The Turquoise Trail National Scenic Byway
connects ancient mines and ghost towns reborn as artist
communities. With eye-ache blue skies and hundred-mile views, it’s easy
to see why the high desert hills along the New Mexico Turquoise Trail
have a history of inspiring both artists and mystics. From Albuquerque
to Santa Fe, the 65-mile-long National Scenic Byway, NM 14, parallels
I-25, but it passes through a world where the mining and jewelry-making
have changed little since puebloan miners chiseled the sacred blue stone
from shallow digs.
The Southwest Indians called turquoise “chalichihuiti,” or sky stone,
and considered it a sacred talisman for health, happiness and
protection. Archeologists unearthed 56,000 pieces of turquoise in a
single burial at nearby Chaco Canyon. Mayan ruins as far away as
Honduras contained jewelry with stones mined from the Cerrillos Hills
along the New Mexico Turquoise Trail. The
following is a suggested itinerary for those interested in a day trip to
small New Mexico towns and artist communities.
4-8 hours, 120 miles round trip
All stops accommodate tour buses and RVs
(From Old Town, I-40 east to Tijeras, exit 175, 20 miles)
Old Town to Tijeras
To learn more about the local history of turquoise, start at the
Turquoise Museum at the corner of Rio Grande and Central Ave., across
the street from Old Town. The museum displays turquoise from 30 mines
across the Southwest, while the lapidary shop demonstrates how the
mineral is cut, polished and set in jewelry. Joe Dan Lowry, the owner
and fourth-generation turquoise miner, will gladly give you an impromptu
Turquoise 101 lesson.
(From Tijeras, NM 14 north, 30 miles)
Tijeras to Madrid
Continue north through Cedar Crest. Little museums, bizarre
roadside attractions, fine-art and craft galleries, trading posts,
B&Bs, and mom-and-pop cafes line the winding corridor through the
juniper-piñon covered hills. Take time to chat with the owners and
you’ll discover people who are inspired, independent, iconoclastic and visionary, but most
of all, who have an ardent passion for life.
At the crossroads at San Antonito, NM 536 spurs off to Sandia Crest. On the way up, stop at the Tinkertown Museum
the life work of folk artist Ross Ward. From miniature carved figures
and animated dioramas to wacky western memorabilia, the 22-room
collection was featured on Good Morning America and visited by the Dalai
From 10,678-feet on the Sandia Crest, the view stretches across
Albuquerque and the Rio Grande valley to Mt. Taylor, 65 miles distant.
Trails lead along the rim from the Crest House Gift Shop and Restaurant,
which serves delicious green-chile cheeseburgers and chicken
quesadillas. See the Nature Tour
for more activities in the Sandia
Back on NM 14, don’t b/travel-tools/abq-experts twice or you’ll miss the ghost town of
Golden, site of the first gold rush west of the Mississippi in 1825. The
booming town supported saloons, businesses, a mercantile store, school,
and a stock exchange. The small but ornate San Francisco Catholic
Church, built in 1830, is still in use.
Approaching Madrid (pronounced MAD-rid), a sign warns “Congestion
Ahead.” On weekends, pedestrians turn the village into one extended
shopping mall as they crisscross the highway between galleries and
shops. Park at any of the galleries and join the procession. Madrid is
one of the few towns in the Southwest where most of the galleries are
Madrid offers the best choices for lunch along the route. The Mine Shaft
Tavern serves a locally inspired roadhouse breakfast, lunch and dinner
menu. A small café, coffee shop and soda fountain-deli round out the
Down the street, “Maggie’s Main Street Diner” may look familiar if you
saw the movie “Wild Hogs” (2007) starring John Travolta. The storefront
was built as a prop for the film. The area’s stunning scenery has
attracted dozens of films, including “All the Pretty Horses” (2000),
“Young Guns” (1988) John Wayne’s “The Cowboys” (1973), and “Easy Rider”
Madrid to Cerrillos
The New Mexico Turquoise Trail leaves Madrid and enters the fabled
Cerrillos Hills where the pueblo Indians mined the sacred blue mineral
for jewelry and trade for thousands of years. The Spanish conquistadors
sent Cerrillos turquoise back to Spain for the crown jewels. Boom-town
Cerrillos sprung up when gold was discovered in the 1870s. At its peak,
it sported 21 saloons, five brothels and four hotels.
Driving into the old mining town feels like entering a western movie
set. The dirt streets, adobe houses and clapboard storefronts haven’t
changed much since cars replaced horses. Only Saint Joseph’s Church,
built in 1922, a bar and a few businesses remain. Be sure and check out
the Casa Grande Trading Post and Mining Museum with its petting zoo and
thousands of artifacts.
The Turquoise Trail in New Mexico
leaves the desert hills
and continues past Lone Butte onto the treeless sagebrush plains.
Pronghorn antelope sometimes graze near the highway and the Sangre de
Christo Mountains form a scenic backdrop. NM 14 crosses I-25 where you
can return to Albuquerque or continue into Santa Fe.