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Harvey House Museum and home to the Belen Model Railroad Club

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 over the course of five weeks — this is the third installment. New installments will be posted on Friday mornings in the hopes that some Albuquerqueans may venture outside the city this summer.

Belen to Magdelena: Trains and Trails

Story and Photos
by Sharon Niederman

Perhaps no other drive in New Mexico appears initially so mundane yet offers such a variety of diversions as the road south to Belen and beyond, then west on old U.S. 60. It entirely lacks famous ruins, majestic mountains, outlet malls and for much of the distance, casinos, franchises and billboards. Its scale is dimunitive, its mood meditative. But this course will seem ordinary only to the uninitiated. Many of its surprises are just off the road or camouflaged to the eye trained to believe that neon and glitz promise the best the road has to offer.

Get off the super highway by exiting I-25 at Broadway and head south on NM 47. En route to Rio Abajo communities of Bosque Farms, Peralta and Los Lunas of the middle Rio Grande Valley, emerald green fields where horses frolic, and classic cafes like Burrito Alinstante and Benny’s Kitchen, home of the “Benny Burger,” duke it out with every service business known to man and beast in a roadside potpourri.

At the giant intersection known as "the Y," bear left on NM 47 toward Tome Hill, an ancient pilgrimage site. This pastoral stretch of the 1800-mile Camino Real de Tierra Adentro, the Royal Road between Santa Fe and Mexico City that, take away autos and asphalt, hasn’t changed all that much in 400 years, loops back to Belen, home of the Harvey House Museum, situated at 100 North First St. beside the railroad tracks. Built in 1901, it was then remodeled in trademark arched stucco and tile Mission depot style in 1910 by the Fred Harvey Company. This former eatery and lodging today houses an intriguing museum of railroad and Harvey Girl memorabilia, as well as Valencia County history and the Belen Model Railroad Club. Here the “regulars” gather to watch over 100 trains that come through daily to refuel and change crew.

On a hot day in Magdelena, nothing beats a cold treat like a Coke float at Evett’s Café and Fountain.

Heading south on I-25 toward Socorro, exit at Lemitar for lunch at Coyote Moon Café, which boldly boasts “the best chile relleno in the state of New Mexico.” Others claim this bare-bones café serves the state’s best chicken fried steak. You be the judge. We split the special, carne adovada burrito smothered with red chile plus a side order of Estancia beans topped with Lemitar chile, and all was muy delicioso.

If you need a cappuccino after lunch, stop by the charming, laid-back Martha’s Black Dog Café in Socorro, just off the plaza.

Slow down on U.S. 60, the nation’s first coast-to-coast highway, dating to 1917. It’s 26 miles west to Magdelena, where the mysterious face of Mary Magdalene is said to peer down from Magdelena Peak. To be honest, I’ve never been able to find her. Magdelena, the old “Trail’s End” for cattle drives all the way from Arizona, where cattle were loaded and shipped by rail, is today resurfacing from dusty disrepair as a haven for artists, with a scattering of galleries, studios, b & b’s and a café or two. Refresh with a Coke float at Evett’s Café & Fountain, housed in a 1906 brick bank building, as you take a spin on a stool from the 1930s. The 33rd Magdelena Old Timers’ Reunion, with rodeo, parade, fiddle contest and BBQ, plus the crowning of the Queen — who must be “of a certain age” — will be held July 9–11. The Very Large Array radio telescope, where Jody Foster made “Contact,” is 23 miles further west and open every day from 8–dusk for self-guided tours.

Round Albuquerque - Magdelena: 216 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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