“Back Roads” Between Albuquerque and Santa Fe

These scenic, history-filled byways take longer,
but the rewards are greater than the usual Interstate route

Heading north from the Albuquerque metropolitan area, travelers are offered two roundabout routes that form a complete circle tour encompassing Indian Pueblos, complex geological formations, nuclear-age Los Alamos, historic Santa Fe and turn-of-the-century mining towns, The Jemez Mountain Trail and The Turquoise Trail.

The Jemez Mountain Trail

The Jemez Mountain Trail starts in the town of Bernalillo (north of Albuquerque take exit 242 west from Interstate 25). Coronado State Park and Monument, which marks the spot of a Tiguex Pueblo dating from 1300 AD, is just across the Rio Grande on NM 44. The explorer Coronado is believed to have established winter headquarters here in 1540. Some of the ruins, including a kiva, have been reconstructed and an interesting hands-on museum shows the parallel development of the Indian and Hispanic cultures. At Coronado Park there is camping,picnicking and beautiful views of the Rio Grande and the Sandia Mountains.

Jemez State Mon.

Jemez State Monument
Photo courtesy Museum of New Mexico remote

The Trail follows NM 44 west and north. At 21 miles from Coronado State Park, past the Santa Ana and Zia Pueblos, is the first clear view of Redondo Peak and the form of the large bird with outstretched wings on the side of the mountain. (Note: Old Santa Ana Pueblo is closed except on feast days.) At the small village of San Ysidro, site of a famous dinosaur "dig," the Trail turns north on NM 4.

The road follows the winding, narrow path of the Jemez River and cuts through canyons whose colors change radically from brown to brilliant red. Jemez (Hay'-mes) Pueblo is about five miles from San Ysidro. During the summer and fall, NM 4 is lined with shaded ramadas under which Jemez Pueblo women sell Indian bread and cookies. This trail offers some of the most beautiful mountain and valley scenery in New Mexico. Two visitors' centers will guide you to galleries, artists' studios, natural hot springs and ancient ruins along the trail. At the southern end of the valley, Walatowa Visitor Center at the Pueblo of Jemez displays a pictorial pueblo history, arranges tours and nature walks, and every weekend, weather permitting, the Jemez Red Rocks Open Air Market features traditional foods and craft demonstrations.

The tiny village of Jemez Springs is site of a historic bath house where springs for which the town was named provide bubbling, sulfur-laden water. Jemez Springs is also home to a Zen Center and a number of Catholic retreat houses. A bustling art community flourishes in the mountain air. Leave time to stop at Jemez galleries and perhaps an overnight in one of the many charming B and B's that dot the trail. Two especially festive times in Jemez Springs are the 4th of July and the Jemez Fiesta, which occurs near the weekend of August 15th.

Just above the village is the Jemez State Monument which includes prehistoric Indian ruins of the Towa Pueblo of Guisewa, meaning "place of the boiling waters" and the 17th century Spanish Mission of San José de los Jemez. The Jemez State Monument Visitors Center is open April 1-September 15.

The Jemez Mountains were shaped by a great volcanic eruption, leaving complex geology and spectacular natural wonders. About 12 miles north of Jemez Pueblo, the high walls of Jemez Canyon are decorated with "tent rocks," conical formations of hardened ash surrounding the escape route for volcanic fumes. Just a mile further north, "Soda Dam," a natural spring and dam, blocks the canyon and the Jemez River. The spring bubbles even in the winter and in this entire area hot rocks are fairly near the surface, heating the ground water—a legacy from the volcanic past. Also watch for Battleship Rock, a sheer cliff that rises suddenly above the river and towers above a picnic area.

Where NM 4 meets NM 126, The Jemez Mountain Trail winds east on NM 4. The road follows along the edge of the spectacular Jemez Caldera—the Valle Grande. The caldera is 14 miles across, but only part can be seen; the view is obscured by the great dome of Redondo Peak which, at 11,254 feet, is one of the highest mountains in New Mexico. The Trail now heads toward Bandelier National Monument and Los Alamos, the once-remote mountain city where the nuclear age was born.

