When people here at Adobe Nido Bed and Breakfast tell us they are driving up to Santa Fe, I usually tell them to “take the Turquoise Trail or hop on the Rail Runner”. I’ve written about the Rail Runner in the past, so this post is going to cover the National Scenic Byway of New Mexico – the Turquoise Trail.
This trail is mostly a two lane highway that runs up from Interstate 40 in Tijeras, NM, just east of Albuquerque, winds through Cedar Crest, past Paako Ridge, (world class golf course and community, then through the old mining towns of Golden, Madrid and Cerrillos, (seh-REE-yos) and turns into the main drag of Santa Fe, Cerrillos Road, taking you right into the heart of Santa Fe’s historic district, just a few blocks from the plaza. It runs on the east side of Albuquerque’s Sandia (san-DEE-ah/watermelon) Mountains and west of the San Pedro and Ortiz Mountains that frame the east border of New Mexico’s eastern plains.
This is definitely not the fastest way to Santa Fe, but is certainly the most scenic and interesting. I recommend making a day of it instead of just “taking the scenic route to Santa Fe”, but that is ok to do too. It’s much better than taking Interstate 25 all the way up.
The Turquoise Trail starts in Tijeras (tea-HAIR-us/ scissors) on NM Hwy 14 North and it is there, at the Cibola National Forest office, (SEE-bowl-ah/onion), that you can stop if you wish for trail info and brochures. There are also ruins of the Tijeras Pueblo to visit here at this trail head. Ask at the Cibola Forest office.
The next areas you will drive though are Cedar Crest and Sandia Park and it is here that you may deviate from the trail left onto Hwy 536 to drive to the top of the mountain from the back side and look out over Albuquerque at Sandia Peak. You will pass the Sandia Peak Ski Area and many hiking trail heads and picnic grounds as you wind to the top through the Cibola Forest. The landscape is very different than the rocky face you see from the Albuquerque side of the mountain. Along this route you will also find Tinkertown, which is one man’s lifetime of woodcarvings. This has been a real favorite of our gusts of all ages.
Back onto Hwy 14 North you will pass the new, but world renown Golf Community of Paako Ridge. This course is a beautiful example of the New Mexico landscape and it one of the top rated courses in America. The community is “green” and a fine example of the right way to build a new community in the desert southwest.
Moving on up the road you can enjoy the New Mexico Landscape at its best. In the fall the wildflowers are abundant and photo ops abound. To your right will first be the San Pedro Mountains, and then the Ortiz. (You can find more info about recreation in these mountains at the Forrest service office in Tijeras.) At the foothills of the Ortiz Mnts. you will find Golden, which was the first site of a Gold Mine west of the Mississippi. In my younger years there was a great bar – The Golden Inn – that we used to drive out to on the weekends for beer and music, but you would be lucky to find the burnt ruins today, as it had a fire back in the “80’s and that was the end of that. The is a Trading Post in Golden and an historic, picturesque little church.
Moving along the next stop is Madrid (pronounced MAA-drid – ask anybody that lives there, unlike it’s predecessor in Spain). I have written a post just about Madrid and don’t want to go on and on about it again, so go read it. Here I will suffice to say that there is plenty to see and do in Madrid, so plan a bit of time here. There is great shopping and plenty of good eats too. See the cafe the NM Folm industry built , blew up and rebuilt for the town during the filming of Wild Hogs. Drive slow! This village has lots of dogs and they all run free.
The next stop is Cerrillos, population 200. Since 900AD the Native peoples in this area mined lead and turquoise in the hills around Cerrillos, and that encouraged Spanish Colonial settlements here. Turquoise from here made it onto the crown jewels of Spain. While it was once a huge community and considered for the Capital of the Territory, Cerrillos has gone the way of many mining towns in the region and is barely hanging on. It IS a wonderful backdrop for the film industry, and the original “Young Guns” movie was filmed here. It still holds that old west charm, so stop and see it. Here is a great video about Cerrillos.
This whole area between Tijeras and Santa Fe is so full of history, recent and ancient with unfound camping sites, village sites and all that is left behind over a thousand or more years that people have inhabited this area. The beauty it holds is unsurpassed. The colors of the southwest landscape of evident here and while it is gorgeous throughout the year, my absolute favorite time to drive it is in the fall, when the purple wild Asters, yellow wild Sunflowers and red Indian Paintbrush line the roadside making the landscape of azure sky, red mountains and the most incredible cloud formations even more magical. As if it needed the help. We’re not called the Land of Enchantment for nothing!!! Take a drive on the Turquoise Trail.
I know the best things to do in Albuquerque!
Sarah Dolk, Adobe Nido Bed and Breakfast
Expert on Destination Albuquerque and Central New Mexico!