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On the Turquoise Trail

New Mexico day six


View New Mexico road trip 2011 on ToonSarah's travel map.

The Hotel Blue in Albuquerque, where we had spent the night, prides itself on its ‘pressure relieving Tempur-Pedic mattresses’ and I was amazed at how comfortable it was, while Chris declared this the best sleep he’d had in ages (despite an incident when I got up to use the bathroom in the night, to discover that a single switch operated both bathroom and main bedroom lights, and thus I had no choice but to flood the room with light, thus waking him!)

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Turquoise Trail

The hotel provides a complimentary if simple breakfast which we took advantage of – fruit juice, yoghurt, bread, waffles (make your own) etc. They proudly announced that they serve Starbucks coffee, but it was nevertheless far too weak for my taste, as usual.

The Turquoise Trail

It is possible to drive from Albuquerque to Santa Fe in a couple of hours, taking I25, but we had all day and the slower route to the east, another of the state’s scenic byways known as the Turquoise Trail, looked much more appealing. Named for the former turquoise mines in the region, this road (Highway 14) takes you through a series of one-time boom mining towns which are for the most part now very small and sleepy.

So we headed east out of town for a few miles on I40 before turning north, starting our explorations with a couple of sights close to the city.

Sandia Peak

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Aspens on Crest Road

A very popular excursion from Albuquerque is to take the Sandia Peak Tramway to the top of the mountains that fringe the eastern side of the city, for the view and for the outdoor pursuits available there (walking in the summer, skiing in the winter). We hadn’t had time for that while exploring the city yesterday. But there is another way to visit these mountains, by car. So we started our journey to Santa Fe with a detour off Highway 14 along Highway 536, or Crest Road as it is called. This is slow and winding, not a road to be driven in a hurry.

Soon after turning off from Highway 14 we passed the entrance to the Tinkertown Museum, which we planned to visit later, and shortly after this the road started to climb. It was late September and as we climbed we found that the trees, still green at lower altitudes, were starting to take on their autumn hues. There were several stands of aspens that were especially marvellous, and we found ourselves stopping several times to take photos, as around each bend there appeared to be an even more magnificent group.

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More of the aspens on Crest Road

By the time we reached the peak we were at 10,678 feet above sea level. The large parking lot was nearly empty. We paid the required $3 fee (operated on an honour pay system) and took the path which climbed a short distance higher to a view of the city spread out beneath us.

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Albuquerque panorama

I expected to see the Tramway terminus and be surrounded by the crowds who choose that route up, but we found that this spot is a couple of miles north of that and consequently much quieter. There were useful information boards along the path pointing out the landmarks that can be seen (including a distant Mount Taylor) and describing the geology and natural history of the area.

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Albuquerque from Sandia Peak

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View of the distant mountains from Sandia Peak

We spent some time admiring the view and taking photos, glad that we had warm tops in the car – the thermometer in our car had dropped from 70 Fahrenheit to 58 in the course of the drive up.

We then retraced our route down the Crest Road to the aforementioned museum.

Tinkertown

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Entrance to Tinkertown

As soon as I read about Tinkertown I knew that it was a ‘must see’. We both love these idiosyncratic places that seem to define a US road trip for us – and this is one of the best we have come across. If you are anywhere in the area I urge you to go – you’ll have great fun and even maybe find yourself a little moved by the dedication of the one man who created it.

So many of these quirky folk-art museums are the result of one person’s obsession. In this case that person was Ross Ward. It took him over 40 years to create the huge number of models and scenarios that make up Tinkertown, and it’s easy to believe that it took that long once you start to explore. As he said, ‘I did all this while you were watching TV’. A sign inside explains:

‘Tinkertown was begun as a hobby in 1962. The little General Store came first (it was all I intended to build at the time!) 90% of this display was built by myself. The buildings are scraps form my sign business and the people are wood-carved or made of clay. Many of the furnishings are antique toys and miniatures. I did it all “a dollar at a time” without a grant or a bank loan! You can do the same no matter what your project!’

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Just a tiny part of the recycled bottle wall

The fun started as soon as we pulled up in the car. There are old signs galore, wagon wheels, saddles, other Wild West paraphernalia dotted around the site, while the wall that surrounds the museum is made up of over 50,000 glass bottles – recycling gone crazy! Once we’d finished exploring and taking photos outside (at no charge), we paid just $3 each to enter the rambling museum, where we were transported to another world!

