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Madrid, NM

About MadridAmiable little Madrid couldn't be more different from the Spanish capital it shares a name with, starting with its pronunciation (say “MAH-drid”). This spot of a hamlet in the high desert country of central New Mexico has had several incarnations over the course of approximately 2 centuries: coal mining boomtown, home of the Madrid Miners minor league baseball team, all-but-deserted “ghost town,” offbeat artists' collective. The last one describes Madrid today and is one reason why it's one of the state's most distinctive small communities.

The nearby, mineral-rich Ortiz Mountains ensured Madrid's early success. By 1892 coal was being extracted from mines with shafts as deep as 2,500 feet. A company town of wood-framed cabins rose up, supplying coal for the Santa Fe Railway and the U.S. Government. Beginning in the early 1920s, Madrid became famous for its big Fourth of July parade and a lavish Christmastime display of lights, powered by electricity provided by coal-fed generators. Baseball games were played in the first lighted ballpark in the West.

But the development of cheaper and cleaner fuels brought about Madrid's decline. By the end of the 1950s the mines had closed and only a handful of people were left. Rebirth began in the early 1970s, when artists and craftspeople who didn't mind roughing it started converting old miners' cabins into funky little galleries and shops.

Today there are reminders of Madrid's past in names like the Mine Shaft Tavern and the Ghost Town Trading Post. There's a definite hippie sensibility—a stone gargoyle here, a whiff of incense there. And more recently a biker contingent has made its presence known. The 2007 hit movie “Wild Hogs,” a comedy about a group of suburbanites (led by Will Ferrell and Tim Allen) turned wannabe bikers, was partially filmed in town; Maggie's Diner, built specifically for the film, was left standing.

Another blink-and-you'll-miss-it town is Cerrillos, a couple of miles north of Madrid off SR 14 (watch for the signed turnoff). As early as 1,000 B.C., prehistoric people using stone axes and antler picks worked the surrounding region for turquoise, that beautifully hued mineral long prized as a gem and ornamental stone. Cerrillos turquoise even ended up adorning the crown jewels of Spain. Gold, silver, lead and zinc also were extracted from area mines that reached their peak in the 1880s, when the town boasted four hotels and more than 20 saloons.

Today's Cerrillos is a far cry from its boisterous past, but there's still a rustic Old West look to the cottonwood-shaded dirt streets and adobe houses. While “sleepy” is an accurate description, there are a couple of shops and artist studios for visitors to explore. The Cerrillos Turquoise Mining Museum (17 Waldo St.; watch for the signs) has an interesting collection of rocks, Cerrillos turquoise, bottles, curios, tools, coffee cans, hand grinders and antiques amassed by the owners, plus an adjacent fenced enclosure where you can feed llamas, goats and chickens. The museum is open daily 9-5; phone (505) 438-3008.

The stretch of SR 14 between I-40 exit 175 and I-25 exit 278 is called the Turquoise Trail National Scenic Byway. Tijeras is the gateway to this popular alternate route between Albuquerque and Santa Fe. The natural setting is grand—forests of juniper and piñon pine, sagebrush-speckled hills, rolling prairies, vistas of the Sandia Mountains. The Turquoise Trail scenery is particularly spectacular from the village of Golden north to Madrid. Just north of Cerrillos is the Garden of the Gods, a grouping of vertical sandstone and mudstone rocks. While not as large, impressive or famous as the towering red sandstone formations at Garden of the Gods Park in Colorado Springs, they were shaped by the same geological forces.

ShoppingNarrow, winding SR 14, Madrid's main—and only—drag, is lined with an eclectic collection of art galleries and little shops housed in fancifully decorated wooden houses. Parking is a do-it-yourself affair; in other words, grab a spot wherever you can along the road or in one of the few gravel lots. Some establishments are open seasonally or have reduced hours during the winter months.

Galleries like the Chumani Gallery (2839 SR 14), Spirit in Art (just off SR 14 on Firehouse Road), Johnsons of Madrid (2843 SR 14) and Indigo (2854 SR 14) deal in contemporary paintings, Navajo jewelry, Mata Ortiz pottery, Cerrillos turquoise and fiber art. Cowgirl Red (2865 SR 14) has Wild West art, antiques and vintage cowboy boots. Heaven Boutique (2853 SR 14) is a Victorian-style boutique selling clothing, jewelry, hats and gifts.

Madrid's meeting place is the Java Junction (2855 SR 14), where you can mingle with the locals over coffee or a smoothie before checking out the kitschy array of novelty coffee mugs, kitchen magnets and T-shirts, as well as a killer selection of hot sauces and regional salsas.

Things to Do Madrid Old Coal Town Museum

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Madrid, NM

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