Thursday, February 28, 2013

Final Lap of the Turquoise Trail National Scenic Byway

Black Bear - New Mexico's State Animal
Before we take NM14 north out of Madrid on the final leg of our journey up the Turquoise trail, let’s examine the countryside we’re traveling. This scenic byway begins in the high Chihuahuan Desert, travels hills and mountains and valleys, bypassing 10,600-foot Sandia Peak, the more modest San Pedro and Ortiz Mountains, and ends up in the southern part of Santa Fe. Vegetation includes piñon, juniper, mountain mahogany, chamisa (or chamizo, if you prefer), various types of oak, Apache plume, ash, ponderosa pine, aspen, cottonwood, and white fir, among other fauna.
Mountain Lion

Wildlife includes bear, coyote, mountain lion, mule deer, antelope, fox, and a host of other smaller critters. I once had to stop my car on the road to Sandia Peak to allow a big black bear sow and her cub to cross the road. More than once, I’ve rounded a curve and come upon two or three mule deer browsing roadside. I recall scrambling for my car while the biggest coyote I’ve ever seen ran in the other direction to get away from the scary biped he’d happened upon. With a wide variety of bird life—including raptors such as owls, hawks, and eagles—this is a birdwatcher’s paradise.
Golden Eagle
Cerrillos (or more properly Los Cerrillos), which means “Little Hills” in Spanish, is the site of one of the oldest documented mining districts in the US. As early as 900 AD, Pueblo Indians mined the hills around Cerrillos—formed from ancient volcanoes—for blue-green turquoise. There is even a type of turquoise named after the town. Stones from this area have found their way to Chaco Canyon, the crown jewels of Spain, Chichen Itza, Mexico and, indeed, throughout the world.

Disdainng the beautiful chalchihuitl, or Sky Stone, the Spanish appropriated the natives as labor for their gold and silver mining activities. The El Real de Los Cerrillos camp was formed to support these activities, but lasted only about a year. The mining continued in the area until the Pueblo Revolt in 1680. Just as in Madrid to the south, activities began again when the Spaniards took control of the area once again.

Antonio Simoni Store
Cerrillos, NM
After New Mexico became a US territory, the area, now under Anglo control, experienced a resurgence of gold, silver, and lead mining. From its humble beginnings as a mining camp, Cerrillos blossomed into a town of over 2,000 souls and boasted 21 saloons, 5 brothels, 4 hotels, and more than one newspaper. The town was once under consideration to be the site of the capitol of New Mexico.

The railroad arrived in 1880. The notorious Billy the Kid was supposedly one of its passengers. In 1879 it brought a man named Major D. C. Hyde, who was president of a gold and silver mining company. Major Hyde began promoting turquoise, and even though he vanished from the area under mysterious circumstances the following year, Tiffany & Co. and other New York jewelry companies began marketing turquoise as a gemstone, Tiffany even acquired property at Turquoise Hill. The boom in mining the sky stone lasted until the 1900s.
Cerrillos Today
The town’s fortunes declined in tandem with the diminishing mining activity. Today, the community sits among large cottonwood trees, a quiet town with the charm and simplicity and washboard dirt streets of the 1800s. Because of this bucolic, Old West feel, the town is often used for filming movies and commercials, notably Young Guns and Young Guns II, portions of which were shot on Front Street. Today’s visitors can enjoy local art galleries, antique shops, a Turquoise mining museum, and a petting zoo. Horseback riding is available. You can visit Mary’s Bar, the hanging tree, or attend mass at St. Joseph’s Catholic Church on Sundays.

The Cerrillos Mining District is now the Cerrillos Hills State Park (only we Anglos would tack “Hills” onto a word that means hills) of about 1,100 acres marked with trails that tell the story of the mining along the Turquoise Trail.

Next, it’s North to Alaska—well to Santa Fe. On the way, we pass the Lone Butte/San Marcos area. Archaeologists say the Galisteo Basin had a very large Pueblo Indian population in the 14th and 15th Centuries. Yet when Don Diego de Vargas returned to New Mexico in 1692 after the Revolt, the basin was practically deserted. Galisteo village was founded 15 years later to take advantage of good grazing land. The formations around the area called the “Garden of the Gods" are easily seen from space. This is now a residential and service area for the Turquoise Trail. The San Marcos Café and Feed Store with its yard full of chickens and peacocks is a good place for a meal or a snack. Ranches in the area have been used as sites for numerous movies and seasonal music festivals.

Just north of here, the Trail ends in a meeting with historic Route 66 and Santa Fe.

Next week: Shall remain a mystery to you…as well as to me (at the present).

New posts are published at 6:00 a.m. each Thursday.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Along the Turquoise Trail Scenic Byway to Madrid

A little over halfway to Santa Fe (about twenty-seven miles shy of the city of Sacred Faith), we enter the ghost town of Madrid. I know it’s going to grate on you Spanish language purists, but the locals call it MAD-rid, not Ma-DRID, so just bite your tongue and live with it. These days, however, you’re more apt to meet a funky artist or craftsman than a phantom.

