We are in the midst of remodeling our house (flooring, tiling, painting, etc. – I am sure you get the picture) which has taken a lot of our time and energy. We just needed a break from all the madness. Some time ago we visited the little town of Madrid, NM, not too far from Santa Fe, and thought this would give us a little respite from our work and also an opportunity to share this with all of you. Perhaps, the next time you get the opportunity to visit New Mexico, you might want to stop by for a visit. A former coal mining town, located in a valley surrounded by mountains, Madrid has reinvented itself numerous times over the years culminating in its current rebirth as a vibrant art colony.
Over the last several years we have driven through this little artist colony quite a few times, usually on our way to Santa Fe and surroundings. It is located about 22 miles south of Santa Fe, about mid-point between Albuquerque and Santa Fe. We even stopped a few times for some tea or coffee and visited some of the unique galleries and studios. As you will see from our photos, it is unlike any other town anywhere in this country. On first sight, many people are not quite sure what to make of it – it strikes you as being reminiscent of the 60’s hippie era, a colorful and charming art colony, created from the remnants of a former ghost town. Madrid is a nonchalant and relaxed little town, located on the scenic Turquoise Trail. Most of the stores, studios and galleries are located along this stretch of road also known as Main Street in Madrid, with just a few along the small side roads when you first come into town. A smaller residential area surrounds this main area, although some of the older homes along this main stretch are still private residences, as well. A U.S. 2000 census put the population at 149 people as residing within Madrid town limits.
Heading North from Tijeras, NM on Highway 14, also known as the Turquoise Trail, (located just East of Albuquerque, off I-40), we drove through the East Mountain communities of Tijeras, Cedar Crest, Sandia Park, San Antonio and Pa’ako, all of which are nestled just East of the Sandia Mountain range.
The road takes you on through Golden, NM, also an old mining town, which is only sparsely populated today, but contains one of the oldest, continuously running ‘General Stores’ in this state. The local vegetation consists primarily of prairie grass, juniper and pinon trees as well as chamisa and apache plume.
The ancestral and early Pueblo peoples have lived in the Sandia Mountain area for thousands of years. The now unoccupied Pueblos of Tijeras and Pa’ako were founded about 700 years ago. If you want to learn more about them, please click on the areas highlighted in blue. The Sandia Pueblo, which abuts the Northwestern side of the Sandia Mountain range, is an active and modern community and the “Sandia peoples” consider the Sandia Mountains a sacred place. The Sandia Pueblo is, however, more readily accessed by traveling through Albuquerque and is located off I-25 on the immediate North side of Albuquerque.
Madrid itself is located about 20 miles North of Sandia Park. Upon entering the town you can see the old miners’ cabins, some have been completely rebuilt and refurnished, and others are still in need of repair.
The 2007 production of Touchstone Pictures’ movie “Wild Hogs” brought Madrid once again into the spotlight. When filming was complete, the movie production crew left behind the building especially constructed to house Maggie’s Diner, prominently featured in the movie. It now houses a gift store with memorabilia related to the movie as well as Madrid.
Maggie’s Diner is at about the mid point along the Main Street of Madrid on the West side of the road next door to the Madrid Gift Emporium advertising the cheapest silver in the West.
These colorful chairs, guarded by a colorful, do we dare say indignant looking bird, invite you to sit awhile, before or after your visit to this place of interest.
In typical New Mexico-style, Christmas lights stay up year round.
During every visit to Madrid, we have inevitably encountered the local Madrid dogs – this visit being no exception. They are everywhere and lay claim to the right of way on any road.
Beautiful metal artistry is found everywhere in this town.
Criss-crossing the road once more, you come to the Conley’s Pottery Studio, featuring Lisa Conley’s pottery as well as works from many regional artists.
Immediately next door is the Hanuman’s World Gallery, offering tribal antiques, sacred objects, textiles world music and meditation supplies.
When your eyes begin to tire of the colorful overload of artistic endeavors, the local bounty of fruit, visible in many of the side and front yards of these homes and studios alike, delights the senses.
Prickly Pear Cactus may be less familiar to you, but it grows in abundance everywhere in New Mexico, and is also found here, as you can see in this magnificent example. We have also found some interesting tips on how to eat and prepare this plant for use in a variety of different recipes. Learn more about it here. It has many fascinating uses and both the fruit and leaves are edible.
In reading about the general history of this area, we learned, that the mining history of this region goes back hundreds of years, starting with the Native Pueblo residents mining for turquoise. When the Spanish occupied the area, mining for silver and gold took precedent. The more recent history of Madrid began back in 1892, when the successful yield from a narrow valley also known as Coal Gulch warranted the construction of a 6-1/2 mile long railroad line, connecting this area to the Santa Fe railroad. Coal Gulch then became the town site of Madrid. By 1899 the entire regional coal production was consolidated at Madrid. The Albuquerque and Cerrillos Coal Company brought small wood frame cabins from Kansas to house the miners and their families. Madrid began to flourish as a “company town”, at its height housing some 2,500 people. In 1919, Mr. Kaseman of the Albuquerque and Cerrillos Coal Company hired Oscar Joseph Huber to take on the position of Superintendent of Mines. Under Huber’s leadership, Madrid became a model for many other mining towns. The town boasted paved streets, a community hospital, schools and free electricity provided by the company’s coal-powered generators. As far back as the early 1920’s, Madrid miners lit up the cold winter sky with some 150,000 Christmas lights, powered by 500,000 kilowatt hours of electricity, provided by the company’s own generators and many displays were created by Northern New Mexico artisans and laborers. When the mines were finally closed in the 1950’s, due to an increased availability of natural gas, all of this ended and the town was abandoned and became a ghost town for about 20 years.
