-galleries, quaint boutiques, and homey restaurants and coffee shops, many of which flank the mile-long stretch of Main Street.

The Hollar restaurant and the Mine Shaft Tavern are good places to start any Madrid adventure. At either of these community hubs, you're sure to meet some locals. The Hollar specializes in dishes that fuse Southern cuisine with fresh local ingredients. If you're there at lunch, sink your teeth into The Hollar's shrimp po’ boy, fried green tomatoes or crispy chicken and grits, or enjoy a burger with a side of fried okra as you do some people watching on the patio.

Or enjoy a meal at the historic Mine Shaft Tavern, perhaps its award-winning “mad chile burger” and one of the 12 local brews on tap. Along with its roadhouse cuisine, the Mine Shaft features great live music and entertainment nightly and is an integral part of the town’s robust music scene. The Mine Shaft’s welcoming environment makes it the town’s equivalent of Cheers. There’s always an interesting buzz. “It's all possible because of the creativity of the people that live here,” says Lori Lindsey, Mine Shaft owner and proprietor. “There's only 300 people, but they're almost all artists, musicians, writers or small business owners. It's a real creative community that lends itself to interesting dialogue.”

The renovated Madrid Old Coal Town Museum provides a peek into the town’s past via a fascinating amalgam of historical artifacts and relics. It’s open daily, April through October, 11 a.m. - 4:30 p.m., but only on weekends in the winter. At the museum, discover Madrid’s connections with David Bowie, the 2007 movie Wild Hogs (Madrid has long been a favorite stopping off place for motorcyclists), the Chicago White Sox, the Manhattan Project and Trans World Airlines. Next to the museum is the Engine House Theatre, which hosts performances, events and exhibitions year round. Old Engine 769 is parked outside, waiting for kids and kids-at-heart to climb aboard and explore it.

And part of that fun, along with shopping and events, are visits to Madrid’s array of galleries. Check out the Tibetan carpets, Navajo weavings, and custom rugs and furniture at Seppanen and Daughters Fine Textiles. For handmade stoneware, visit Conley Pottery Studio.

At Range West, along with local fine art and jewelry, you’ll see beautiful outdoor stone fountains that Josh Gannon fashions from locally mined, richly colored granite and basalt. He began learning his craft when he worked with a local stone importer, and although he’s had no formal training, he eventually mastered the nuances of shaping rock. He says, “I’m always intrigued and surprised by the natural beauty tucked inside and revealed only when I get my hands and tools on it.” Gannon believes stones really are special. He notes that when people travel, they often pick up and collect rocks from all over the world. According to him, stones are the stories linking us to our experiences.

Also on display at Range West are Kathleen Casey’s paintings and micaceous clay pottery. At her Vessel Studio on Wednesdays, from 4 to 9 p.m., you can watch Casey make pots — she uses the coil and scrape method — and even make mica pottery vessels yourself. Twice a year she offers weeklong pottery workshops, so consider making a week of it in the village.

For whimsical folk art, head to Weasel & Fritz. Studio 14, on Main Street, also houses the town’s radio station, and along with displaying art, the gallery is used for performances and readings.

At Indigo Gallery, works by Jill Shwaiko, Jane Cassidy, Carole Larouche, Brad Price and others are on display. Be sure to see the beautiful granite fountains and Shwaiko’s bronze sheep in the sculpture garden. Shwaiko, who both paints and sculpts, says, “Here we have the freedom to experiment with more individuality in our work. We don’t get stuck. We don’t get stale.”

Jezebel Studio and Gallery (there’s also a soda fountain inside!) showcases Jezebel Wells’ fabulous stained-glass creations, along with an eclectic mix of other artists’ works that includes glass, fine art, lighting, furniture, jewelry and crafts. (Wells created the monumental glass chandelier that graces the Great Hall of the Albuquerque Sunport.)