Madrid Anthracite Coal Breaker Circa 1935
First, a little background. Archaeologists tell us the area known as the Turquoise Trail has been inhabited for a millennia and a half. For most of that time, natives mined these hills for a sacred blue stone they considered a symbol of health, happiness, and protection. They called it chalichihuitl. We call it turquoise. According to, over 50,000 pieces of this beautiful stone was found by archaeologists in a single burial site at nearby Chaco Canyon.

When the Spaniards arrived mid Sixteenth Century, they were more interested in gold and silver in the San Pedro Mountains than in sky blue rocks, no matter how stunning. They forced the natives to labor in their mines until the Pueblo Revolt of 1680 got them kicked out. Spain reconquered the area in 1693 and mining resumed, although Spanish settlers also began to farm and ranch. So from an early age, this area has been mined. The noble metals played out quickly, but the discovery of both hard and soft coal in 1835 altered the future of Madrid.

The town was founded in 1869, but things didn’t really begin to jive until the 1880s with the advent of coal mining. By 1892, production from “Coal Gulch” was sufficient to induce the Santa Fe Railroad to build a six and a half-mile spur to the town. In 1906 all coal production in the area was consolidated at Madrid, which was by now a “company town.” Production on the thirty square miles of rich black seams reached its peak in 1928 with the shipment of over 180,000 tons (or 250,000, depending upon your source) on coal cars.
Old Coal Town Museum
Eventually, natural gas became more popular for heating homes, resulting in a falling demand for coal. In 1954, coal operations ceased and almost all of the residents moved away. Soon, Madrid was considered a ghost town. In the early 1970s, Joe Huber, the owner of the entire town site began renting or selling a few of the old company houses to artists and craftsmen. As more “counter culture” individualists moved to Madrid, the town took on new life.

Some fun facts about Madrid:

· The first illuminated baseball park west of the Mississippi was built here in 1922 as the home of the Madrid Miners, a farm team for the Brooklyn Dodgers.

· The Brooklyn Dodgers played in the park in 1934.

· During its heyday, Madrid was larger in population than Albuquerque, and afforded its citizens paved streets and unlimited electricity for their homes (provided by the mine’s power plant).

· The Mineshaft Tavern, which boasted the longest bar in the state, burned down on Christmas Day in 1944. It was rebuilt with the bar intact.

· In 1954, the Wall Street Journal listed the entire town for sale for $250,000. No takers.

· The Miner’s Amusement Hall, the Catholic Church, the Coal Mining Museum, and many of the wooden company houses have been restored, but some of the old houses are in their original and uncertain state on the outskirts of town.

· The town has an annual Christmas lighting display (originally started in the 1920s) which draws many visitors from throughout the state.

· The “Congested Area Ahead” signs generally warn against weekend pedestrians darting across the highway to get from one artisan’s house to another craftsman’s shop rather than motor traffic.

Restored Miner's Cabins
The place is not only a ghost town, but also a “Ghost” town. The cemetery, the church, and the Mine Shaft Tavern appear to be haunted. The spirit of La Llorna has been reported wandering the arroyos of the town. Some people believe the Weeping Woman haunts many places in the southwest. A silent, spectral cowboy occasionally escorts a well-dressed Spanish woman (equally ephemeral) right down the middle of Main Street.

Madrid seems to have it all: crumbling shacks, restored buildings, a famous tavern where glasses fall to the floor for no reason, a horde of talented artists and craftsmen, a long history, and…ghosts. Real live—well, maybe that’s not the right word—ghosts. What more could you ask?

Next week: The final lap of the Turquoise Trail

New posts are published at 6:00 a.m. each Thursday.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

A Drive Up the Turquoise Trail National Scenic Byway

Near the beginning of THE BISTI BUSINESS, BJ and his former partner at the Albuquerque Police Department, Lt. Gene Enriquez, quiz the staff at the Sheraton Hotel on Louisiana and Menaul NE about two registered guests, Lando Alfano and Dana Norville. BJ has been hired to find Lando, his client’s missing son. During the questioning, a blushing clerk—clearly smitten by the two handsome young men—recalled they had asked about the Turquoise Trail. This scenic back road is an interesting bit of New Mexico landscape, so I thought we’d take a look at it.

Map of The Turquoise Trail National Scenic Byway

The sixty-five mile stretch of New Mexico 14 from Tijeras (Scissors in Spanish) to Santa Fe, New Mexico acquired the name of the Turquoise Trail as a result of a contest sponsored by the Albuquerque Chamber of in 1953. On June 15, 2000, it was designated a National Scenic Byway. The paved mountain road is an easy day trip from Albuquerque to Santa Fe. And a return trip via the faster Interstate-25 leaves more time to explore interesting places.

Our word trip today, however, won’t make it any farther than the old mining town of Golden.

We begin our journey on eastbound Interestate-40 (which parallels historic Route 66) and exit at a small village in Tijeras Canyon, which bisects the Sandia and Manzano Mountain ranges. Actually, BJ and an Albuquerque police sergeant take this same route on a race for Sandia Peak near the climax of THE ZOZOBRA INCIDENT.

