Nestled in the hills just south of Santa Fe, sits the village of Cerrillos, a bustling mining town in the mid-to-late 1800s and now a community home to 200 residents, a beautiful state park, and a handful of independently owned businesses. The village is an important stop along the historic Turquoise Trail National Scenic Byway, a 50-mile stretch on State Highway 14 linking Santa Fe to Albuquerque through a series of mining towns that are reborn as destinations for arts, crafts, theater, music, museums, and restaurants, but remain proud of preserving and sharing their heritage. Come and daytrip here for an enchanting taste of the Old West!
(Courtesy of Santa Fe County)
Nestled in the hills just south of Santa Fe, sits the village of Cerrillos, a bustling mining town in the mid-to-late 1800s and now a community of 200 residents, a beautiful state park, and a handful of independently owned businesses. Come and daytrip here for an enchanting taste of the Old West. The village is an important stop along the historic Turquoise Trail National Scenic Byway, a 50-mile stretch on State Highway 14 linking Santa Fe to Albuquerque through a series of mining towns that are reborn as destinations for arts, crafts, theater, music, museums, and restaurants, but remain proud of preserving and sharing their heritage.
Photo courtesy of Santa Fe County
Cerrillos (meaning little hills) earned its name in the 1600s when Spanish cattle ranchers settled in the topographically undulating area. The miners arrived in the 1800s, extracting gold, silver, lead, zinc, and, most notably, turquoise from the soil.
According to legend, in 1889, distinguished Tiffany & Co. mineralogist/gemologist George F. Kunz gained notoriety in Paris for a collection featuring Cerrillos turquoise, which quickly became the inspiration for the Tiffany Blue, still featured on their iconic boxes. (Tiffany's tells a slightly different tale, but the local legend is fun, too!) Also in 1889, it was reported that New Mexico’s production of turquoise was valued at $1,600,000, most of which extracted from the Cerrillos Hills. Today, some small private mines in the area are still worked, mostly by hobbyists.
The remaining buildings that line the old streets of the town resemble those of a movie set, and in fact, these streets have been featured in more than a dozen films including, The Nine Lives of Elfego Baca, Young Guns, and John Wayne’s The Cowboys. But there are actual businesses in these storefronts, not just fodder for Westerns!
The Casa Grande Trading Post, Petting Zoo & Cerrillos Turquoise Mining Museum is a remarkable stop worth at least an hour of your time. This 28-room adobe building houses a gift shop selling handmade jewelry made with locally mined turquoise, rocks and minerals, antiques, a museum promoting important area history, and several friendly animals for the petting, including a llama and some goats.
(Courtesy of Casa Grande Trading Post)
Another don’t-miss gem: Cerrillos Station, a mercantile, fine arts gallery, and movement studio, housed in a historic remodeled home, where you can find fetching Native American jewelry and pots, many beautiful locally crafted products, and classes.
(Courtesy of Cerrillos Station)
By now you're hankering for some "grub," the term Black Bird Saloon owners Kelly and Patrick Torres use to describe their delicious homecooked food, including burgers, steaks, pastrami, and smoked trout. Saddle up the horse (or the mountain bike), and "step back in time as you enter through the crooked doors and onto the rickety wood floors of an 1880’s saloon. All adventurers welcome!" Locally crafted cold beer on tap, too!
(Courtesy of Black Bird Saloon)
Now that you've shopped and sated your appetite, peer up in the distance. That gorgeous terrain is Cerrillos Hills State Park—1,116 acres of preserved land, founded in 2000—where you can enjoy spectacular views of the Sandia, Ortiz, Jemez, and Sangre de Cristo mountain ranges. The year-round state park offers five miles of trails, where you’ll cross paths with hundreds of years of mining history, described in detailed plaques, and excellent picnicking spots. The park also hosts many nature‐based events throughout the year, including stargazing, bird-watching, horseback riding, and landscape photography.
(Photo courtesy of Patrick Mohn)
And now you likely legitimately need a cool drink. Head a couple of miles south to The Mine Shaft Tavern, another one of New Mexico’s oldest saloons. Established in 1899, The Mine Shaft fits right into the quirkiness of the Town of Madrid and is a local favorite, offering plenty of New Mexico craft beers, flavorful dishes, a unique atmosphere and friendly service. Musical appreciation is a must in the area and the tavern hosts plenty of quintessential folk and country bands numerous nights a week.
This blog was written in partnership with TOURISM Santa Fe and Santa Fe County.