Driving the Turquoise Trail to Albuquerque

September 30, 2011 - 5:38 pm No Comments

This morning we left Santa Fe early, stopped by Walmart to pick up a few items, picked up coffee at McDonald’s, and hit the road by 8:00 a.m.   The Turquoise Trail starts right outside Santa Fe so it didn’t take long for us to start the drive.

The name (Turquoise Trail) comes from the blue-green turquoise first mined by the early Pueblo people, an agrarian based society dwelling along the Rio Grande as early as 900 A.D.   The stone has become nationally recognized as a precious stone to be set in silver and gold.  The drive was very pretty—it was very dramatic scenery.   Very dry landscape, low sagebrush or scrub brush, everything is the same color—tan.   The houses are mostly in the adobe style and the color of the adobe is the same as the landscape so the houses blend right into the side of the hills.

We stopped in the little village of Madrid and walked around visiting the shops.   I did go into one shop that was full of turquoise and other gems from the area.    The owner explained the history of the gems and it was very interesting.   I didn’t buy a single thing for myself, but I did find a couple of things for others.   Many of the shops were funky little originals, owned and operated by the artist.

Madrid (the main village on the Trail) sits midway along The Turquoise Trail and has a colorful history, beginning in the early 1800’s when squatters arrived and mined the area.   At its peak the town produced 250,000 tons of coal a year and boasted a population exceeding Albuquerque.  Madrid is probably best known for its annual Christmas lighting display, which began in the 1920s.  New Mexican families from many miles away made the long trek to see the elaborate displays of lights and nativity scenes. Since the electric plant was owned by the town’s coal company, Madrid had the luxury of unlimited electricity for the displays.   Trans World Airways—later known as TWA—diverted nighttime flights over Madrid to allow passengers to see the spectacle.

When the coal market collapsed, so did Madrid’s infrastructure. Eventually the final town’s residents moved away and Madrid became a ghost town. In 1954 the Wall Street Journal listed the entire town for sale for $250,000. By the 1960’s and 70’s an array of artists, crafts people and renegades rediscovered Madrid. Eventually the town’s abandoned Victorian homes and clapboard storefronts were sold and new populations began to form in the town. Today Madrid pioneers make up about 400 residents—local artists, craftspeople, gallery owners and business commuters to Santa Fe. The Holiday lighting display is back and shops, food establishments and lodging facilities operate year-round.

We found the American RV Park, west of Albuquerque, around mid-day.   What a great park it is!!!   We are so impressed with the organization of checking everyone in.   The park is huge, and we enjoyed watching rigs pulling in all afternoon.    Rigs of all shapes and sizes!  The park workers had a table set up outside the office area so when you pulled in, there were helpers in golf carts to guide you to your site as soon as you checked in.  They had your package all ready to go—no waiting.

We’ve met some nice folks here–we’re all excited about the fiesta tomorrow morning.   Our bus to the Fiesta (I’ve been using the word “festival” but the locals call the balloon event a “fiesta”) will leave promptly at 5:30 a.m. in the morning.   The RV Park has four school buses to take us to the fiesta and back to the park.    We will be back in the park by mid-morning.   Can’t wait to show you photos of the events.   The weather forecast is perfect for the “ascension” of the balloons first thing in the morning.   Stay tuned!    Bonnie

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