Among the many attractions within an hour’s drive of Albuquerque and Santa Fe is the former coal mining town of Madrid, New Mexico. Located in a rugged valley bounded by the Ortiz Mountains, the town had acquired the nickname of “Coal Gulch” in its heyday. The town’s success even included a semi-professional baseball team in the 1920s-1930s. Sadly, Madrid became virtually depopulated by the 1960s, as the coal mines had all closed and people moved away. The ghosts of its glories gone by were all that remained.
Slowly but surely, artists, hippies, crafters, and risk takers discovered the inexpensive real estate of old miner’s shacks/cabins in town and the former business buildings fronting New Mexico State Route 14. As time passed, an eclectic artist’s colony developed here drawing patrons to Madrid’s quaint shops and studios from the surrounding metropolitan areas, as well as tourists driving along the scenic Turquoise Trail. More recently the town has also benefitted from being a popular movie/television filming location.
From an historical and filming perspective, an obvious attraction is the remnants from the town’s coal mining history, including numerous coal piles (see photo above) and other mining-related structures/features. These sites dot the landscape throughout town and on the surrounding hillsides. As a result there is a delicate balancing act taking place in Madrid between the benefits derived from town’s rich history in terms of tourism and entertainment dollars and the potential environmental risks associated with some of the remnants of that same coal mining legacy.
Today, the narrow, two-lane primary thoroughfare bisecting Madrid (NM 14/Turquoise Trial) can be found packed with cars, motorcycles, and pedestrians, especially on holidays and on weekends, as tourists ply the unique shops, restaurants, and boutiques. The 2022 population estimates indicate that Madrid now has a population of 255, up from 247 in 2020. While this is far less than the approximately 2,500 residents at its peak, it’s a slow, but steady increase since being re-discovered and reborn at an art community in the 1970s.
Throughout this post are a series of photos from our multiple visits to this charming little town. If you are ever in New Mexico, Madrid is a wonderful place to visit, shop, people watch, or just imagine the town’s fascinating transition from booming coal mine town to ghost town and now to a successful artist colony. Who knows — you might even be lucky enough to visit while a movie or television episode is being filmed there.
Madrid is easily accessible for day trips from both Albuquerque and Santa Fe, as the Turquoise Trail (NM14) links Interstate 25 on the north (near Santa Fe) with Interstate 40 to the south (east of Albuquerque). The town is well worth a visit as it reflects a unique composite of American history and ingenuity. Enjoy!