The Turquoise Trail in New Mexico: Between Hippies, blue rocks and round corners.

Road Trip · Turquoise Trail · New Mexico, USA · 65 Miles · Day Trip

January 26, 2018

Turquoise Trail between Santa Fe and Albuquerque, landscape in New Mexico, USA
On the road on Turquoise Trail from Santa Fe to Albuquerque

Colorful wind chimes are jingling gently in the wind. The sky is stretching across the horizon like a blue canvas. Rough rocks are dragging jagged shadows into the chapped asphalt. On a length of round about 65 miles the scenic Turquoise Trail in New Mexico cuts into the enchanting landscape of red rocks and sandy shrub-steppe. Small historic villages are hiding behind hills on this beautiful route between Santa Fe and Albuquerque. You’ll find cute museums, arts and crafts – and tons of treasures made out of turquoise! This is a road trip apart from big Interstates where timelessness is your only clock.


You can start your journey on Turquoise Trail in the direction of Santa Fe or in the direction Albuquerque. It doesn’t matter, both ways are beautiful. I started my trip in Santa Fe. This city is more than 400 years old and a jewel of orange adobe. For me Santa Fe definitely is one of the most unique places in the world. Although it is the capital of the State of New Mexico and has a population of 90,000 people it never appears to be a real big city. The whole town looks much more like a small charming historic district. Most of the houses were built in the warm and brown Pueblo Revival style. In 1912 the urban administration stated that all new buildings need to be built in this style. Even today the city still covers “modern” architecture with this kind of technique.

Road Signs and Cinnamon Rolls

Cafe San Marcos, wooden door with flowers, Turquoise Trail New Mexico
Find maps and cinnamon rolls at Cafe San Marcos

From Santa Fe the Turquoise Trail follows the small Highway 14 out of town. The trail is open year-round and you'll find road sings that tell you about the "Scenic Byway" everywhere. I’ve always got trouble with following street signs by not crashing into them at the same time while I am driving. Whoever suffers from the same disease may just plug the city of Los Cerrillos into his GPS. By doing this you'll catch your way to Turquoise Trail automatically. Shortly after you’ve left Santa Fe the plain steppe with its grey-green grassland is starting to burst out to the endless horizon. White clouds are laying on top of the landscape like cream on a cake.


For your first stop I recommend San Marcos Cafe & Feed Store. The cute wooden door is framed by colorful panited flowers. Sometimes small red dust devils are rising from the ground. If you haven’t been covered yet, you will find a nice map of the Turquoise Trail and some tasty cinnamon rolls inside. You can also find gas stations along the way. But it’s more relaxing and cheaper if you gas up in Santa Fe or Albuquerque. From here you may head on to Los Cerrillos. The mining area there is one of the oldest in the US.

Madrid: From Ghost Town to Art Town

Wooden houses in Madrid, New Mexico along Turquoise Trail
Colorful houses in Madrid with galleries and shops

The word "mine" always makes me think about coal, darkness, dirt and danger. In this area they mined turquoise. The first minerals were mined by early Pueblo people around 900 A.D. Today you can find lots of crafts and jewelry shops along the trail and buy beautiful artworks made out of turquoise. In some shops you can visit and talk to the artists themselves. By stopping in Los Cerrillos you can visit the Mining Museum to learn more about the history of the blue and green stones.


My personal highlight on Turquoise trail is the stunning village of Madrid. After the golden era of mining the place started to become an abandoned and dusty ghost town. Hard to imagine while I’m passing colorful potteries, pretty wind chimes and mailboxes painted with rainbows. But that’s only because hippies and artists came back to Madrid in the 1970s to revitalize the city. You can try very tasty and huge scoops of ice cream at Jezebel Gallery and be blown away by the unique orange landscapes and sheep made out of bronze at the Indigo Gallery. The people there are extremely friendly and answer all your questions about their art and their life around Turquoise Trail. I recommend planning on at least two hours in Madrid. It’s only one street but it is loaded with magical stuff.

Railway and landscape in New Mexico, USA

Breathtaking Views and the Last Church in Town

Highway 14 close to Madrid, New Mexico, beautiful landscape, clouds, red rocks, desert
A view that takes your breath away

From Madrid follow the road into the mountains. The highway is winding up along red rocks and yellow hills. Your breath will be taken away and caught by the thorns of green cacti. You simply have to take a look into your rear mirror. Stop at one of the lots along the street to touch the rough asphalt and enjoy the colorful infinity of this overwhelming landscape. You won’t forget this beauty in a lifetime.


A few minutes later you’ll reach Golden. Or what’s left of it. The name does lie. The only thing that still holds the fort is the picturesque San Francisco Catholic Church.

By reaching San Antonio you should do a sidestep from Highway 14 and turn onto Highway 536 in the direction of Sandia Park and Sandia Crest. You can find lots of hiking trails in the summer and go skiing in the winter. No matter what time of the year it is, you can always enjoy the view from the top of Sandia Mountains. Quick tip: Go up there to see the sun setting over Albuquerque. The highest point is at 10,678 feet. You can reach it by driving a 13-mile long and winding but well-developed road.

Tinkertown: Wonderland on Turquoise Trail

Tinkertown Museum in New Mexico, USA
Cute Tinkertown Museum in New Mexico

Down in the valley a unique and littel weird museum is waiting for you. The Tinkertown Museum. Old western cities appear as midget villages. Handmade wooden figures start to move their old limbs as soon as you throw in a quarter. It’s a magical cabinet of wonder and great fun, not only for kids!


By the way: I spotted the first hummingbird on my life at the feeding station close to the entrance. I was giddy with excitement!


The last stop on Turquoise Trail is Tijeras. Round about 500 people are living here and you’ll find a visitor center with information for hiking trails in the Cibola Forest. By leaving Turquoise Trail in the direction of Albuquerque you’ll cross parts of the Historic Route 66!


Lenght, Climate and Lodging

Sandia Peak © The City of Albuquerque
Sandia Peak © The City of Albuquerque

You can make your road trip on Turquoise Trail in one day. Even if you stop several times to visit museums and galleries. I only recommend planning on two days if you need much more time to visit every shop or want to stay overnight in one of the towns. There are some Bed&Breakfasts and also some campsites along the trail. But expect the B&B’s to be around $150 per night. Personally I would stay much rather in Albuquerque or Santa Fe. If you want to explore those interesting cities as well, I highly recommend planning on one or two extra days in each one. The entire route is also suitable for RV’s.


Be careful: It can get very hot and dry on Turquoise Trail in the summer. In the wintertime it’s possible to have snow and icy roads. So I would advise you to come in spring or fall for doing this road trip.

Have you already been on Turquoise Trail? Then tell me about your experiences, impressions and favorite stops! Do you have any further questions about the trip? Write a comment or shoot me a message whenver you like and I try to get back to it as soon as possible.

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