Life In Cerrillos, New Mexico
There’s gold in “them thar’ hills”, as well as turquoise, lead, zinc, silver, copper and coal. The “Turquoise Trail”, now more commonly known as Highway 14 going south from Santa Fe, you’ll find the redeveloping village of Cerrillos which means “little hills” in Spanish.
You would never know from looking at this sleepy hamlet of today that in 1880, there were over 1,000 claims for the above mentioned minerals. Built close to the railroad tracks, Cerrillos was first a work camp for miners and others who wanted to be part of the booming hustle and bustle. Fathom that men didn’t even wear gloves for this type of mining, considered one of the most dangerous professions.
At one point, twenty-one saloons, four hotels and two churches filled the town. Furthermore, at this time, because of all of the influx of miners, Cerrillos was seriously regarded for the title of State Capital of New Mexico.Theodore Roosevelt, Lew Wallace, Thomas Edison, Fray Angelico Chavez, and Walt Disney, who filmed the “Nine Lives of Elfego Baca” in 1958, also flocked here.
Most of the mining took place about a mile away and is now Cerrillos Hills State Park. This day-use park offers five miles of trails with elevations ranging from 5,800 to 6,100 feet. It’s perfect for hiking, biking and horseback riding. You’ll learn about the many abandoned mines or in early spring, a multitude of wildflowers pops up like the Chocolate Flower. They really smell like chocolate! Spectacular vistas of the mountains and mesas of northern New Mexico, and maybe, some other creatures. Park fees are $5 per vehicle or free with a valid New Mexico State Park pass.
However, if you enjoy mountain bike riding, then check out Waldo Canyon Road. This wide dirt road runs along the north side of the town eight miles out to interstate I-25. About a mile in, the road turns steep, (45% angle) and is known for being the steepest dirt road in New Mexico. My guess is this road hasn’t changed much since the days when miners roamed the area.
And this road may have been a foot path for native people mining in the area around 900 AD according to New Mexico state information. Indians worked the near-by mines for turquoise way before the white man ever showed up. Many lodes of turquoise produced their wonderful jewelry we see today. Turquoise is also considered a healing gem and Indians have used this stone for many purposes other than just wearing as jewelry. Then about 1300 AD, Spanish colonists invaded and used the silver and lead for munitions. Furthermore, as a consequence of the millions of gold also being taken, in 1880, some of the more saavy businessmen bought and sold these mines several times over making lots of money.
Lots of money, minerals and memories are still cultivated here. The Cerrillos Hills State Park Visitor Center is always offering seasonal events such as star gazing, day hiking, moonlight hiking as well as presentations such as how to make drums or on the environment. Across the street from the Visitor Center, Cerrillos Station provides a mercantile, gallery, movement studio, day spa and Farmer’s Market every Thursday. A few streets back sits the Casa Grande Trading Post, Mining Museum and Petting Zoo as well as other eclectic galleries tucked into the hills close by.
The American Southwest is rich with story that helps us understand how far we have come. Spring is the perfect season to enjoy some fresh air and Cerrillos needs to be your first stop on the infamous Turquoise Trail because you won’t want to miss this gem of a town.