New Mexico's Road Less Traveled

The drive from Albuquerque to Santa Fe runs about an hour if you take the interstate, the route most tourists take and the way many of them see New Mexico.

But for those who want to try the course taken by Native Americans, miners and Spanish explorers, national correspondent Hattie Kauffman recommends the road less traveled in the "The Best of America" series.

While the Turquoise Trail may only be 60 miles long, allow a few hours to explore it, as there are tons of quirky stops along the way. One such roadside attraction is "Tinkertown."

Tinkertown is comprised of one man's collective tinkerings. Ross Ward spent over 40 years collecting glass bottles and carving wooden objects to create this fanciful compound.

Ward began carving the western town out of wood in 1962. He created everything in it, including its wooden "people," a menagerie and an entire circus. Ward's inspiration for Tinkertown stemmed from his desire to keep the concept of roadside attractions alive.

Back in the car, New Mexico's scenery can take you from desert to forest as you drive to the top of the Sandia Mountains. But for those looking for a bird's eye view, take the tram.

Escape the desert heat atop Sandia Peak at 10,358 feet. On a clear day, you can see over 11,000 square miles of New Mexico.

In addition to new heights, the Turquoise Trail will take you back in time. Few tourists have discovered the quaint and rustic Cerrillos, once one of America's oldest mining towns.

You can see how the Turquoise Trail got its name at the Cerrillos Mining Museum, where the tools used for mining turquoise, gold and silver are displayed. Cerrillos remains a turquoise mining town, though today each "vein" of the precious stone is severed with a diamond saw, as opposed to the Native American tools you'll find in the Mining Museum.

Nearby Madrid is a burgeoning artist colony where tourists can watch artists at work and buy from them directly.

Madrid is less commercial than Santa Fe, which is nice in that shoppers have a chance to meet and speak with the actual artists

Though Madrid's dining options are limited to a single old tavern, the shopping opportunities more than make up for the lack of culinary diversity. You can find everything from original paintings to tapestries, blown glass, clothing, pottery and, of course, turquoise jewelry.

Turquoise is the bread and butter for Southwestern artists. Everyone comes looking for turquoise and, in fact, the stone is everywhere, even in Madrid's old-fashioned soda parlor.

But to really experience the Turquoise Trail, says Kauffman, you need to ditch your car and get back in the saddle — literally.

The Broken Saddle Ranch offers tourists a chance to explore the Turquoise Trial on horseback. You can travel down the old stagecoach road from Cerrillos to Santa Fe, imagining, as you pass the remnants of old mines, what it must have been like for western legend Kit Carson.

This particular region falls smack dab in the middle of the Turquoise Trail, as most turquoise mining took place in the Cerrillos hills.

But regardless of whether your traveling by horse or by car, the Turquoise Trail, says Kauffman, is worth a ride.