Just east of Albuquerque, the Turquoise Trail National Scenic Byway and one of New Mexico’s numerous fascinating “back roads,” which takes the traveler through two historic mining communities. Madrid served as a major coal mining boomtown in the 19th century. The town met the energy demands of both the federal government and the Santa Fe Railroad for decades.
Madrid eventually also pioneered the widespread use of coal-generated electricity for its residents, including illuminating night baseball games in the West’s first lighted ballpark. The town prospered until the mines closed during the 1950s when more efficient, less polluting fuels became available.
Although reduced to a virtual ghost town, Madrid was rediscovered by members of the state’s burgeoning arts and crafts community in the 1970’s. This population steadily turned the place into a popular destination for those seeking shops, galleries and entertainment with a distinctively funky orientation. I visited on Christmas Day, and found the town to also be very photogenic.
Just a short distance further north on Highway 14 is Cerrillos. I found this historic boomtown significantly quieter, more laid back and more residential than Madrid. Famed since prehistoric times for its abundance of splendid turquoise stone, Cerrillos has provided countless Native American jewelry craftsmen through the centuries with this beautiful mineral for incorporation in their elaborate creations. Gold, silver, zinc and lead were also mined extensively in the area, reaching peak activity during the 1880s and 1890s.
Today, you’ll surely want to make a stop to visit Todd and Patricia Brown, owners of the Casa Grande Trading Post and Cerrillos Turquoise Mining Museum. Here the Browns have amassed a sprawling, eclectic collection of artifacts from the “Old West,” historic mining machinery and equipment, and even operate a domesticated animal petting zoo. Don’t miss it!