Never having been to New Mexico before (in recoverable memory, that is), I didn’t have a good sense of distance. In that, I thought everything – I mean everything would be hours apart, and we’d be very limited in how much we could do in a single day.
Well, as per usual, my expectations were confounded.
On our first full day – Saturday, 6/30 – I thought we’d go to Santa Fe. (We were staying in this fabulous, interesting B & B just south of the city – more on that in the next post)
Seemed like a decent plan.
Now, part of the Big Picture Plan had been to maybe wander a bit on the Turquoise Trail - I had marked out a couple of towns that might be interesting, but thought it was all too far east to do on the same day as Santa Fe, and that maybe we’d hit them on our way from Santa Fe to Albuquerque a couple of days later.
But when I got on I-25 to Santa Fe, and saw the next exit inviting me to Madrid, I reconsidered – maybe it wasn’t that far?
And (this time) it wasn’t – we managed to see those towns in the morning and still have plenty of time for Santa Fe in the afternoon.
(Because, honestly, when you take out the museums..there isn’t, as I discovered, a ton to see in Santa Fe itself. With the museums, you’ve got several days. But this trip, I wasn’t in a real museum mood, so….)
Our first stop was Cerrillos, which is tiny and easy to pass, but just so interesting – because it’s practically a ghost town, and even a quick look at the history of the place tells you a lot about the cycles of boom and bust.
The area turquoise and lead deposits were critical to the jewelry and pottery making of the prehistoric Indians and these mines influenced Spanish settlement. The Cerrillos mining district is one of the oldest and most marked of the Old Spanish mineral developments in the Southwest. In fact, turquoise is still being mined here on several private claims. Cerrillos was full of hearty miners who extracted gold, silver, lead, zinc and turquoise from area mines at its peak in the 1880’s. The miners supported the town’s 21 saloons and four hotels. While it was once seriously considered as the capitol of New Mexico, today Cerrillos, with its dirt streets, is a picturesque reminder of the Old West.
We drove about a bit – a very little bit, considering there were just a few streets, and first stopped in the church, which was, appropriately for us, San Jose.
(We have a Joseph).
They had a nice little shrine/garden area. I was interested in the perhaps locally-made art, the boys looked for lizards. That’s fine.
Inside was lovely, and included a simple, but impressive relic wall.
Then we traveled across town (er…500 feet away?) to the Casa Grande Trading Post, Cerrillos Turquoise Mining Museum & Petting Zoo. Rambling, rickety and stuffed to the gills with..stuff, it’s definitely worth a stop – not just for the locally mined Turquoise, but for all the other relics and souvenirs that fill the sprawling space, and of course, the animals.
The town is dotted with historical markers. What would we do without the local history enthusiasts? So much would be lost. Here’s the opera house today and the plaque telling of its former glories.
Down the road to Madrid, once known for mining, baseball and electricity, but now a single busy road (which must get horrifically unnavigable during true high season) lined with artist’s studios and shops. We skipped that and just set our sites on the Madrid Old Coal Town Museum.
Totally ramshackle, operated that day by a Frenchman, and offering what seemed like a pretty complete overview of the history of the area, which (of course) centered on coal mining, which led to a very early adoption of electricity. Thomas Edison was here for a bit, working (they say) on his alchemy experiments.
Plus, a train. Always a plus.
This was a massive engine (the nose of which juts into the stage of the small theater where they put on old-time melodramas) and gave a real sense of the power of these machines, even though it hadn’t run in decades.
One of the many reasons history fascinates me is that it connects with my mordant awareness of life’s changes. Sic transit gloria mundi and all that. I love standing in a place – a busy city block with layers of centuries of life under my feet; in the midst of ancient ruins – native American, Greek or Roman; the quiet streets of a ghost town or one where the miners have been replaced by potters, or even in my own house, built in 1920 – and imagine who walked there before me, and how they lived in that place. I am taken by their courage, inventiveness and persistence. The change, too, captivates me, and the whole experience of walking through history serves as an inspiration and a caution: Work hard, dig deep…but remember…don’t cling, since, of course… sic transit gloria mundi.
(And we did get to Santa Fe – by about 12:30, I think!)