Cerrillos, Villanueva, and NM Hwy 3


Vacant Building In Cerrillos


Trusting the weatherman’s forecast of a warm and sunny February day, I decided to venture forth on a wandering excursion. I plotted out a meandering course to pass through some areas that I have not been to in recent memory. I drove 14 miles east of the Big I on Interstate 40 to exit 175, and then north on North 14, also called the Turquoise Trail. I passed by Cedar Crest and San Antonio, with my first stop planned for Madrid. The mining town- turned ghost town- turned artist community gained fame in recent years as the setting and location of the feature film Wild Hogs. Madrid is home to some rather creative dwellings. For example, there are houses made out of old boxcars, and new homes built inside of old abandoned buildings. My specific destination was the Coal Mining Museum, but upon my arrival I found it closed, and I didn’t see any hours posted. Slightly dismayed, I drove on. I passed through Golden, which was known as Real de San Francisco from 1839 to 1880. There’s not a lot going on in that town now, although there is a wonderful church that I’ve read dates to the 1830’s. This church is probably the most photographed building along the Turquoise Trail. About a dozen miles north of Golden, I turned in to the town of Cerrillos. I parked across from the stately church and set about to wander what seemed to be the main street. There were art galleries and antique stores, but I wasn’t in a shopping frame of mind, so I didn’t go in to any of them. You’ll see painted on the side of one building, “Wortley Hotel” and “Murphy Dolan Co.” It’s not because the town is suffering from some sort of identity crisis, but because Cerrillos was turned into Lincoln for the filming of 1988’s Young Guns. I was pleased to walk the streets, as I happen to like that movie very much. A couple of people were ambling along on horseback, and another horse was hitched in front of one of the galleries. The town had a pleasant, laid back, friendly feeling to it.

Former Tree Next To The Church

After wandering the streets for a bit, I noticed a sign for the Cerrillos Turquoise Mining Museum and, out of curiosity, followed the directions to the museum. I hesitated a moment at the door to the gift shop/museum/petting zoo, thinking about turning and heading back to my truck, when, as it often does, my curiosity got the better of me. I went inside and boy was I glad I did! I was confronted with a dazzling array of items for sale. There was merchandise on tables, on the floor, on the walls, and even hanging from the ceiling. The chaos was enlivening, although there was a certain order to the chaos, which made it an attribute rather than a detriment. I poked around the cornucopia of offerings for a couple of minutes, and then I saw the entrance to the museum part. Upon first glance I knew I had to pay the admission and have a closer look.

First Peek Into The Museum

I paid the $2 and entered the museum. It’s hard to know where to begin to describe the contents therein. There were antique stoves, antique tools, oil lamps, animal skulls, mining equipment of all types, bottles- lots and lots of bottles, minerals, fossils, pottery sherds, a bullet collection, an old dentist’s chair, a pair of Dutch wooden shoes, (pause, deep breath[just in case you’re reading this aloud]) liquor bottles, an old school bell, spurs, giant pine cones, and on and on. When I went from display to display there really was no telling what I was going to see next. I LOVE that in a museum!

Horseshoe Collection And More Glass

View Of The Large Room

Also worth mentioning was a display case full of items excavated from the outhouse pit of the old hotel that used to be on the property, a model aircraft carrier, and a small alligator tastefully taxidermied into a standing position, holding an ashtray. I really cannot describe the quantity and variety of items in the museum to my satisfaction, so just take my word for it, and go see the place. And plan on spending some time in there.On my way out I was engaged in conversation by the outgoing and spunky proprietress, Patricia. We spoke for a few minutes on tourism, the alarming amount of houses being built on the Turquoise Trail, and the virtues of digging up outhouses. I also learned that money earned from the filming of Young Guns is what financed the building of the museum. Having quite a distance yet to cover this trip, I bade Patricia farewell and headed back to my truck. I continued north on NM 14 for about 3 miles and turned east onto county road 42 towards Galisteo because I chose to avoid Santa Fe, and it seemed like a much more interesting route. County road 42 is a pleasant and not un-scenic thoroughfare. There are a few widely scattered houses, but the recent paving of the road, along with some of the properties having Sotheby’s Real Estate signs, seems to foretell this to be a future chi-chi bedroom community for Santa Fe. There is a portion of about two miles that is not yet paved, but is easily traversable in any vehicle. About 10 miles from NM 14 I met up with NM 41 at Galisteo.

Church At Galisteo

I had a brief drive around the small town, looked at some old buildings- some restored, some not- and drove north on 41 about 6 miles to where it joins up with US 285. From this junction it is another 7 miles to I-25. Just before the Interstate I stopped at a convenience store for restroom facilities, a fresh beverage, and a mandatory bag of Corn Nuts. I decided to take side roads rather than the Interstate, but about 3 miles north (actually west, look at a map) I was forced to get on anyway, as there was no more side road. However, before joining the major highway I drove through a tiny town, which was not listed on my map, with a quaint old church on a shady hillside. This church has some of the oldest and most picturesque headstones I’ve seen in New Mexico. They were almost too perfect, as if they had been done up by a production design team for a movie.

