The last time we visited family in Albuquerque, we took a day trip and stopped in Madrid, New Mexico. We drove the Turquoise Trail, a National Scenic Byway connecting Albuquerque and Santa Fe, also known as the High Road to Santa Fe, or Highway 14. The trail incorporates hills, valleys, and plateaus, with mountains reaching as high as 10,600 feet at Sandia Crest. Vacationers can enjoy camping, hiking, bird watching, biking, fishing, horseback riding, skiing, and snowboarding, plus golfing, rock climbing, and turquoise mining along the trail.
Madrid, located about midway along the 65-mile route, was once a coal-mining town, and then a ghost town. Now it’s a funky artistic community of over 40 shops, galleries, restaurants, museums, and boarding houses. Nestled in a narrow canyon in the Ortiz Mountains, Madrid has evolved into an active mountain community.
Let’s explore this little town of just over 300 residents that’s home to gold and coal mining history, ghost stories, and a revitalized artists’ settlement from the 1960s and ’70s.
The History Of Madrid, New Mexico
Over-The-Top Christmas Light Displays
Madrid is famous for its annual Christmas light displays, which began in the 1920s. Since the prosperous coal company owned the electric plant, Madrid had the luxury of unlimited electricity for the lighting. A resident’s brother, employed by Walt Disney, brought grand ideas for the lighting displays. TWA Airlines diverted nighttime flights over Madrid to show off the over-the-top lighting. Nowadays, Madrid holiday traditions include an off-beat Christmas parade led by a yak.
Oscar Huber built the first illuminated baseball park west of the Mississippi, putting Madrid in the history books when the lights turned on in 1922. The Madrid Miners, a farm team for the Brooklyn Dodgers, made its home at the stadium. The Dodgers played a game in the Huber Memorial Ballpark in 1934 for a sold-out audience.
When the coal market collapsed, so did Madrid, becoming a ghost town when the last residents moved away in the late 1940s. Hippies found Madrid and settled in the 1960s and ’70s, becoming local artists, craftspeople, gallery owners, and commuters. The settlers remodeled the abandoned Victorian homes, clapboard storefronts, and businesses grew.
Many movies have been filmed in Madrid and all along the Turquoise Trail, but Madrid became famous when the movie Wild Hogs with John Travolta was filmed there in 2006. Remember when Travolta and three of his buddies decided to take a cross-country tour on their Harleys? Well, Madrid was where they hid out for a few days when the bad guys were following them.
Things To Do In Madrid, New Mexico
Have an unforgettable lunch, visit the museum, and explore the shops all along the main drag. While visiting one of the shops, the owner asked where we were from. When I replied, “Fort Worth,” the shop owner commented on how much he enjoyed downtown Fort Worth when he was an artist showing at the Main Street Art Festival held in April every year. It’s a small world.
1. The Mine Shaft Tavern And Cantina
If you have just an hour or so to spend in Madrid, order the award-winning green chile cheeseburger with homemade onion rings and a local brew at the Mine Shaft Tavern and Cantina on the main drag. The burger is made from locally raised Wagyu and packs a punch. Try the cucumber jalapeño margarita with a chili powder rim. It’s mighty tasty!
Established in 1895, the original tavern burned to the ground on Christmas Day, 1944. Rebuilt on site in 1947, it still boasts the longest bar in the state. After extensive structural repairs and the addition of a porch and patio, the five-acre project continues to be a work in progress. Local roadhouse cuisine such as pizzas, the infamous green chile cheeseburger, taco, and enchilada plates, are on the menu. Also included are Wagyu steak, mushroom pasta, quinoa, salads, and more.
Stay at the Inn at the Mine Shaft Tavern with its homey facilities. Watch for the CrawDaddy Fest annually in mid-May, the Halloween costume party, the Christmas parade, lightings, and the annual New Year celebration. The on-site Engine House Theater is home to special musical presentations.
2. Johnsons Of Madrid Galleries
This artists’ gallery features Mel Johnson’s solo art show, plus 100 local artists’ rotating shows. Diana Johnson’s La Modesta Fashions and 50 other fiber artists in The Hand Workshop are most impressive. Plus, view the toys display and the Christmas City Gallery of Books.