The village of Tijeras, which had a 2000 census population of four hundred plus souls, is said to have been settled in 1819 when Albuquerque residents moved into the area. But excavations of the ruins of the San Antonio and Tijeras Pueblos confirm the area has been inhabited since the Thirteenth Century, first by Native Americans and later by the Spanish. This is the gateway to the Turquoise Trail from the southern end.

NM14 takes you north over a constantly changing landscape of mountains and meadows and high desert and distant buttes through some pretty historic New Mexico locales. We first pass through Cedar Crest, which seems to be a long series of highway strip malls and reach Sandia Park where NM536 will take you to the 10,678-foot Sandia Crest. If we were to turn left here, we’d find the Tinkertown Museum filled with miniature carved figures and animated dioramas and all sorts of western memorabilia. The owner, Ross Ward, has spent four decades carving and collecting what was originally a traveling exhibit to county fairs and carnivals in the ‘60s and ‘70s. It now takes up 22 rooms crammed with wonders of the circus and the west, including a thirty-five foot antique wooden sailboat that braved a ten-year voyage around the world. The collection was once featured on Good Morning America, and the Dalai Lama is said to have visited it.

But we bypass the Sandia Peak Scenic Byway and continue north to whiz through the little community of San Antonio (one of at least two villages sharing that name in the state). Beyond San Antonio is the Paako Ridge Golf Course, rated one of the top fifty public courses in the country. The course and the upscale bedroom community that has grown up around it both take their name from the nearby Paako Pueblo ruins. Little of the pueblo remains to be seen today, but there are often university archaeological teams and researchers digging around the area.

A few miles farther a dirt track labeled Road 57A, which later becomes Road 22 (go figure), cuts directly west, crosses the San Felipe Pueblo lands, and rejoins I-25. I mention the road because it played a part in THE ZOZOBRA INCIDENT when BJ is drawn off I-25 by a column of black smoke right after someone has tried to kill him.

We are now approaching the site of the first gold rush west of the Mississippi. In 1825, years before the California and Colorado gold rushes, placer gold was discovered on Tuerto Creek near the Ortiz Mountains. In the late 1820s, a town called Golden grew up near two mining camps named El Real de San Francisco and Placer del Tuerto.

Officially established in 1879, Golden absorbed both mining camps and became the center of a new gold mining district. It boasted several saloons, commercial ventures, a school, and even a stock exchange. The Postal Service opened an office in 1880. Alas, the gold failed and the town dwindled until there was only one general store. Ranching picked up a part of the slack, but in 1928 the post office closed and the town was declared a ghost town. Today, it has a few residents living in restored or newly-constructed homes. I am told the San Francisco Catholic Church (circa 1830) still celebrates mass on the first Sunday of each month.

We’ll halt here for the time being and hope we can find one of the many bed-and-breakfast places that have sprung up along the Turquoise Trail.

Next week: More of the Turquoise Trail: onward to Madrid.

New posts are published at 6:00 a.m. each Thursday.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Thoughtlessness...and Its Consequences

Alas, I once again feel the need to delay getting back to the New Mexico landscape as encountered in  The Bisti Business. Something occurred the other day that brought another subject more urgently to mind.

I recently did something quite thoughtless, which offended someone whose friendship I treasure. These careless moments may have ended the relationship or perhaps altered it in some manner. Or maybe the friendship is strong enough to survive my carelessness. Only time will tell. In any case, I sincerely regret my witless actions and consider how much they might cost. I have hurt someone's feelings on a deep level. I have alienated a strong, supportive companion. I have possibly deprived the wronged party in some manner, as well, because I like to believe I bring something to the relationship. One careless minute...three potentially drastic consequences.

This moment of personal crisis and loss made me stop and consider how much thoughtlessness plays a meaningful part in our lives. It is the subject--and often the motivating factor--of literature for as long as there has been literature. It appears in essays and poetry and prose. An internet search of "thoughtlessness in literature" provides a staggering list of books. It plays a significant part in Anne Bronte's The Tenant of Wildfell Hall; Fydor Dostoyevsky's Poor Folk; Melville's Moby Dick; Wells's War of the Worlds; and Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island. The list goes on and on, including books by Tolstoy, Austen, Dickens, Cooper, Verne, Defoe, Wilde, Hawthorne, Washington Irving, and a host of others.

Such acts of carelessness show up--far too often--not only in myself but also in my writing, The consequences of thoughtlessness in The Zozobra Incident and The Bisti Business may have more dramatic and bloody consequences, but they are much easier to handle than in real life.

Let us all resolve to hold onto our wits more closely, to think before acting or speaking, to be more considerate to others. I invite any of you to provide examples of such inconsiderate behavior and the consequences it had for you.

Thanks for listening to me whine.


Next Week: I'll try--really try--to get back to New Mexico as pictured in The Bisti Business

New Posts are published at 6:00 a.m. on Thursday

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