Treasures of the Turquoise Trail

A visit to Santa Fe and surrounding towns yields vintage southwest finds.

Santa Fe, the oldest capital city in North America, recently served as my base for discovering not only vintage articles and artifacts, but the rich history of the old southwest.

On a road trip, my friends and I drove down Highway 14, otherwise known as the Turquoise Trail, which links Santa Fe and Albuquerque on 45 miles of winding, scenic road.  Echoes of the past breezed by our car windows: prehistoric inhabitants, Spanish missions, outlaw camps, and the legendary Kit Carson, who marched Navajo people down the trail in their “Long Walk” to incarceration at Fort Sumner.   

Wandering into the picturesque old mining settlement of Cerrillos, founded in 1879, the scene was like a ghost town, perfect for a movie set. In fact, Cerrillos has been a popular setting for several motion pictures, including Outrageous Fortune and Young Guns.

In the Cerrillos hills, native Americans mined turquoise and lead, which was critical to their jewelry and pottery making.  The mines here influenced Spanish settlement, with some of the turquoise said to find its way to the crown jewels of Spain.  The gold rush of the 1880’s created a prosperous town with 4 hotels and 21 saloons, and a population of more than 3,000.  

In 1881, famed jeweler Charles Lewis Tiffany formed the American Turquoise Company here. The rare, perfect blue turquoise of the Tiffany mines was desired for the company’s jewelry and helped to brand its signature turquoise packaging. 

Sarah Bernhardt, Lillian Russell and Jenny Lind sang in the Cerrillos Opera House.  Later, Janis Joplin recorded albums there.  Today, the historic building presents itself with a faded façade and a plaque commemorating its heyday.    

Walking down the dusty streets, we fell upon the lone antique shop.  Its owner, Lori Musil, proudly told us of the town’s history. The store, guarded halfheartedly by an old yellow dog, featured architectural antiques, lighting, vintage clothing and jewelry, and the proprietor/artist’s painted ponies.

We moved on to another former mining town, Madrid, famous in the mid 1800’s for its surplus of both hard and soft coal.  At the time, the area boomed as a supplier of coal for the Santa Fe railroad and the U.S. government. Today the town’s richness lies in its artists’ community.

Shops, galleries and vintage shops line both sides of Main Street, co-mingling with remnants of the past like the Mineshaft Tavern and the Coal Mine Museum.  I found two stores here  - Cowgirl Red and Redbone - loaded with vintage boots.  At Redbone, cowboy boots on two floors were lined up row by row, seeming to go on for miles.  Many were styled into colorful vignettes, with artificial flowers tucked into the tops of the boot shafts.  Other vintage finds included handbags, jewelry, clothing and belts.

Off the Turquoise Trail, we ventured into Bandelier National Monument in Los Alamos. The ancestral Pueblo people seemed to call out to us as we marveled at their ancient cave dwellings and their ceremonial meeting places, called kivas.  The gift shop, a treasure trove of exquisite jewelry hand made by Native Americans, housed a spectacular display of vintage turquoise necklaces, bracelets, rings and pins.

On a trip to the American southwest, enjoy the scenic views, history, beautiful colors and diverse cultures, and remember to look for your own vintage treasures!

For more information: www.turquoisetrail.orgwww.lorimusil.com, www.cowgirlred.com, Redbone, Madrid, New Mexico, 505-473-0711, www.nps.gov/band/index.htm



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