3. Crystal Dragon
Crystal Dragon showcases unique handmade artisan silver, turquoise, and gemstone jewelry with Cerrillos turquoise, opals, amethyst, moonstone, fire agate, sapphire, emerald, ruby, bracelets, rings, squash blossoms, necklaces from Navajo Native Americans, Santo Domingo Pueblo, and other local artists. If you collect turquoise jewelry, this place is a must!
4. Starshine Gallery
Mountain Psychic Elizabeth Anglin, a spirit medium and Reiki master for more than 20 years offers intuitive readings and healing services at Starshine Gallery. Also, find jewelry, art, upcycled clothing, and landscape photography.
5. Madrid Old Coal Town Museum
A docent filled us in on the town’s history as we toured the Madrid Old Coal Town Museum behind the Mine Shaft Tavern. We wandered through a collection of old mining tools, Thomas Edison lanterns, antique vehicles, a train engine, and mining rail wagons. We also examined a firetruck, old wood stoves, a poster of movies filmed in Madrid, and Wild Hog movie memorabilia, all brought together from collectors around town.
Editor’s Note: At the time of this writing, the Madrid Old Coal Town Museum is under construction with hopes to re-open soon. Check its website for updates.
6. Ghost Town Trading And Boarding
The Ghost Town Trading Post was the “Frontier Gas Station” in the Disney movie Wild Hogs filmed in Madrid in 2006. Today you’ll find jewelry from the Navajo, Santo Domingo, and Zuni, plus pottery, kachinas, rugs, Navajo bows and arrows, hats, and purses. It is open Friday, Saturday, and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
7. The Great Madrid Gift Emporium And Maggie’s Diner
8. 10PM Studio
I found the most creative one-of-a-kind jewelry designs at 10PM Studio. Parts of pocket and mechanical watches are paired with various objects like keys, charms, and stones to make necklaces, rings, brooches, bracelets, and boxes. You’ll also find handmade art, sculptures, lamps, accessories, and boho clothing.
9. Cowgirl Red
Find hundreds of vintage cowboy boots, local Native American jewelry, skull and rose embroidered retro Western shirts, and leather motorcycle jackets at Cowgirl Red.
10. Gifted Hands Gallery
Gifted Hands Gallery boasts one-of-a-kind local art items including Kewa Pueblo jewelry and ceramics made by award-winning artists. You’ll find printed GiClees, watercolor paintings, photographs, and hand-screened serigraphs.
Best Restaurants In Madrid, New Mexico
Mine Shaft Tavern And Cantina
Don’t forget — the green chile cheeseburger at The Mine Shaft Cantina is a must! Open daily, the historic tavern offers indoor and outdoor dining.
Java Junction Coffee And Gifts
Visit Java Junction for espressos, lattes, frappuccinos, cappuccinos, hot chocolates, herbal teas, and more made from the finest ingredients, including locally roasted coffee beans and Ghirardelli chocolate. Also, browse the regionally sourced, artisan-focused kitchen items.
Behind the unique Jezebel Gallery, find her old-time soda fountain offering gelato, ice cream, sweet sundaes, frozen yogurt, and several Tex-Mex food items. Try the Mayan red chili chocolate gelato.
Shugarman’s Little Chocolate Shop
You’ll find fair trade and organic chocolate ingredients at Shugarman’s Little Chocolate Shop. The delicious chocolate bark and turtles are homemade in Madrid. For the first time, Shugarman’s Chocolate is now available for sale online, too.
Places To Stay In Madrid, New Mexico
The Inn At The Mine Shaft Tavern
Don’t forget the Inn at the Mine Shaft Tavern as mentioned above.
Java Junction Bed And Breakfast
Awake to rich coffee aromas in the queen-sized bed and breakfast suite perched above the coffee shop. It sleeps two and features a private bath, fully stocked kitchenette, sitting area, private patio entrance, TV, and free Wi-Fi.
Pro Tip: While in and around town, tune into KMRD, an independent, freeform, non-commercial, community radio station that’s broadcast on 96.9 FM and online. It hit the air in June 2015 and hosts over 60 weekly shows produced by community volunteers, featuring entertainment, local issues, and all kinds of music.