The name Los Alamos refers to the poplars that are so plentiful in New Mexico. Los Alamos began its days as a ranch school for boys. In 1942, the isolated, easily guarded mesa was singled out as the ideal location for the Los Alamos Scientific Laboratories and the Manhattan Project — an event which changed the world, and certainly altered the face of remote Los Alamos county.

Today Los Alamos residents are involved almost exclusively in work for Los Alamos National Laboratory and related support enterprises. A community of artists has established itself here as well. The artists, like the scientists, have come to Los Alamos form around the country and the world. The painters, sculptors, potters, stained glass and fiber artists represent the full spectrum of artistic styles: from southwestern to surrealistic, from impressionistic to classical, from realistic to abstract. Their studios are located in the environs of Los Alamos and in the town of White Rock on the Thunderbird Trail.

A complete tour of Los Alamos should also include a visit to the Bradbury Science Museum, the Los Alamos Historical Museum and the Fuller Lodge Art Center.

Just beyond Los Alamos, spectacular Bandelier National Monument is part of a fifty-square mile wilderness area. Miles of trails to ancient cliff dwellings and ruins radiate out from the convenient visitors' center. (A word of caution: Visitors and hikers should remember to lock cars securely and remove valuables as thefts from cars have been reported.) Hikers and campers can spend hours or days exploring the rich history, abundant wildlife and flora of Bandelier.

Turning south, the return trip to Albuquerque takes the traveler through historic Santa Fe, the oldest capital city in the United States.

The Turquoise Trail

The Turquoise Trail remote site leaves Santa Fe as Cerrillos Road (NM 14) and progresses south through low hills dotted with piñons. Approximately 23 miles south is Cerrillos, once an important stop on the Santa Fe railroad. Today, it is a revitalized ghost town with artist studios and an annual studio tour planned in the first weekend in November. Many Santa Feans find Cerrillos an escape from the Santa Fe growth and bustle.

Three miles beyond, Madrid provides another interesting stop with its strip of galleries, artist studios and cafés. Madrid provides another example of a former ghost town revitalized by the art community. Once a coal mining town, abandoned in the 1920s, Madrid became an alternative-style community in the 1960s. Traces of its historical fiber are still evident in the hills stripped of coal and the abandoned rail car turned cafe. Likewise, more than one VW bus lines the main street of Madrid. Madrid is also the home of the first lighted baseball park in the US. During the summer months, a series of Jazz and Blues concerts takes place on the weekends. The first two weekends in December, the studios and galleries put on the annual "Christmas in Madrid." The street is decked for the holidays and many special events are planned in the galleries and artist studios.

Continue along The Turquoise Trail through Golden to Sandia Park and the intersection of NM 536, "The Crest Road." Take this road to the top of Sandia Peak (10, 678 feet elevation) or go just a mile and a half to Tinkertown Museum. This wood-carved miniature village, glass bottle house and gift shop has grown and evolved since 1962 under the guidance of carver R.J. Ward. Today it is an amazing, animated Old West Town and Three Ring Circus in miniature. The cowboy humor of the Old West and the Big Top come alive in the antics of thousands of human and animal figures set among nostalgic relics of out recent past.

Recommended reading

Touring New Mexico by Chilton, Chilton, Arango, Dudley, Stelzner. University of New Mexico Press remote Albuquerque, New Mexico

Roadside Geology of New Mexico Halka Chronic. Mountain Press remote Missoula, Montana

By Pamela Michaelis, founder of The Collector's Guide and former host of “Gallery News” radio show on KHFM 95.5 remote, classical radio in Albuquerque.

Originally appeared in
The Collector’s Guide to Albuquerque Metro Area - Volume 6

Visit the Calendar of Events Search Page for complete exhibit and performance information.

LAST MODIFIED: July 7, 2008

©2014 | F + W Media
URL: http://www.collectorsguide.com/ab/abfa05.html • Contact The Collector's Guide