In the early 1970’s Oscar Huber’s son, Joe Huber, who had purchased the entire town back in 1947, rented some of the abandoned miner’s cabins to local artists and craftsmen, with the desire to once again establish a new identity for this once famous town. Until his death in the late 1980’s, Joe Huber remained dedicated to the successful reestablishment of Madrid. Many of his early supporters shared his vision for Madrid and some are still here today.
Today, Madrid once again is known for its colorful Christmas displays and ‘Old Stagecoach sleigh’ rides in the weeks leading up to Christmas. Please excuse the less than optimal photo quality of these Christmas pictures, since they were taken a couple of years ago with just a regular 35mm point and shoot camera. Should you find yourself in the area, or are planning to travel to the general Santa Fe area, you definitely want to check out this year’s Christmas schedule at this site. Imagine a sleigh ride through this town (they even provide you with blankets to keep warm) surrounded by thousands of holiday lights, and then stopping off for some hot chocolate, or cider, at some of the local vendors.
When first entering the town, some of the most famous galleries immediately capture your attention. Johnsons of Madrid was the first gallery that opened in Madrid since the early mining days. Founded by Diana and Mel Johnson, the gradual conversion of their Madrid garage building, has led to one of the largest art exhibitions in New Mexico. Please visit their site for detailed information, photos and business hours.
The well-known Chumani Gallery offers Native jewelry, photography, pottery as well as traditional paintings.
Al Leedom’s famous glass studio is just a few yards further North. On many days, if your timing is superb, you can see Al Leedom work in his glass studio. His artistry is exceptional. Ed. Note: Unfortunately Al Leedom closed his studio in 2011, but his glass can still be purchased through a local Santa Fe location at this link. On previous visits, we were fortunate to have seen this artist at work, creating the most intricate works of art from blown glass.
Opposite this row of galleries, we entered a little side road, with its many colorful artisan offerings, i.e. The Gypsy Gem and the Tapestry Gallery to name just a couple of them. We’ll let the photos speak for themselves.
In staying with the theme of our own site, we naturally wanted to explore the local gluten free offerings. Sadly, most offer only the gluten rich, conventional fare, but one stood out.
This restaurant offers a variety of daily specials, featuring mostly local New Mexican specialties. They offer help in providing information regarding any dishes containing gluten, though many quite naturally are gluten free. Since a lot of Mexican, or New Mexican food contains corn, this left us somewhat in a quandary, i.e. this being another allergen for one of us. Their humorous sign outside explains their general sentiment.
The consensus is that gluten free food can be found but we cannot vouch that it is free from any potential cross-contamination. Please use your own judgment in this matter.
Walking across the street, a metal guitarist welcomed us to Jezebel’s soda fountain, where you can find gluten free refreshments such as juices, teas, sodas, etc., but definitely no gluten free food.
The most famous establishment in this community is the Mineshaft Tavern on the Southern end of town. You can look up their menu on their website here. There is no particular mention about gluten free items – it would be a mere choice of leaving out any gluten containing foods without any guarantee that anything you choose will be free of cross-contamination. Trust your own judgment, or just simply eat ahead of time and/or bring some food and have a picnic. It is, however, a historic location and home to the Engine House Theater, which hosts a yearly Melodrama performance.
The favorite hangout with the locals as well as visitors alike is Java Junction, offering a variety of coffee specialties, as well as teas, sodas, juices, but sadly, no gluten free desserts – yet. This coffee house also sells a huge selection of the local spicy fare, every imaginable type of salsa that comes to mind, as well as interesting and beautiful artisan pottery and clothing. Outdoor seating is available in the summer, and an enclosed side porch during the colder months of the year.
Java Junction also provides Bed & Breakfast accommodations upstairs. Learn more about this at their website here.
Having experienced the “java jitters” at this last visit, we desired to enter the calming experience of this little store, called “Heaven.”
It is located right next door to Java Junction and their Enchanted Garden entry leads you to the interior of the store where, to the sound of soft music, you can browse through unique high end clothing items, handcrafted by local artisans and dress makers, explore the world of essential oils and specialty body products.
Continuing with our walk North on Main Street on this very hot day, the many colorful gallery signs beckoned us to enter. Unfortunately, photography is not permitted inside these galleries, so we are limited to show you the outer “impressions.”
The Weasel & Fitz Gallery houses many pieces of art solely created from recycled materials as well as local folk art, and represents well over 20 local New Mexico artists.
Across the street, a mermaid beckons for a visit to the Wild West Boot store.
Stone Artist Joshua Gannon’s gallery “Range West” highlights some of his beautiful work in the front of his store.
Some of the local residents still live right on Main Street, and their homes are reminiscent of Madrid’s colorful history.
Especially during busy weekends and holiday, parking can be challenging, and the locals’ frustration is being expressed with some not to be missed signs.
We have many more photos on our Flickr page (just click the image on the right side bar). Feel free and check them out. Keep an open mind when visiting Madrid and you will fall in love with its many charms.