New Mexico Highway 14 – the Turquoise Trail – parallels I-25, the main road between Santa Fe and Albuquerque. I-25 despite boasting three lanes of (light) traffic each way is not a freeway, as it alternates creatively decorated overpasses with intermittent cross traffic. If you want to travel a beautiful bypass full of surprises, choose the Turquoise Trail.
The name is a marketing ploy to attract tourists. There are no opportunities to mine for turquoise, and not very many of the Indian arts and silversmithing shops that are so ubiquitous around Santa Fe’s main plaza. “Turquoise” is mainly the color of the overpasses feeding toward the Interstate 10-15 miles west.
What you will find is beautiful rolling open country dotted with sage, pinon pine, and juniper, punctuated by red rock escarpments stretching off into the purple distance where mountains lump up against the horizon.
And there is amazing and amusing roadside art, first in dribs and drabs, e.g. lifesize mustangs cut out of sheet metal and painted bright colors, interspersed with mustang-sized sheet metal origami cranes. Then cresting into a tsunami of eccentricity in the artist colony of Madrid (pronounced with the accent on the first syllable – rhymes with Hagrid) – a rather dilapidated settlement of old buildings, bright paint, tie-dye and macramé warped out of the 1960’s into a colder, blander 21st century.
We had a deadline to meet in Albuquerque, so we did not stop even to take pictures. But one day I want to trek the Turquoise Trail again, and maybe spend some serious time lolly-gagging in a weathered rocking chair behind the wind chimes and macramé plant holders on one of those slightly skewed porches looking out at the passing parade.