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Sculpted sunflowers outside a Madrid gallery

The following story is approximaitely one fifth of the article that originally appeared in Albuquerque the Magazine, July, 2004. The article contains descriptions of five day trips that may be made from Albuquerque on a single tank of gas in a newer model car, or for the more adventurous, on a motorcycle. These trips are being published in installments one per week for the next five weeks. New installments will be posted on Friday mornings in the hopes that some Albuquerqueans may venture outside the city this summer.

Great Getaways on 1 Tank of Gas

Story and Photos
by Sharon Niederman

It’s a perfectly beautiful summer Saturday morning. There’s a list of errands on the yellow pad beside your coffee mug. It reads: Dog food. Oil change. Costco. Watch battery. Weeding…You look around the dining room and notice dust bunnies chasing each other under the table. There’s also that stack of bills to be paid.

Yes, you could spend this precious Saturday crossing items off your to-do list. Or, in less time than it takes to figure out which errand to do first, you could pack the camera and the sunscreen, invite the dog into the back seat and your honey and best pal into the front, fill the car with gas, make sure there’s a recent map of New Mexico in your glove compartment and point it in just about any direction.

For the price of a tank of gas, you can find adventure and discovery, as well as some pretty good eats, as you head out in almost any direction to explore the heart of New Mexico. Do I need to ask which you’d prefer: a boring day of annoying errands, indistinguishable from so many others, or a day of exploration and chance encounters you can mine for vivid memories and dinner party conversation?

With its central location and access to good roads, there’s no better jumping-off point for exploring New Mexico than Albuquerque. From practically any location in the city, you can be cruising the high desert under crystal blue skies and breathing the fresh air of freedom within minutes. On a tank of gas, or less, you can visit the coal mining town — turned ghost town — turned artist-hippie refuge of Madrid; driving the winding Manzano Mountain backroads to Mountainair; heading west to Jemez Springs; visiting the end of the old cattle drive trail at Magdalena or cruising Route 66. Each route offers special joys and delights of the True West — some come right at you and some you have to hunt for, while others whisper their secrets to you alone.

So what are you waiting for?

Madrid the Magnificent

In case you just moved here last week, that cute little town on the back road to Santa Fe, population 350, is pronouced with the emphasis on the first syllable “mah,” set to rhyme with “baa.” Madrid is the undeclared capital of the Turquoise Trail, that roller-coaster two-lane between Tijeras and Santa Fe designated State Highway 14 on the map. The trail did not take its name from the color of the sky above, rather, this road is called “turquoise” because of its 1500-year history of turquoise mining by Native Americans, Spanish, and, in the early 20th century, Tiffany & Co.

The first stop along the Turquoise Trail is the wide spot in the road known as Golden, remarkable for the shining jewel-toned bottle fence on the west side of the highway. From the Turquoise Trail, scan the horizons for the views of the Jemez Mountains to your left, with the distinctive cap of Cabezon Peak standing out like a fez; the Ortiz Mountains to your right and the Sangre de Cristos ahead to the north.

After shopping for treasures at the What Not Shop, relax and enjoy a cold one at Mary’s bar in Cerrillos.

A former coal-mining camp, in the 1950s the place was well on its way to becoming a ghost town. The last man out, Oscar Huber, put the place up for sale for $250,000, but couldn’t find a buyer. The miners’ deserted wooden cabins were falling into disrepair when the place was discovered in the early 1970s by artists fleeing big city rents. Some, like the Johnsons of Madrid, have, in addition to restoring the old homes, opened galleries here. One of my favorite is Tapestry, where you can find gorgeous hand-woven garments and fine hand-wrought jewelry, some ornamented with the rarely-found seafoam green turquoise known as “Cerrillos,” mined to the north.

The best hearty fresh-baked pastries, quiches and homemade soups are found at Mama Lisa’s No Pity Café, while nearby Java Junction is a favorite local hangout to savor a cup of joe. Across the street, grab an ice cream soda at the 1934 Original Madrid Soda Fountain, in a previous life the miners’ company store. Primitiva is a sophisticated furniture warehouse with sidelines of Mexican ceramics that sells to upscale national outlets as well as retail.

Summertime brings the melodrama replete with hisses, boos and moustache-twirling villains at the Engine House Theatre and New Mexico Jazz Workshop’s Sunday afternoon blues concerts at the Oscar Huber Memorial Ballpark. The Old Coal Mine Museum boasts vintage cars, an early 1900s steam locomotive and mining equipment.

If Madrid’s main drag is bustling with shops and galleries, three miles up the road lies its spiritual opposite, the silent, dusty village of Cerrillos, at 5 p.m. possibly one of the most photogenic places in all New Mexico. Once a roaring mining town with dozens of saloons and several hotels, Cerrillos could pass for a long-abandoned Western movie set. The legendary What Not Shop is crammed with a century’s worth of china, cut glass, clocks and rocks, while practically next door, Mary’s Bar is the place to refresh with a cold one.

You can make an easy loop by continuing on North 14 to Santa Fe then returning to Albuquerque via straight-shot, 75 mph I-25. Trip total: 135 miles.


My vehicle, a silver automatic 2004 Nissan Altima 2.5S has a gas tank that holds 20 gallons, costing,$50.00 to fill at today’s price of $2.50 per gallon. It gets 23 miles per gallon in the city and 29 miles per gallon on the highway. At that rate, a tank of gas takes me 580 miles.


This article was first published in
Albuquerque the Magazine, July, 2004

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