By Carrie Dunlea
New Mexico is the Land of Enchantment with its diverse terrain encompassing five different mountain ranges, caverns, plateaus, rivers, lakes and reservoirs. If you’re visiting the state, and a bit of a New Mexico novice, plan a little detour one day and travel one of the states 25 scenic byways.
If you’re in Central New Mexico, one byway that is a ‘must see’ is a 52-mile drive called the Turquoise Trail. This beautiful stretch of highway takes you through quaint and quirky towns including the mining towns of Golden, Madrid and Cerrillos, and links the cities of Santa Fe and Albuquerque. Though not always known as the Turquoise Trail, the name was picked in a contest in 1953, a tribute to Native Americans who mined the area for turquoise as early as 900AD. Today the mineral is still mined in some communities in New Mexico and Colorado.
If you’re traveling north from Albuquerque, head west toward Tijeras, the gateway to the Turquoise Trail and mountain communities along the way. This tiny town with under 600 residents is home to the Tijeras Pueblo Archaeological Site. Stop for a visit and walk the 1/3 – mile self-guided trail on the property. It is open everyday from sunrise to sunset at no charge. The trail covers the area where the people of the village lived and worked 700 years ago. Illustrated interpretive signs guide your way and a full-scale model of part of a pueblo is built for visitors to see. A museum is located just off the trail and is open on weekends and features information about the ancestral pueblo people and the food, tools, clothing and architecture used when they inhabited the area.
Cedar Crest is the next town you will discover on Highway 14. The town has a café, a barbecue place, a thrift store and a community theatre. If you’re interested in staying the night, check out Elaine’s Bed & Breakfast, a three story log home at the
base of the Sandia Peaks. If you’re more the camping type, reserve a spot at the Turquoise Trail Campground and RV Park. Cabins are available as well as RV hookups and secluded tent sites. Another option is the Cedar Crest Country Cottage and Stables where you can enjoy a 1, 2, 3 or 4-hour horseback ride through the Sandia Mountains. Call in advance and make a reservation.
Sandia Park is your next stop on the trail where you can enjoy this scenic and recreational paradise. In December through March, Sandia Peak Ski Area is open for skiing and snowboarding. In the summer, ride the Sandia Peak Chairlift above the Cibola National Forest. Mountain bikes are allowed for those who are interested in biking the 15 miles of trails. Another way to view the beauty of the area is the Sandia Peak Tramway, where you can ride 2.7 miles above deep canyons. The top observation deck sits at 10,378 feet. Take your camera as you enjoy the views of the Rio Grande Valley.
When you get back to town take some time to visit the Tinkertown Museum. This quirky 22-room museum features miniature wood carved figures (many of them are animated in style) by artisan Ross Ward. Thousands of glass bottles form the walls of this enchanting museum with many of the figurines set in scenes depicting a circus, a saloon, blacksmith shop, a western town and so much more. This is one stop guaranteed to make your trip almost as worthwhile as the scenic views!
If you love Alpacas or amazing fiber, stop along the way and visit Hollywick Farms Alpacas. This working alpaca farm has free tours available daily from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. After you’ve visited with all the Alpacas, take time to visit the farm store. You’ll find beautiful one-of-a-kind goods such as hats, gloves, socks, sweaters, scarves, toys, blankets, and, of course, beautiful soft alpaca yarn, hand-dyed alpaca yarn and raw or dyed alpaca roving.
Up next on your trip is Golden. Though the town wasn’t officially formed until 1879, it was originally inhabited by Native Americans and Spaniards in the early years before American settlers discovered the area. It gained notoriety in 1825 when gold was discovered on Tuerto Creek long before the California and Colorado gold rushes. Mining camps ensued bringing workers and prospectors, and soon the first church, the San Francisco Catholic Church, was built around 1830. Mining continued in the area until around 1892, and in 1918 the first General Store opened. It is the only business in town today, now called Henderson General Store. The store alone is worth a stop and offers more than “general” merchandise. You’ll find Southwestern American Indian jewelry, rugs, pottery and more.
As you travel north, the town of Madrid is next along the trail situated in a canyon in the Ortiz Mountains. Once a coal mining town, then a ghost town, Madrid experienced a resurgence in the 1970s when artisans started buying up the real estate at bargain prices in the long-forgotten town. Today Madrid is a destination, somewhat of a much less fancy stepsister of Santa Fe, with one-of-a-kind shops, art galleries, restaurants, a museum, spa and beautiful turquoise jewelry for sale.
If you’re hungry, there are multiple places to eat in Madrid plus a chocolate shop. Learn about coal at the Marine Old Coal Town Museum where you can see mining relics, movies and more. Want to spend more than the day in town and hang with the artists? Check out Java Junction B & B or Ghost Town Trading Post & Lodging where two self-catering apartments are available to rent.
Travel from where coal was mined to where turquoise was, and is, mined and you’ll find Cerrillos, a tiny town with dirt streets reminiscent of the old Wild West. Aside from the fact that Cerrillos Hills State Park is nearby with 5-miles of hiking, biking and riding trails, you’ll find no shortage of things to do in this tiny town. Known for its beautiful and unusual turquoise, visit and learn about the mineral at the Cerrillos Turquoise Mining Museum located on Highway 14. The museum is a 28-room adobe house with a gift shop with exclusive natural Cerrillos Turquoise, a large rock shop, old bottles, the mining museum and much more. If kids are in tow, check out the petting zoo on the property with friendly goats, a llama, chickens and more.
For an artistic adventure in Cerrillos, don’t miss the Turquoise Trail Sculpture Garden. Located in the private residence of artists Jennifer and Kevin Box in Little Garden of the Gods, the towering rock formations serve as the perfect background for their exhibit, Origami in the Garden. Giant sculptures made of metal in origami shapes reach for the sky creating a unique experience.
Continuing your journey to Santa Fe, you’ll pass through San Marcos/Lone Butte. Once considered a top spot for farming and pottery dating back to the 1600s, it was abandoned after the Pueblo Revolt. Originally a major hub for farming and pottery, now the area is mainly residential. If you have an affinity for silver and saddles, don’t miss Mortenson Silver and Saddles on the southern side of Santa Fe. You’ll be amazed by the handcrafted belt buckles, Conchos, ranch saddles, show saddles and so much more.
No visit to New Mexico would be complete without taking advantage of the stargazing opportunities. Check out Astronomy Adventures south of Santa Fe one evening. The facility offers educational and entertaining guided night sky tours. Experience the New Mexico night sky filled with millions of stars. Call ahead and reserve a telescope for you or your group.
Now you’ve reached the end of your journey on the trail so why not spend some time in Santa Fe? Check out Rancho Gallina Inn & Eco-Retreat. Located 20 minutes south of town, the Inn is considered the “greenest place to stay.” It is a solar powered ranch that features five rooms, suites or casitas plus a rental house that can sleep up to 22 guests. The food is top notch with farm fresh breakfasts served every day plus guests can relax and enjoy a cedar soaking hot tub, hammocks or sit on the porch and read. When you’re ready to go, multiple adventures await for you to explore.
Road Trips are fun, especially when they are under a day’s drive from DFW. Grab a friend or family member and travel the Turquoise Trail and experience Central New Mexico. Once you’ve tried this trip only 24 more scenic byways to go!