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Madrid (MAD-rid) on New Mexico’s Turquoise Trail wears label of ‘black sheep of Santa Fe’ proudly

Nov 01, 2014

November 1, 2014

The old town on New Mexico's Turquoise Trail that just wouldn't die is lively than ever.

These days, Madrid (pronounced MAD-rid) is an eclectic artists colony, with a fun spot in town that features three live entertainment venues. What other honky tonk bar do you know that has a theater with 160 seats for original plays with live music?

Joe West's "Theater of Death: The Absinthe Plays" has a matinee today to complete the community's weekend Halloween theme.

Madrid as an American settlement goes back to the 1850s. It had little to do with the area's Spanish settlements, instead coming to life as an coal mining town with little Spanish influence. The turquoise had been mined in the area by natives since at least 750 AD, but it's decorative importance to Anglos came after the coal. It is still mined three miles away in the Cerrillos Hills.

The coal was so abundant that it allowed the community to do some amazing things, among them become one of the first full electrified "cities" in the West, to light the first baseball stadium in the West, build a feature called Toyland in the 1930s that inspired Walt Disney to create Disneyland two decades later and to have a lighted Christmas display so fabulous that TWA passenger planes would divert their routes and swoop down over it when approaching Albuquerque.

That all went away when the demand for coal dried up after World War II. Practically overnight, Madrid went from a booming company town to a ghost town, when the mining ended. That began to change in the early 1970s, when artists began moving to the place, buying ramshackle houses for $5,000 or $10,000 and turning them into homes/studios/galleries.

These days, Madrid is the highlight of the Turquoise Trail National Scenic Byway, a driving route east of the Sandia Mountains between Albuquerque and Santa Fe that avoids Interstate 25.

The hot spot in town, the Mine Shaft Tavern, has four live performance venues, one in the main bar in front of a colorful mural that depicts the area; another in the second bar's covered and heated patio (connected by a long hallway designed to mimic a mine shaft); the third in the unique theater that is rough on the edges but still packs in a crowds, and the fourth in a covered outdoor amphitheater used in spring and fall..

It's that lack of refinement that makes Madrid, about a 30-minute drive south of Santa Fe, the black sheep of Santa Fe County. But one has to wonder, who really has more fun?

I will be writing more about Madrid on Tuesday morning when I post a video (view it here now). Until then, enjoy the photos, and be sure to work Madrid into any New Mexico travel plans.

The place has the feel of Sumpter in eastern Oregon, but with a lot more going on. You would expect that for a place where the motorcycle movie, "Wild Hogs" starring John Travolta, was filmed. Maggie's Diner, built as a movie set, is still there and operates as an upscale motorcycle gift shop.

-- Terry Richard
The Oregonian

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