On the Turquoise Trail


There is a tiny 2 lane road that weaves through the mountains north of Albuquerque.  It is hidden from view, and far far away from the main highway, though it ultimately leads to the same place.  It is 65 miles long, and each mile is CRAMMED with Southwestern charm and history.  You would never know it was there unless you knew it was there.  It’s called the Turquoise Trail.

Justin and I drove the Turquoise Trail one day last fall, and the things we found along the way were pretty much the best things ever.

Our first stop on the drive was a little ways off of the main road itself, but it was worth the detour.  We found ourselves in a strange and tiny little world called Tinkertown.

Tinkertown was an unexpected joy in my life.  An entry fee of 3$ got us into this “museum”, which really was just an extremely dedicated artist and collector of tiny things’ way of showing his life’s work to the public (by public I mean the determined or lost folks who espied the unique sign while driving on a road in the middle of nowhere).

Every inch of the place was covered by something.  A quarter inserted here and there brought crazy displays to life, and everywhere you looked there was another thing to admire.  I just can’t explain this place.  The owner/proprietor/creator had spent his entire life collecting small objects to create (or recreate) scenes from the past like this one.  The sheer amount of stuff involved was insane.  To help you with scale, those people are about 2 inches tall.

As we exited the museum, we were greeted by the sight of about 20 buzzing hummingbirds, all hanging out and shuttling back and forth between the numerous bird feeders dangling from the buildings and trees.  It was of those miraculous kinds of places that you would NEVER expect to find in the back woods on a back road in New Mexico.

Time to continue.

Turquoise Trail is very appropriately named for the coveted material that is pulled from the ground in this area.  The inhabitants of the area have also done a really good job painting all sorts of their belongings to adhere to the name.  Turquoise has historically been a highly valued stone, ancient cultures revered it as a bringer of luck and fortune, and it was used ceremonially in many different instances.  It was also valued in trade, as the only source of Turquoise in North America comes from the American Southwest (and into Mexico).  But I also learned that the Turquoise Trail had more than just Turquoise hidden in the dirt.

It was also the site of an early gold rush (1825), years before the mega major California Gold Rush.  As a reminder of that time, there is an itty bitty town on the trail named Golden.  Golden doesn’t have much to it except for the remnants of old fallen-down mining houses, and a beautiful small church.  The gate was locked to the church so I have no pictures.  We moved on.

Our next discovery was the town of Madrid.  Madrid is yet another example of an unexpected, quirky, miracle place that just gets you so excited because you never expected to see something like this when you rounded the corner.  It was a bustling small town with fantastically bright buildings and shops, which appeared to be built directly in the midst of the dilapidated buildings from the past. Part ghost-town, part modern hippie commune.

Whoa.  I’m about to tell you the history of Madrid and then you’re going to say whoa again.

Apparently Madrid was settled by squatters who came to mine gold.  It didn’t work out for them, but luckily the coal boom settled into Madrid just fine.  It became a mining town, where the residents enjoyed full time electricity, paved roads, and modern life.  It just so happens to be home to the “longest bar in the state”.  But, when the coal industry collapsed, so did Madrid.  All of the residents eventually moved out, and the once active community became just one more ghost town.

Until the Wall Street journal put the ENTIRE TOWN up for sale.  Yeah.  That’s when the artists and free spirits (I mean hippies) moved in.  Without destroying the past, they created a new destination right on top of it.  That’s what we see today.  It’s super incredible.

And Madrid is still proud of it’s booming coal mining past.  An interactive coal mining museum sits in the center of town as a tribute to what was once a successful gem in New Mexican history.  It was closed while we were there.

That’s all the pictures I have of the Turquoise Trail, eventually the road ends up in Santa Fe.  I was still on the road trip high that day and wasn’t ready to drive back to Boring Old Albuquerque, so we kept going and ended up in Taos, which I will tell you about some other time.  But if you ever find yourself in Albuquerque New Mexico and need to make it up to Santa Fe, do me a solid and try out the Turquoise Trail instead of I 25, I promise it will be worth your while.

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