The first section, which was probably my favourite, consists of a row of dioramas depicting different buildings on a sort of Wild West theme. There’s the General Store already mentioned, a hotel, a Native American Trader, a pharmacy with a doctor’s surgery above and many more. Some are animated, all are fascinating and repay careful scrutiny – there are just so many amusing details. Here a man with a cleaver chases chickens in a circle, the doctor ogles a young female patient while his nurse glares at him, men fight in the street, couples ride by in wagons and children play.

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The General Store

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The doctor's surgery

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The Native American Trader

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The barber's shop

In other sections we saw Ward’s various eclectic collections from over the years, including wedding cake couples, antique tools, bullet pencils, dolls and more. Later models are on a grander scale, especially the circus, complete with big top, cages of animals, trapeze act – the list goes on.

Many of the models are animated. When we paid for our entry we were given a quarter back to put into the first animation, a hillbilly band ‘Rusty Wyer and the Turquoise Trail Riders’. We were glad however that we also had a few quarters with us to use on the other models we came to later in our tour – the Boot Hill Cemetery in particular was a must!

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Rusty Wyer and the Turquoise Trail Riders

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Boot Hill Cemetery, Tinkertown

Oh, and hidden among the collections is a small model of Mark Twain, and this quote from him, which I think could be a great motto for any of us here on TravellersPoint:

‘Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely ... Broad, wholesome, charitable views ... cannot be acquired by vegetating in one’s little corner of Earth.’

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Mark Twain

Outside we found a rather incongruous addition to the collection in the shape of the Theodora, a 35 foot wooden boat that a friend once sailed around the world before retiring to the Caribbean and donating his boat to Tinkertown.

Golden

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Church of San Francisco, Golden

Our first stop on the Turquoise Trail proper was in the ghost town of Golden. This was the site of the very first gold rush west of the Mississippi back in 1825, even before the more famous California and Colorado gold rushes. So rich did the seam of gold appear that the town, originally named El Real de San Francisco, changed its name, and it soon grew to support several saloons, businesses, a school, and even a stock exchange. But by 1884 the gold was already beginning to run out and with no gold to keep them here people began to leave. The town survived for a while, acting as a small hub for local ranchers (the Golden General Merchandise Store opened in 1918 and is still operating today). But decline seemed to be inevitable, and by 1928 its population was so small that Golden was officially declared a ghost town.

For years afterwards its many abandoned buildings remained, falling into ruins among the very few still occupied, and that’s pretty much how we found it. There was a scattering of houses, and several piles of old stone that on close inspection revealed themselves to be crumbling walls. Most were too far gone even to be very photogenic, unlike some other ghost towns.

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Church of San Francisco, Golden

But one building was definitely worth stopping for a photo or two, the pretty little Catholic Church of San Francisco, dating back to 1830. Unfortunately however, today the gate to the churchyard was firmly locked so we could only take pictures from some distance. Later the same day we were to meet the local priest in Los Cerrillos who explained that the church was undergoing restoration so was locked for safety reasons. But it still made an attractive image as you can see.

Madrid

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In Madrid

Our next major stop was in this considerably livelier ‘ghost town’. My TP friend Rosalie told me recently that a ghost town doesn’t have to necessarily be deserted, at least according to some definitions, which allow there to be some people living there as long it has declined to a ‘ghost’ of its former self. And that is certainly true of Madrid.

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Old house in Madrid

Pronounced with the stress on the first syllable, MAD-rid, rather than as the city in Spain, Mad-RID, this was once a coal-mining town, founded in 1869. In its heyday the town supplied coal for the Santa Fe Railroad, local customers and even the US Government. It was one of the first ‘company towns’ in the US; in 1919, the Superintendent of Mines, Oscar Huber, introduced a number of modern conveniences and facilities for the miners, including paved streets, a hospital, a company store, schools, and unlimited free electricity from the company power plant. During Prohibition, the company even furnished a place where people could distil illegal liquor!

But when coal use declined the town fell silent and became truly a ghost town. In the early 1970's, artists and craftspeople began to discover it, converting the old company stores and houses into shops and galleries.

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The Hollar

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My goats cheese salad

It was around lunch time by the time we arrived here, so we went to check out the first likely-looking place we spotted for a bite to eat, the Hollar. This had a good range of lighter meals on the menu, and seemed popular, so we decided to give it a try. There were a number of tables in the shady garden at the front, but several of these were occupied by a rather noisy group so we opted to sit inside. We both chose salads. Chris’s Chef’s salad was a generous plateful of leaves etc. with turkey, ham and cheese. My ‘warm goat cheese salad with roasted bell peppers’ was also a good size and I liked the addition of a few berries, although the cheese was rather bland and lacked the sharpness I usually look for in a goat’s cheese. A pleasant lunch-stop, nevertheless.

