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For adventures navigating the Turquoise Trail — a scenic stretch of road connecting Albuquerque and Santa Fe — Madrid pops up like a brightly colored mirage in the midst of the state’s vast desert landscape, ringed by the Ortiz Mountains. A former mining town, the place had nearly emptied out by the 1950s. Its second life arrived in the 1970s, when artists began moving into the long-neglected wooden cabins and cottages, reviving them with brilliant paint jobs, sculptures, and other public art. Now this robust little burg with a population of about 200 people is a testament to the tough and quirky sensibility of New Mexico’s iconoclastic arts community. Galleries and shops selling jewelry, handmade soaps, and other wares can be found on the brief main drag — which is pretty much the whole town. Whether you make Madrid your base for a rustic artist’s retreat or a stop on your way to Santa Fe, it’s worth experiencing this utterly unique enclave, famed for its annual over-the-top Christmas light display.
The closest airport to Madrid is the Albuquerque International Sunport (ABQ), which is about 50 miles away. Once there, rent a car to reach Madrid and enjoy the surrounding area.
Madrid enjoys mild weather just about all year long. Even during the hot, dry summers, temperatures tend to hover in the mid-70 degrees Fahrenheit, although high 80s aren’t out of the question. July is the wettest month, so pack rain gear if visiting then. In spring and fall, temperatures range from the 50s to 70 degrees Fahrenheit, and in winter you’re likely to encounter brisker days in the 40s.
In the center of town you’ll find hand-painted photo ops of the wooden-board variety, with a cadre of characters depicted and holes cut into their faces where you can poke yours through. Transform into an alien, a biker, a cowboy, or hippie — the possibilities are many. There’s also a tiny jail cell to pose in and a replica stagecoach. Painted by local artist Connie Mayhew, this is an honor-code affair. There’s no charge, but consider popping a few dollars in the donation box on your way out.
It’s easy to find the Mine Shaft Tavern — just look for the circa-1900 steam engine parked outside. Here you can belly up to a 40-foot pine bar, reportedly the longest stand-up bar in New Mexico. The tavern’s walls are covered in thousands of dollar bills, many of them decorated, as well as colorful art by local folk artist Ross Ward, who once painted signs advertising carnival attractions. The tavern — which also serves food, including a burger anointed with the state’s famous Hatch chiles — boasts a porch and biergarten where you can enjoy your drink and meal outdoors. If you’re skittish, this may be your preferred option, because rumor has it that the bar — first built in 1897 and rebuilt after a fire in 1947 — is haunted.
Fewer than ten minutes outside town, this park offers a chance to experience the mining history that drew many of the area’s earliest residents, who mined this land for more than 1,100 years, extracting silver, lead, turquoise, and other minerals. You’re likely to encounter mine shafts (marked with interpretive signs, but closed to visitors for safety reasons) as you walk the trails in this park, which is also home to prehistoric stone rings, a petroglyph, and a herbarium filled with local flora.