Drive From Albuquerque to Santa Fe
The Turquoise Trail provides a scenic drive between Santa Fe and Albuquerque, New Mexico; it was designated a National Scenic Byway by The National Scenic Byways Program on June 15, 2000. The Turquoise Trail is to be discovered along New Mexico State Highway 14, with side trips up to Sandia Peak on New Mexico State Highway 536 (Sandia Crest Highway). You can drive it in either direction; we trace the Trail starting at Albuquerque and going to Santa Fe. The lure of the Trail includes turquoise jewelry, art galleries, views and buildings to please any photographer, fantastic buttes and bluffs, and the occasional wild elk.
Take Interstate 40 east out of Albuquerque and exit once out of the city to drive along the Old Historic Route 66 (now Highway 33) eastward to NM Route 14. You will frequently find yourself able to see I-40, but taking the old road will get you ready for what is to come. Remember this was where people “got their kicks” as they went west. You can still see signs of those pre-Interstate days, amid the rugged beauty of the terrain. You will drive through Hondo Canyon and East Mountain. At the Village of Tijeras, merge to the left on to NM Route 14, which offers the traveler a magnificent view. Head toward folksy, fun and funky Tinkertown, a collection of amazing, historic items. The Tinkertown Museum has walls of more 50,000-plus glass bottles; a hand carved animated miniature western town, a three-ring circus, and more. The collection offers an extravaganza of everyday life, all created by one man, Ross Ward. Many rank its museum shop as good as Tinkertown itself.
At Sandia Park Center turn left on to 536 and head up the east face of Sandia Mountain. Sulpher Spring is a good place for a picnic if you have planned ahead. You may wish to visit the Sandia National Forest Armijo Trail. At The Two Mile High Sandia Crest House, you can enjoy breathtaking views, eclectic gifts and light dining. It can get windy and chilly up so high, so bring a sweatshirt or jacket. Sandia Crest offers a view from an elevation of 10,000 feet. Return the way you came, and then continue northward on NM Route 14. You will see junipers, pinon trees along the sides of the road, decorative ranch gates, and views of the Ortiz Mountains beckoning you directly ahead; the mountains were the site of one of the first gold rushes west of the Mississippi.
The town of Golden was the center of that gold rush back in 1825, long before the California or Colorado gold rushes. Colorful bottle walls south of town enclose one of the old stagecoach stops. Henderson Store in Golden has been family owned and operated since 1918. Open Tuesdays through Saturdays, Henderson’s carries high quality, competitively priced Native American arts and crafts. St. Francis of Assisi Church constructed of adobe is beautiful against the backdrop of the mountains; the church dates to 1830. If it is open, it is well worth a look inside; the cemetery is still in use today. Across the road, the old school house’s stone walls form a picturesque ruin. While in Golden, you may wish to visit the Gifted Hands Gallery, Stagecoach Canyon, and Las Lomas De La Bolsa.
Madrid (pronounced “Mad-Rid”) is a highlight for shoppers and strollers, in terms of quaint galleries and shops. Relax and walk up and down the streets, chat with the friendly shop keepers. This is an artist colony, in a former mining town. The Old Boarding House is perhaps the most recognizable landmark due to its size and prominent location. Lunch at the Mine Shaft Tavern serving the Green Chile Basket, or have a coffee break at Java Junction. Other eateries include The Holler and Maggie’s Diner. Have a sweet treat from Shugarman’s Little Chocolate Shop. In Madrid, turquoise jewelry may also be found at a number of shops including: Coal Miner’s Daughter, Conley Studio Pottery & Friends, and Mostly Madrid. The Great Madrid Gift Emporium which you will find under the sign, “Cheapest silver west of the Pecos There is a restaurant inside, as well, in the back. Order a chimichanga with salsa and a side of green chili. The Jezebel Soda Fountain offers sodas and candy, as well as ice cream.
The village of Cerillios is sometimes called a ghost town. But folks still live here. The town’s name means Little Hills. Turquoise has been mined here for over a thousand years, centered at Mt. Chalchihuitl, where evidence of prehistoric mining remains today. Some of it found its way to become part of the crown jewels of Spain. Lead, silver, and zinc were mined at the oldest mine in the USA, the Mino de Tira, and gold was once also mined in the area. Each one of the dilapidated buildings in Cerrillos has a storied past. Be sure to visit the Casa Grande Trading Post; the Cerrillos Turquoise Mining Museum is there. The Trading Post is one of the places where you can shop for Cerrillos turquoise along the Trail; you will fine rare green natural turquoise stones from the Little Chalchihuitl Turquoise Mine, and pretty blue cabochons from the Little Blue Bell Mine. Here also you can arrange to take a Turquoise Tour to Mount Chalchihuitl. Cerrillos boasts an old mission church, Iglesia de San Jose, built in 1922. Additional attractions include Astronomy Adventures, where you can explore the celestial jewels and wonder found in New Mexico’s nighttime sky (telescopes are provided) and Broken Saddle Riding Company which offers rides in the Cerrillos Hills State Park and to the silver and turquoise mines. Walk, trot, canter or gallop in small groups or private rides. Enjoy these attractions by appointment.
As you draw nearer to Santa Fe, San Marcos offers the San Marcos Café, just ten miles north of Cerrillos for great food in an old fashion hardware store. Lone Butte is called ‘The Garden of the Gods of New Mexico’. It is fenced in, on private property, but there’s a pull-out where you can stop to see it. These little towns in the middle of New Mexico’s remoteness have their own flavor. The constants are the rolling hills, the big blue sky, and the tumbleweeds floating across the road. Many who travel the Turquoise Trail rave about the natural beauty, the interesting shops, the evocative abandoned buildings and the friendliness of the people. Go with the expectation that you will see and do things you haven’t till now, and you are sure to enjoy exploring this historic byway.