Once we’d eaten we set off to explore the town. It seemed that almost every building housed a gallery or craft shop, and many of them had pretty high-quality items – paintings, jewellery, native pottery, sculpture and much more. Many of the shops are run by the artist themselves and it was fun and interesting to chat to them about their work even though we weren’t necessarily interested in buying – while they would obviously like to make a sale, they seemed to enjoy the conversations too.

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Shop signs

Although Madrid was primarily a coal mining town, this is after all the Turquoise Trail here and we saw lots of jewellery made from the local Los Cerrilos turquoise which is a distinctive greenish colour. The big pieces were expensive, but I bought a pretty bracelet for my sister for $20 in a shop near the mining museum.

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In Madrid

Madrid’s artiness extends outside the buildings too. Whether it is a row of colourful mail-boxes, a brightly painted wall, a collection of old signs in a coffee shop or simply a gallery’s porch adorned with samples of the owner’s work, we were never far from an eye-catching image.

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Colourful Madrid

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Java Junction

Ah yes, those old signs! I am always on the search for a good cup of coffee, and especially when in the US, where so many establishments serve what I describe as ‘brown water’ (when I’m being polite!) So when we spotted a promising-looking coffee shop, the Java Junction, in the midst of Madrid’s galleries I was keen to give it a try – and was not disappointed.

As soon as we entered, we were struck by the eclectic décor, and impressed by the range of espresso-based treats on offer. As I was craving a caffeine fix, I went for the simple iced coffee, which was strong and black, just as I like it. Furthermore, the Java Junction makes its own coffee ice cubes, so as they melt into your drink they don’t dilute the coffee flavour as normal water cubes do. Chris chose a mocha, and we took our drinks out into the garden area to one side of the building. There was plenty of seating and the space was perfect for relaxing, with a view of all the passers-by on the road outside but sufficiently set back from it. We also enjoyed examining, and photographing, the fence which was decorated with all manner of bits and pieces – old signs, kitchen implements, tools, watering cans, artificial flowers and loads more.

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Garden fence, Java Junction

Los Cerrillos

Just north of Madrid we stopped again in Los Cerrillos, a short distance off Highway 14. This is the place that gave the Turquoise Trail its name, but in the past its mines have yielded treasures of many kinds. Los Cerrillos means Little Hills, and in the hills surrounding this once prosperous town were found not just turquoise, in a distinctive green-tinged variety, but also gold, silver, lead and zinc. At the peak of all this activity, in the mid 1880s, there were roughly 3,000 prospectors working these hills and at the heart of them Los Cerrillos provided for all their needs, with 21 saloons, five brothels, four hotels, and several newspapers. The town became so well known that it was seriously considered as a possible capitol for New Mexico – hard to believe when you look around today.

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Street in Los Cerrillos

Most of the mines closed before the end of the 19th century, although American Turquoise Company, a subsidiary of Tiffany’s, continued to mine here until the First World War. Today, just a few small private mines remain, but even so the majority of turquoise mined in New Mexico still comes from these beautiful hills.

If Madrid with all its bustle had seemed something of a half-hearted attempt at a ghost-town, Los Cerrillos appeared to us to be much closer to the real deal. Sure, people live here, but the sleepy dirt streets and decidedly run-down bar gave it something of a forgotten look, although perhaps surprisingly this was more peaceful and friendly than sad. Maybe there was just enough life left here after all to make us feel welcomed? Or maybe the presence of an attractive 1920s church made the place seem more cared for than it at first appears?

Saint Joseph’s Church

This church is not as old as the other buildings that stand near it, and also appears much more loved and better cared-for. It was built between 1921-22, replacing an earlier 19th century structure that stood next door to this spot (where the parking lot now is). It is still very active, with Mass said every Sunday.

I wanted to go inside but when we tried the door, we found it locked, as was the case in other small towns we visited. So we resigned ourselves to just taking a few photos of the exterior and to exploring the recently added attractive shrine on the right-hand side of the church. But as we entered this the local priest approached from the far end of the path and greeted us. To our surprise he had a very Scottish accent (think Billy Connolly!) We got talking and he offered to show us the interior, where he was also happy for me to take a few photos while he told us his story.

