Posted by: Brad Nixon | February 1, 2016

The Turqoise Trail to Tiny Town

The straightforward route between Albuquerque, New Mexico and Santa Fe is via Interstate 25. It’s an easy drive, about 60 miles. From the outset, you’ll have great views of the Sandia Mountains to the east, and as you start climbing the long grades toward Santa Fe, at 7,000 feet elevation, you’ll see the green course of the Rio Grande on your left. Pull off at Bernalillo, drive a mile into the town and eat at The Range Cafe. Breakfast, lunch, dinner: I’ve had them all there, and you’ll be a happier person for it.

Inquisitive travelers, though, will ask, “Is there a route that isn’t a homogeonized freeway? We don’t just want to reach Santa Fe, we want to see the country.”

You’re in luck. Not only is there another way, but nearly every foot of the path is picturesque and full of local interest: Take the Turquoise Trail.

Aren’t you glad you asked? Any route with its own colorful name suggests you’re already ahead of the game. I’m not revealing a dark secret; the Turquoise Trail is well known and popular. That’s not to say it isn’t blessed with a multitude of justifications to travel that way, yourself. It’ll take a bit longer, but, as the wise traveler knows, the worthwhile path is not always the shorter one.

We traveled that way on our first visit to New Mexico in 1993, and we’ve gone back more than once. The photos and descriptions in this post are from our most recent cruise up the Trail in 2007.

From the center of of Albuquerque, drive east on I-40, over a pass in the mountains and exit at Tijeras.  Head north on New Mexico Route 14, following the course of Arroyo San Antonio. At first you wind through tall overhanging cottonwoods and oaks as you pass through the old mining towns of Golden, Madrid and Cerillos, before you climb into higher dry prairie and rolling hills.

NM Turquoise Trail Brad Nixon 182 (640x319)

You can cover the 50 miles to Santa Fe in a couple of easy hours, or you can make a day of it, depending on your appetite for old mills and mining lore, shops, art galleries and, yes, restaurants that aren’t part of any national brand: a fascinating slice of the West.

You may encounter some traffic on weekend afternoons, but at other times you’ll own most of this two-lane blacktop stretch for yourself as you gaze at the mountains, chaparral, mesquite and the sweep of the undulating high country under the western sky.

You might think to yourself, “They should shoot a movie along here.” Someone beat you to it: a now-forgotten road trip/buddy movie with John Travolta and Tim Allen on motorcycles called “Wild Hogs.” I say no more.

However keen we were to press on to Santa Fe, however staunchly we’d resisted the siren song of the shops with curios, pottery, woodcarvings and the quaint eateries, just north of Madrid was one spot we had to stop:

Tiny Town.

NM Tiny Town panorama Brad Nixon (640x187)

There along a byway of the American Southwest was the nexus between art and architecture, sculpture and reality, the heart of the mystery that lies between the human spirit and the observable world.

Here’s a better look.

NM Tiny Town Brad Nixon 185 (640x480)

Leonardo’s Annunciation or the facade of Chartres Cathedral epitomize the inadequacy of language to describe truly great art. Even the spectacle of Tiny Town shows the limits of mere words.

NM Tiny Town Brad Nixon 184 (640x480)

We did not enter Tiny Town due to the contradictory messages. Despite fences and gates, two signs read “Open” and another says “Welcome.” Inside the pink gateway is a box with an invitation to make donations to the cause.

Another sign, though, advised “KEEP OUT,” advising that entry equals trespassing.

NM Tiny Town Brad Nixon 183 (640x480)

We kept out.

Later, we learned that it’s the creation of one Tammy Jean Lange, and that visitors were, indeed welcome.

Years passed, and I started writing this piece. I looked up Tiny Town online and got the news: Tiny Town is gone. Reports vary: declared a hazard by some local bureaucracy; big chunks of it acquired by an art impressario and carted off to Baltimore, a victim of its own success/excess. Whatever, gone. Ms. Lange, those murmurings say, is still in the area, producing art.

When you see something by the roadside that speaks to you, stop; inquire. You may pass that way again, but it may not have waited, and no longer be there.

© Brad Nixon 2016, 2017

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