Ride Report: Riding the Turquoise Trail from Santa Fe to Albuquerque
During our recent trip to Santa Fe, NM my girlfriend and I rented a Harley Road King for several days. The first day we had the bike we headed to Taos as I described in my earlier ride report. The second day, we decided to ride south from Santa Fe and take in the sights along Route 14, the Turquoise Trail National Scenic Byway.
The Turquoise Trail starts just south of Santa Fe and can be reached by hopping on interstate 25 in Santa Fe and getting off at exit 278A. Once you get onto the Trail, you quickly realize that you’re in for a treat as it is so lightly travelled both on the weekends and during the week. Our first destination was Madrid, an old mining town that lies about 22 miles south of exit 278A.
Madrid was established in the 1800s as a factory town around the local coal mines that used to feed the Santa Fe Railroad’s voracious appetite for anthracite. Once the demand for coal fell, most residents left and it became a ghost town. In the early 1970s local artists and hippies arrived and revitalized the town, opening coffee shops, art galleries and restaurants. The place that drew us to Madrid, is it’s much vaunted bar, The Mine Shaft that caters to the biker crowd and offers live music and great bar food.
However, rolling through town up to the Mine Shaft we were greeted with the sight of a fully packed parking lot with Indians, Harleys and metric cruisers lined up one after the other gleaming in the hot afternoon sun. We parked and took a walk through the lot checking out the local iron and then walked inside only to discover that the band was jamming and every seat in the joint was full. Based on the crowd, I’d have to say we were definitely missing a good time, but we were starving and didn’t feel like waiting for a table to open up so we headed across the road for some cheap and quick tamales. After lunch, we headed to Java Junction, the local coffee shop for some iced coffees and air conditioning to cool off from the hot sun and hotter hot sauce that accompanied our tamales.
Before we left town, we wandered down the main drag checking out galleries and shops along the way. By far one of the most impressive galleries we saw was the Al Leedom Studio where Al and his wife Barb sell Al’s incredible blown glass pieces and Barb’s handmade glass and silver jewelry. The gallery definitely deserves your attention if you make it to Madrid, particularly if Al is in the midst of blowing glass in his outdoor studio as he was when we were there.
Heading out of Madrid south on the Trail, we found some great twisties and our only company on the road were bikers out enjoying the road with us. At this point in the trip we really had no particular destination in mind, but the Trail continues on for another 30+ miles so we figured we would enjoy it while we could. The speed limit is 45 the whole way, but you’re really out in the middle of desert so plenty of opportunities to open it up abound.
Just after passing through San Antonito, we passed the intersection of Route 536 and stopped for some shade and a cigarette at a gas station. As I was enjoying my cigarette we noticed that almost every bike we saw drive past us was turning onto 536 so we decided to follow suit and explore the road to see what it had to offer.
What luck! Without really planning to, we had stumbled onto what has to be one of the best motorcycle roads in Northern New Mexico. Route 536 takes you into the Sandia Crest section of the Cibola National Forest and up to the 10,678 foot peak of Sandia Crest mountain. As you wind up and around the mountain, there are various locations where you can and should pull off the road to take in the incredible views and the forest. And, if you’re in the hiking mood, bring your boots and pack, because Sandia has a great selection of backwoods trails to explore. But, on a bike, the most fun seems to be the 12 miles of switchback and hairpin turns that lead you to the summit and then back down.
We didn’t get to scrape any floorboards because I didn’t want to terrify Nicole but the Road King acquitted itself fairly well on the tight sections. It would have been great to have had a sportbike with which to carve up the mountain, but maximum speed limits of 40mph may well have taken some of the fun out of it.
Once we left Sandia Crest, we got back on the Trail and headed south about 6 miles to where the Trail hooks up with Interstate 40. Jumping on 40 you can head west and connect back up with Interstate 25 and head north back to Santa Fe or south to explore Albuquerque.