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Saint Joseph’s Church, inside and out

Despite the strong accent we learned that he had lived in New Mexico for over twenty years, originally emigrating there as to teach in Albuquerque. Some years ago he had a calling to the priesthood, was trained and was ordained a few years back. His first parish had been in quite a challenging area of the city and his health had suffered through stress, so he had recently been transferred here to Los Cerrillos. When I commented on how much more relaxing it must be, in such a pretty backwater, he agreed, but added that the new strain on him was the travelling involved, as he is also responsible for the parishes of Golden, some miles to the south, and Gallisteo to the east.

We really enjoyed chatting to him, and he was also very helpful in suggesting an alternative route into Santa Fe. It was friendly encounters like this that helped to make our trip to New Mexico such a pleasure.

But before following his suggested route there was a bit more for us to see here. If you should get the feeling when in Los Cerrillos that you are in a movie set, well ... you are! This has been the location for some 13 movies, including Young Guns, Young Guns II, Shoot Out (with Gregory Peck) and John Wayne’s 1972 movie, The Cowboys. And one result of all this activity can be found at the bar just down the street from the church, Mary's Bar. This bar was until fairly recently simply called Cerrillos Bar, but its name was changed to Mary’s Bar for the shooting of the film Vampires in 1998 and never changed back – Los Cerrillos is that sort of place, somehow.

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Mary's Bar

From the outside I assumed the building was no longer in use, it was that dilapidated. But as I stood there taking photos a couple arrived, walked up to the door and went in. So naturally I followed.

At first sight the interior looked almost as unused as the front had done, with a few almost empty shelves and a ‘just about to move out’ appearance. But then I realised that there was a counter on the right with a few people sat up at it and a lady serving drinks. I would have liked to have stayed for a cold one, but we had spent rather a long time chatting to the priest at the church and decided that we should perhaps head off for Santa Fe at this point. I read afterwards though that Mary, who has run the bar since the 1970s, usually has a tale or two to tell about serving drinks to the cast of the Young Guns films, so maybe we should have lingered.

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Sign outside Mary's Bar

Next door to the bar we spotted the intriguingly named What Not Shop. What a great name for a shop! I just had to look inside. And I soon discovered that it’s an appropriate name too – this place is full of what-nots. And thingamajigs. And thingamabobs. And no doubt a lot more besides, although finding it among the chaos could be a challenge!

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What Not Shop

In a series of rambling rooms there are no doubt some gems too – I spotted some pretty native jewellery and pottery, for instance. There was also an odd assortment of old china and glassware, rusty old tools, indeterminate kitchen gadgets from long ago, a saddle, an old weaving loom, a pile of old National Geographic magazines, a few tatty books, old jars and cans of assorted sizes and descriptions, bison skulls and other hunting trophies – most of the covered in a thin layer of dust. The owner didn’t seem too keen on me taking photos but I confess I grabbed a few as you can see.

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What Not Shop interior

On one wall was an especially bizarre and slightly disturbing item – a glass case featuring the top half of a female dummy, surrounded by underwear and other items of clothing, and with a number of large rusty nails thrust through her body. When we asked the lady in the shop to tell us about it, she shook her head, simply saying that it was ‘a long story’, and again refusing permission for photos. We came to the conclusion that it must be some sort of left-over (maybe a prop) from the filming of John Carpenter’s Vampires movie. Chris did grab a shot, which I have included here, and if anyone can offer a better indication of its origins I’d be grateful.

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What on earth?!!
photo by Chris

Arriving in Santa Fe

When we were planning our road trip in New Mexico we knew that we wanted to spend several days in Santa Fe, and we knew that we wanted to stay near the centre, within walking distance of the Plaza. We also didn’t want to spend a fortune – a set of apparently incompatible wishes, until I came across the Chapelle Street Casitas. This is a cluster of self-catering properties, ranging from small and cosy to large family-sized options, all scattered over a few blocks in an area to the north west of the Plaza. Nowadays it seems that they are only available for long-term rental, so we were fortunate that back then they had just a three-night minimum which, as we wanted to spend four nights here, was just fine.

As there were just two of us we chose one of their smaller properties, 211 Chapelle C, described as ‘a small, rustic one bedroom’ which was a fair enough description. It was one of a row of four in, unsurprisingly, Chapelle Street itself, just around the corner from the B&B that formed the hub of the business (for an extra payment we could have had breakfast here but we preferred to go out and about each morning, with the flexibility to choose our own time and place).

