Making its way from the northern extent of the Rio Grande Rift to the southern extent of the Rocky Mountains, the Turquoise Trail offers a glimpse into centuries of New Mexico history. With former mining towns that now are sanctuaries for artists and hipsters, an abundance of culinary stops and empty roads, the Turquoise Trail should be on everyone’s hit-the-pavement list.
The obvious and preferred method of travel between Albuquerque and Santa Fe is by car, which on a clear and sunny day takes no more than an hour between the two cities. For the cyclist, adventure junkie or foolhardy and stubborn voyager (I identify with the latter), tackling the Turquoise Trail on a bike, with over fifty miles of open road that traverses isolated ranges and open fields dotted by Cane Cholla (Cylindropuntia spinosior), is the only way to experience the route.
With two comrades-in-arms who share a love for long days under the New Mexico sun, we embarked on Turquoise Trail early on a clear Saturday morning. Our journey started by Rail Runner. Without the weekday commuters, an early morning line for the Rail Runner offers an abundance of space and solitude to catch the rosy dawn rising above the Ortiz Mountains.
A roughly 45-minute ride through pueblos and dozens of other small agricultural communities hidden from I-25 will bring you to the beginning of Hwy. 14, near Santa Fe Brewing. From the NM 599 train stop (there is the option to brave Santa Fe traffic by taking the Railrunner up to Santa Fe Depot), Hwy. 14 and the Turquoise Trail are just a few hundred yards away.
A cool morning of riding awaited us as we leisurely made our way back to Albuquerque. The Ortiz Mountains climbed to our south for what we expected to be the most difficult climb of the journey. The first twenty miles from the train station to the small mining town of Cerillos were the quickest and some of the most enjoyable miles of the trip. Rolling high desert hills and mesas greeted us as we journeyed south. A host of small breweries, gift shops and the random rock shop lined the highway before entering the Galisteo Basin and descending to the valley floor and onto Cerillos.
From Cerillos, the first ascent begins to Madrid, an eclectic former mining town that now hosts dozens of galleries and shops. A worthy stop for any traveler, but we only had the famed pizza and brews of Rumor Brewing Company in Cedar Crest on our minds. The gentle hills up to Madrid were now only memory as we faced the steepest ascent of the trip through the Ortiz Mountains. Its snow-covered north face towered above as we slowly climbed. Without any wind chill, the temperature climbed into the sixties, but once at the summit of the pass we had to relayer against the high-altitude breezes.
We took the opportunity to have a quick lunch and admire the isolated and rugged ranges of the Rio Grande Rift to our south. The Galisteo Basin shimmered to our north from the cool New Mexico sun, while Baldy could be seen snow-capped and towering over Santa Fe.
On our descent from the mountain pass, we hit speeds well over 30 mph. The thin mountain air numbed our faces as we enjoyed coasting down into the small community of Golden, which lies between the Sandias and the Ortiz mountains. The town is home to one general store that overlooks fields of piñon and golden Blue Grama grass.
We saw few cars between Golden and Cedar Crest, a quiet respite from the traffic of Madrid. The final great ascent of the trip was slow and not without pain. But the late afternoon exhaustion provided us with a greater appreciation of the Turquoise Trail and forced us to be present in the struggle to get to the wood-oven-fired pizza and brews of Rumor.
When we reached the brewery, the sun was already beginning its journey beyond the western horizon. We didn’t care. With pepperoni and green chile pizza before us and some of the finest beer east of the Sandias, everything was perfect at that moment.
With a belly full of pizza and aching muscles, we slowly made our way back to Downtown Albuquerque along the southern section of Indian School. At the end of the day we clocked in our final distance, just shy of 70 miles. We carried our sunburned faces and always hungry selves to Rio Bravo Brewing, our last stop to end that magnificent day.