Exploring The Turquoise Trail: Albuquerque to Santa Fe, New Mexico
National Scenic Byway
The TurquoiseTrail is the backroad connecting Santa Fe and Albuquerque, New Mexico. This National Scenic Byway was long used by native peoples, followed by Coronado and New Mexico's most famous frontiersman, Kit Carson as well as French traders and pioneers. In the 1880s, thousands of miners used the trail, unearthing millions of dollars worth of turquoise from the surrounding hills.
Today, the road is commonly known as NM Hwy 14, and is the nations oldest designated mining district. Winding along the eastern slopes of the Sandias off old Route 66 (now U.S. Route 40), just north of Albuquerque, the route begins in Tijeras, a small town where a Cibola National Forest ranger station overlooks the archaeological site of the Tijeras Pueblo, which was home to several hundred people some 600 years ago.
Hwy 14 continues across the eastern slopes of the Sandia Mountains and through towering ponderosa pines to Cedar Crest, a suburb of Albuquerque. Here is the Museum of Archaeology and Material Culture, which tells the story of North America's earliest inhabitants. Continue on approximately a mile to the delightful Tinkertown Museum, a western town and miniature circus created by the fertile imagination of Ross Ward, and 40,000 bottles which he collected over forty years.
First Gold West of the Mississippi
Continuing north from Cedar Crest, the trail meanders through chamisa-covered hills dotted by old mining towns, past boarded-up mine shafts and prospectors housing, incredible rock formations, and stunning vistas. Here are the purple mountains majesty, casting spectacular shadows of plums and roses on rock formations, crumbling adobe dwellings, old churchyard cemeteries, and long-abandoned barns.
Points of interest abound in these hills; the first being Golden, New Mexico, so named because the first gold west of the Mississippi was discovered here. Following the gold rush, a silver boom employed more than 1,200 miners and other workers.
Coal Into Art
North of Golden, set in the beautiful Ortiz Mountains, is the town of Madrid (pronounced MAD-rid). Once rich in coal mines, Madrid is now rich in artists, galleries and shops. This thriving artist's haven is undoubtedly one of Northern New Mexico's most picturesque communities. Visit the Old Coal Mine Museum and the heart of the community, the Mine Shaft Tavern, where the fare is beef and buffalo, cold beer, and live entertainment on weekends. Just outside of town, the Oscar Huber Memorial Ball Park is home to the yearly Blues Festival, which is much anticipated by the locals.
The Little Hills
A heartbeat up the road from Madrid is Cerrillos (Spanish for little hills), named for the stunning Cerrillos Hills where large deposits of turquoise have been mined for 30,000 years. This area contains what is thought to be the oldest turquoise mine in North America. It was first worked by native peoples at least 1000 years B.C. and later by Spanish, Mexican and American miners.
Also mined here were silver, gold, lead, copper and zinc. At the height of the mining boom, Cerrillos was home to four hotels and 21 saloons. During this time, the town was under serious consideration to become the capitol of New Mexico. Today, Cerrillos remains a turquoise mining town, though each vein of stone is now cut with a diamond saw.
Visit the Cerrillos Turquoise Mining Museum, where relics from the region's prospecting history include Native American, Spanish, and Anglo tools. Displays also include such artifacts as photos, maps, rocks, gold pans, and more. Take a walk through the town of Cerrillos and see the Opera House, Hotel, and the What Not Shop. If you look closely, you just might spot some of the locations used in the Young Guns films.
Artwork of the Gods
Back on the trail, you will find the stunning rock formation known as the Garden of the Gods. Over 70 million years ago, streams deposited horizontal beds of colorful sandstone and mudstone. The earth's movement gradually pushed the beds into their present vertical position, leaving us to stare wide-eyed at this amazing natural phenomenon.
Over the Dirt Road and Round the Bend
Not quite four miles from Cerrillos, and just up the road from the Garden of the Gods, is the unassuming dirt road which leads to Galisteo.
Galisteo is just under nine miles from Hwy 14, across the train tracks and past a gully. Around the bend is the rustic old (and much photographed!) cemetery on the hill.
Galisteos most dominant landmark is the Catholic church, built in 1882. Originally an Indian Pueblo, the Spanish planned to build a mission here in 1614, but abandoned the site following the Pueblo revolt of 1680. Galisteo was re-established in 1702, and remains a tiny reminder of days passed. Whether you explore it by car, on foot, or on horseback, it is worth the trip.
Heading north again takes you to the end of the Turquoise Trail and to the historic City Different Santa Fe.
Turquoise Trail Treasure Map