We checked in at the B&B, where the owner was full of useful info about the town. She gave us a street map, and a sketch map showing the location of our unit and also a nearby parking spot that was ours to use for the duration of our stay – a valuable bonus in old town Santa Fe, where parking is notoriously difficult to find.

The row of Chapelle Street units was built over 100 years ago to house Army officers at the local fort. The description of Unit C went on: ‘small one bedroom, living room with futon sofa bed, bedroom with queen bed, full kitchen, full bath’ – and that about summed it up! We entered directly into the living room, which lead in turn to the bedroom, with bathroom off it, and beyond that the kitchen. The latter was fully equipped for self-catering but we didn’t use it as such, apart from employing the large fridge to keep some cans of beer cool!

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Sitting room

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Bedroom

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Kitchen

On the whole we were very satisfied with our little home in Santa Fe. The location was great, the main rooms (bedroom and living room) were cheerfully painted with nice old dark wood floors, and we had everything we needed for our stay. The bedroom was maybe a little small and dark, but the website was honest about that and we were only in it at night so that wasn’t a problem. The bathroom was on the simple side and few toiletries were provided, but there were plenty of towels, the shower worked well and there was always hot water.

Blue Corn Café

On our first evening in Santa Fe we went to the Blue Corn Café as it got a good write-up in our Moon Handbook and had also been recommended by the owner of the Casitas when we checked in that afternoon. The Moon book did comment on its slightly chain-like appearance (in fact there is just one other branch, on the south side of town) but in my view that was a little unfair. OK, it is above a small shopping mall, but we were to discover that this is true of quite a few restaurants in the town, and although the space was large it had been well laid-out, with wooden tables and chairs comfortably spaced and some very good local photos displayed on the walls. We enjoyed our meal here, and the friendly service, and found it good value for money in what can be a pricey town.

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Red chilli pork tamales

Chris had the Chimichanga with chicken and pronounced it the best meal of the trip so far! I was nearly as pleased with my red chilli pork Tamales, and the accompanying beans and Spanish rice, in generous portions, made it a substantial meal – especially as we hadn’t been able to resist starting with a shared portion of the trade-mark blue and white corn chips with guacamole! I had the house margarita and Chris a pint of one of their own micro-brews, the Atomic Blonde Lager. We were very satisfied with our first meal in the town that was to be our base for the next few days.

El Paseo Bar & Grill

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El Paseo Bar

Looking for a night-cap we came across this unassuming little bar just south of the Plaza, which advertised live music some nights (now closed down, according to Yelp, before anyone gets the idea to check it out). It was Tuesday, and therefore ‘open mic’ night. We thought this might be interesting; however in the time we were there (well over an hour) only one band played, that of the manager, and the light jazz style was not really to our taste. A few other people had turned up, including a guy with a guitar, but they seemed reluctant to take the stage! In the end we gave up waiting for music, but not before I’d enjoyed a decent margarita and Chris a couple of bottles of beer.

Posted by ToonSarah 06:55 Archived in USA Tagged landscapes churches people road_trip history views village restaurants museum coffee new_mexico santa_fe

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Comments

The aspen photos are magnificent. What color!

Santa Fe is wonderful. We spent a week there a couple years ago and just loved it. We stayed in an apartment just off the center and walked everyplace. Our only complaint was that our favorite restaurant had closed. So sad . . . We found plenty of other excellent food though.

by Beausoleil

Hello, Sarah! Thanks for your great detailed story! I saw and felt those places through your story and excellent photographs...

by Vic_IV

Thank you both :) Sally, I can imagine that spending a week in Santa Fe would be great. We felt very much at home there, and yes, the food was excellent (with one exception, which will be revealed in a few entries' time!). Did you go to the Shed? That was our favourite!

by ToonSarah

Another fascinating blog. Like Vic_IV says I was almost there with you

by Easymalc

Another great read about this part of your trip through New Mexico! In my mind, unexpected surprises are the best part of a trip and it sounds like you had your fair share of these! Love quirky little places and restaurants that exceed your expectations. Great stuff!

by starship

Love the photos as usual

by greatgrandmaR

Thank you all :) Malcolm, that's the effect I aspire to achieve And Sylvia, yes, NM was full of surprises - I think that's one reason we enjoyed this particular trip so much!

by ToonSarah

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