The Turquoise Trail
The Turquoise Trail National Scenic Byway, NM 14, is a leisurely alternative to I-25 when traveling between Santa Fe and Albuquerque. If you are flying either into or out of the Albuquerque International Sunport, this is a different way to see the New Mexico landscape. The route passes to the east of the Sandia Mountains through a handful of old mining towns, where silver, gold and turquoise were once carved out of the mineral-rich hillsides. For more information, contact www.turquoisetrail.org
Cerrillos: This former mining town is such an authentic relic of the Wild West that it frequently serves as a film set for Westerns (Young Guns, among others). The frontier spirit lives on in the quirky shops that still occupy the petite main drag, where saloons and even an opera house once attracted revelers to the old frontier town. The Cerrillos Hills Historic Park (www.cerrilloshills.org) encompasses 1,100 acres of tree-covered hills with miles of trails for hiking, horseback riding and mountain biking. The 1,350-acre Ortiz Mountains Educational Preserve, which is maintained by the Santa Fe Botanical Garden, offers docent-led hiking tours from April through October with a focus on the plants, animals, geology and mining history of the Ortiz Mountains.
Golden: In 1825, this tiny place was the site of the first gold rush west of the Mississippi, even before the California and Colorado gold rushes. An old church with a distinctive dome is one of the few remnants of this former mining town, along with a few funky shops selling glass and “antiques.”
Madrid: Pronounced “MAD-rid” by the prospectors and miners who once mined gold and silver and later coal here, the town almost died after the mines closed down. In the 1970s it was revived by a lively counter culture that cherishes the town’s quirky charm. It’s also served as a movie set for such films as Wild Hogs and The Man Who Fell to Earth. The old WPA-era ballpark hosts a blues festival every summer, and the Christmas season is a popular time to visit the boutiques and galleries amid a profusion of holiday lights and decorations. Billed as one of the “last great roadhouses,” the Mine Shaft Tavern and Museum features local bands in a setting that has changed very little since its inception as a tavern catering to workers from the coal mine next door-it’s still a lively gathering place for locals and visitors. The mine is now a museum, and the adjacent Engine House Theater presents live performances and seasonal melodramas. Call 505-473-0743; www.themineshafttavern.com.