Church At Canoncito At Apache Canyon

An historic marker indicated that the town’s name is Canoncito, or Canoncito at Apache Canyon, for distinguishing it from the other Canoncitos (of which there are at least 3). This is where the Santa Fe Trail emerges from Glorieta Pass. This little area is home to quite a bit of history with the Pecos Ruins, Santa Fe Trail, and Glorieta Civil War Battlefield. I am not terribly interested in battlefields as a destination as there is not much to see, so I headed for Pecos National Historic Park and Pecos Ruins . Upon my arrival I spied six school busses in the parking lot and decided to keep on going as I didn't feel up to sharing the experience with a hundred or so children.

Road Between Canoncito And San Jose

I drove on another 20 miles or so through the little towns of Rowe, Gise, Ilfeld, and Sands, to San Jose and turned south on NM 3. I quickly happened upon the little towns of Ribera and San Miguel (Sometimes called San Miguel Del Vado). San Miguel del Vado dates back to 1794, to a Spanish land grant of the same name. Although there’s not much to the town now, it was once a large and important place. San Miguel del Vado was the San Miguel county seat until 1864, as well as the main crossing point of the Pecos along the Santa Fe Trail. I had planned to stop here because my map listed a church dating back to 1806. The church sits back from the road a bit behind a wall and small gate. There are some nice little tile murals on either side of the gate. I was admiring the church and taking some pictures when I turned and saw a giant pit bull 3 feet away, quietly staring at me. I stood still for a moment trying to decide whether to scream, run, pee my pants, or some combination thereof, when the dog sauntered off with a bored look on its face.

Church At San Miguel Del Vado

Some Ruins At San Miguel

I took a few more pictures of nearby buildings and continued south on NM 3. My stomach had been protesting loudly for some time, begging me to send sustenance its way, and, I believe, planning some sort of coup, when I told it I would pull over just as soon as I found a nice spot for a picnic. My stomach and I were relieved to find a spot about 3 miles down the road on the outskirts of the small town of Pueblo. I pulled off the main road about 200 yards to a small space on the edge of the Pecos River. I assembled a mighty sandwich from the contents of my cooler and chewed happily, if not a little hastily, my overdue lunch. I listened to the wind in the trees, the gurgling of the Pecos, and the sound of a distant fisherman screaming “Ow! There’s a hook in my eyelid!” Actually, I couldn’t tell what he was yelling about, but that’s what I imagined.

My Picnic Spot On The Pecos

With my hunger placated I drove another 3 miles to Sena, and 3 more to Villanueva. The drive from San Miguel to Villanueva was mostly a wandering path through a pleasant, narrow farming valley, with scattered farms, dilapidated buildings, and other scenic diversions. One, um, interesting sight near the town of Sena was an old burned up tree stump that someone had decorated to look like an owl or something. Whatever it was supposed to be, it was a touch creepy.

Creepy Thing Near Sena

At Villanueva I headed east 1.5 miles to Villanueva State Park, which turned out to be a pretty neat place. There is a $5 per vehicle day use fee and overnight camping is also available. The state park lies in a narrow canyon with high walls and is wonderfully secluded. A steep road leads up to another part of the park which sits atop one side of the canyon, offering covered picnic tables and splendid views. As I had recently eaten lunch, I passed up this awesome picnic spot and headed back to Villanueva. In between the park and the town was a mobile home turned on its side. I wondered if the local kids ran out of cows to tip and moved on to bigger and better things, or if perhaps the cows were seeking revenge and doing a little tipping of their own…. Villanueva sits atop a mesa and has a certain snug and cozy feeling to it. Several old buildings line the main street- some right on the street- and roaming the nearby avenues will show a few more. As I drove around I noticed what seemed to me a funny thing. Several of the houses were in shocking states of disrepair, yet had satellite tv dishes mounted to them. In one case, the dish and the pole it was mounted on seemed to be the only thing keeping that end of the house from collapsing.

Main Street Of Villanueva

I drove out of Villanueva, down a hill, across the narrow valley, and the road began to rise again. The ascent steepened sharply and became increasingly curvy and narrow. This is clearly a road that had not been modified, other than pavement, since it was first cut up this hill in the early 20th century. Approaching from the flat plains of the opposite direction, it would seem that this vista would unfold suddenly and unexpectedly, causing one to stomp on the brakes and let out a shriek like a pterodactyl getting kicked in the groin.

View From The Top Of The Steep Road Out

The drive from San Miguel to just past Villanueva is one of the most pleasant, tranquil and scenic stretches I have been on, and yet it seems rather unknown. There is no scenic byway, and I have heard and read very little about the area. With only a few scattered small towns, US 285 to Santa Fe just to the west, and US 84 to Las Vegas just to the east, there’s not much reason for many folks to use NM 3. In the 20 or so miles from Villanueva to I-40, I only saw 4 cars, and only slightly more houses. From NM 3, it is 35 miles to Moriarty along the Interstate. From Moriarty I drove 10 miles up NM 41 to Stanley to take advantage of the golden hues of the setting sun. I stopped on the side of the road and walked around with my camera, shooting everything I could in the few minutes I had of this wonderful light.

Sunset At Stanley

Golden Fields At Stanley

Once the sun disappeared below the horizon I got back in my truck and headed south to Moriarty. I arrived in town just after dusk and paid a visit to Shorty’s BBQ, where I took in a delicious and gluttonous combination platter with a variety of God’s creatures, all applewood- smoked and slathered in a sweet, smoky sauce. Content with a fantastic drive, terrific photo opportunities, and copious amounts of BBQ, I drove back to Albuquerque along old Route 66, just another set of taillights disappearing into the night.

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