In the warmer months, Madrid hosts several festivals and events that attract crowds from Santa Fe, Albuquerque and beyond. On May 18, 2019, the Mine Shaft hosts the 12th annual Crawdaddy Blues Fest, an all-day affair jammed with live blues, crawfish dishes, Cajun specialties, barbecue and hurricanes. Tickets are $25, with children under 12 free.

The Madrid Gypsy Fest, held every June at the Oscar Huber Memorial Ballpark, features music, food, fortune tellers, drummers, belly dancers, circus acts and vendors, food, drink and beer. The July 4th Parade and Ballgame, a resurrected tradition from Madrid's mining days, lives on with quirky touches from the town's citizens. Most of Madrid's gallery openings take place in the summertime, with monthly art walks that are typically on the first Saturday of each month.


Even as the weather gets chilly, Madrid gets down to the business of fun. October is a busy month starting with the Madrid & Cerrillos Village Studio Tour. This two-weekend event, held the first two weekends of the month, is an opportunity to meet dozens of local artists and learn how they work. Mid-month is the Madrid Chile Fiesta at the Mine Shaft Tavern, which hosts New Mexico food specialists and theatrical events. Later in October the Madrid Old Coal Town Museum hosts “Ghost Town” Museum Tours, and the Mine Shaft gets spooky with “Haunted Mine Shaft” Tavern Halloween Events which lead up to the holiday.

Madrid Christmas is a monthlong celebration with festivities each weekend in December. The festival starts with the Christmas Parade and Town of Lights and features visits from Santa and Mrs. Claus, a Santa contest, horse and carriage rides and live music. In December the Old Coal Town Museum also presents its annual exhibition, “Madrid's Famous Town of Lights.” The last — and first — event of the year is Madrid's New Year's Eve Party at the Mine Shaft Tavern. It includes a special dinner menu, live music and dancing.


A bit farther south down State Road 14 from Madrid is Golden, named for the short-lived gold rush. Today ranchers live in the area. Visitors often photograph the old adobe San Francisco Catholic Church, which dates back to 1830, as well as the nearby ruins of the town’s old stone schoolhouse.

A little farther still is the community of Sandia Park, a popular place for bicycling, hiking, horseback riding, skiing and birdwatching. Birders eagerly await the hawk and eagle migrations in these mountains. Sandia Crest is nearby, and its 10,678-foot elevation makes the Sandia Peak Tram another wonderful way to enjoy the beautiful vistas of the Sandia Mountains and the Cibola National Forest.

On the road to Sandia Crest, you’ll find the Tinkertown Museum. Tinkertown began as a hobby, but in 1983 became a museum filled with folk art creations, including thousands of miniature woodcarved figures of people, instruments, animals and objects. There’s an animated miniature Western town and a three-ring circus, along with Old West memorabilia, old-time arcade machines, dolls, antique tools and more. For the 2019 season, the museum is open 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily, April 1 through October 31.

Resume your travel south along the Turquoise Trail, through Cedar Crest, and you arrive at the small village of Tijeras. It’s at the southernmost tip of the trail in an area dedicated to the protection and management of the Cibola National Forest wildlife. While there, visit the Tijeras Pueblo Archeological Site, which dates from the early 1300s and was one of the larger canyon villages of its time. Walk the self-guided trail and visit the museum. While in the East Mountains, also visit The Church Folk Art Gallery, an “art sanctuary” and event and performance space housed in an historic 1870 church.

Eventually, you come to the southern end of the Trail: Albuquerque. While many visitors think of Albuquerque, the state’s largest city, and Santa Fe, one of the country’s oldest cities, as “the” New Mexico destinations, a leisurely day on the Turquoise Trail will remind you how important it is to enjoy the journey itself. With its rich history, quaint towns and abundance of charming people and talented artists, the Turquoise Trail makes it worth skipping I-25 and savoring a relaxing, unhurried day enjoying its gems.

Contributions by Jordan Eddy, Alana Grimstad, Brenda Linker and Elise Waters Olonia.

Leah Pinkus