There’s a 65-mile stretch of road between Santa Fe and Albuquerque (ABQ) that’s known as the Turquoise Trail. Seven towns span the route and it was in the second, Los Cerrillos, that we felt the pull of Mary’s Bar. Originally the Cerrillos Bar, it got its current name when one of the many movies made in the town (Vampires) left the signage behind. Both the Young Guns movies were filmed here and ‘Mary’ told us how Charlie Sheen would arrive in his limo, shoot his scenes, and leave while his brother, Emilio Estevez, one of the ‘friendliest actors ever’, would hang around, shoot the shit, and have a beer.
Officially a ghost town, Los Cerrillos has all the old-world charm necessary to make you feel that you’ve landed in the middle of a Western and that if you stood still long enough, John Wayne would come strutting up the sidewalk. Back in its day (mid-1880s), the city (yes, it had city status) was a hive of activity with 21 saloons, 5 brothels, 4 hotels and several newspapers. Apparently at one stage it was a serious contender to be the capital of New Mexico. But that was then.
It didn’t take us long to see the sights: the church, the icon mural, and the opera house and of these, it was perhaps the opera house that was the most surreal.The Clear Light Opera House, whose stage Sarah Bernhardt once graced, dates back to 1881 and its very presence is a reminder of how great the town once was. Mind you, the incongruity of opera and the Wild West was a little hard to swallow but somehow it added to the charm of the place.
Just as we pulled into town, three guys on Harleys arrived, too. That made five strangers in all. And as strangers often do, we met in the bar for a beer. We’d soon realise that the Turquoise Trail was a regular Sunday route for bikers from ABQ and that they would by far outnumber the motorists. But L, T, and C were the first we’d met.
I have already confessed to a penchant for cowboys. And were every cowboy in the world to vaporise tomorrow, then bikers would become my next obsession. There’s something rebellious about their style, their bearing, their image. There’s a certain non-conformity that is singularly attractive. Perhaps it’s the oneness between them and their bikes, which, come to think of it, isn’t all that far removed from that of a cowboy and his horse.
I have to fess up to a stereotypical wariness of bikers, though, one that comes, perhaps, from reading too much about biker gangs like Hells Angels, the Pagans, and the Outlaws. But any unease I might have felt was soon abated by the friendly openness of our trio. We were even invited over for drinks in ABQ later that evening, if we made it back to the city in time. Roadtrips are full of surprises. Never would I have expected to be sitting in a bar that had my name over its door, at noon, in a ghost town, having a beer with a trio of bikers and hearing the sounds of another illusion being shattered. Thanks, lads!
Next stop on the Turquoise Trail was Madrid and it couldn’t have been more different. Its main street lined with boutique shops, tarot-card readers, and restaurants, it was hard to find a parking place.The whole town was listed for sale in the Wall Street Journal back in 1954 for the princely sum of $250,000 but was saved from its ghost-town status when it was rediscovered in the 1960s by artists and hippies. Madrid now has a population of about 400, mainly artists, craftspeople, and gallery owners and its famous Christmas Light extravaganza is back on the state’s festive calendar.
Madrid is firmly etched in my mind for two reasons: (1) It’s the first place in years that I’ve seen buffalo on the menu (and it still tastes as good as I remember). (2) I put my name in the book to have my tarot cards read, and then scratched it out. Have I finally reached a point where I no longer want to know the future? Could it be so? Perhaps I’m growing up (or growing old) but for the first time in years I simply didn’t feel the need to know. It will take me a while to adjust to that one!