Where Old West Funk Wed Bohemian Style and Stayed

Madrid sign w/coal

My fascination with turquoise stones began in my late teens when I bought a silver and turquoise ring that I wore for years. Turquoise,  my December birthstone, I  wore it for  good luck and protection. Turquoise has enchanted humanity for thousands of years. The state of New Mexico capitalizes on its history of turquoise mining by naming a stretch of country road from Santa Fe to Albuquerque, the Turquoise Trail.

On a recent rare warm day in January — a day when we could skip battling icy roads and gooey mud — we pointed the EuroVan south and rolled toward a Turquoise Trail exploration.

What I thought would be a consolidated tale of Old West and mining operations, grew to where I’m inspired to retrace our path and mine deeper into New Mexico’s history and the romance of the Old West that lingers on the Turquoise Trail.

Skipping over (for now) the vanity business of turquoise, gold, and silver mining, let’s start with the practical — coal.

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Left over tailings of the coal industry in Madrid are visible everywhere.

When the market for anthracite coal fell down the shaft in the 1950s, the approximate 100 year history of coal mines in Madrid (pronounced MAD-rid), 27 miles southwest of Santa Fe, collapsed. A population of about 2,000 left their miners shacks, the baseball field, the bar and the church. Madrid sat as a ghost town for twenty years.

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The town, still owned by the Huber family, tapped into New Mexico’s legendary artists community, then in full bohemian regalia of the hippy days. * “In the 1970s, [Joe Huber] began to rent or sell a few of the old company houses to a number artists, craftsmen, and other individuals wanting to make their homes in the mountains. Determined to breathe new life into the town, he succeeded as more and more people moved into the area and Madrid was reborn.” About 149 to 200 folks now call Madrid home.

Revamped shacks and cottages turned into retail galleries that attract shoppers looking for the creative and the unique. Wandering about Madrid you’ll find shops that supply medicinal herbs, pottery, handcrafted jewelry, reiki practitioners, and tarot readings. It’s reported that Hollywood celebs occasionally meander about the town, like Drew Barrymore who purchased boots at one of Madrid’s boutiques. (I’m sure that was the talk of the town for months!) Fear not, however, that Madrid will be the next Rodeo Drive as it’s the kind of town where old west funk married bohemian style and stayed.

There’s plenty of food offerings. We opted for lunch at the Mine Shaft Tavern. I fell off the mindful eating wagon at the back of a mining utility truck, and went whole hog for the Mine Shaft Mad Chili Burger. Choosing your beef of choice, the burger is loaded with fried and roasted green chilis, a generous slice of aged cheddar cheese, surrounded by fries, another fried chili, lettuce, tomatoes and so on. Yum.

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The non-Disney appeal of a real rustic old west town has brought a plethora of film crews into Madrid and the surrounding area. With Santa Fe Studios nearby, it’s no surprise to cross the path of trailers, trucks and actors.

While we missed the traditional and well-loved Christmas display of original folk art decor along the main road, true to a laid back kind of place, some of the art waits to be put back into someone’s garage.

Gilda, the EuroVan, has another historic Turquoise Trail visit in the works with hiking tips and more. We’ll explore the magic of turquoise.

A Sampling of Galleries & Boutiques in Madrid

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* From Legends of America.

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