The Best Scenic Route Between Albuquerque and Santa Fe

By Richard Mahler

Author of "New Mexico's Best"

"Take the Turquoise Trail (NM Highway  14) between Albuquerque and Santa Fe," advises Ty Allison, a professional photographer whose work takes him all through the Land of Enchantment. "The drive north will take a few minutes longer than I-25, but will give you a much better feel for the incredible geographical and cultural diversity of New Mexico."

Begin by following I-40 east from Albuquerque for 15 miles, and pass through Tijeras ("scissors") Canyon, for centuries the gateway to the Rio Grande Valley for Plains Indians. There's even an unrestored 80-room, 600-year-old Indian pueblo behind the Tijeras Ranger Station, open daily for self-guided tours.

From the village of Tijeras, follow NM 14 (Exit 175) north along the ridgelines of three mountainous groupings: the Sandia, San Pedro and Ortiz ranges. After passing the bedroom communities of Cedar Crest and Sandia Park, you'll come to the tiny village of Golden (gold, from one of the first strikes in the United States, was once mined here, but now garnets are sought). Worth visiting are the tiny old chapel and nearby general store.

A few miles later you'll encounter the resurrected coal-mining town of Madrid (locally pronounced MAD-rid), an arts-and-crafts center with an interesting mining museum (kids love it). A virtual ghost town after the mines shut down in the 1940s, Madrid hums with activity today.

Check out the old-fashioned soda fountain, boutiques, galleries and restaurants-you'll find everything from Guatemalan textiles to buffalo burgers. During warm weather jazz and bluegrass concerts are held in the baseball field at the north end of town. In fall there's an art tour, and during December the whole place is lit up like a Christmas tree.

Several miles past Madrid is Cerrillos ("the little hills"), which once boasted 21 saloons to quench the thirst of hardy miners seeking gold, sliver, lead, zinc and turquoise. This sleepy village is now used by movie companies wanting that authentic "Western" look. Shops and other attractions make a visit to Cerrillos an interesting, unusual stop.

Past Cerrillos the Turquoise Trail passes the Garden of the Gods-a tall cluster of oddly shaped, 70-million-year-old rocks-before crossing a sprawling arid plain that slowly is filling with the homes of Santa Fe commuters. A favorite eatery along this stretch is the San Marcos Café, which serves up fine bluegrass and folk music along with country-style breakfast, lunch and dinner. Recommended are the San Marcos burrito, green chile lasagna and bourbon apple pie a la mode.

Back on the road, you'll pass the state penitentiary and reconnect to I-25 for the short trip into Santa Fe proper.

If you go: The Old Coal Mine Museum (505-473-0743) is on NM 14 in downtown Madrid, adjacent to the colorful Mine Shaft Tavern. A slight admission fee is charged. The San Marcos Café (505-471-9298) is a few hundred yards north of the NM 42 turnoff, near the Lone Butte General Store.

For a full listing of Richard Mahler's books, and to place orders for them, visit Amazon.com.

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