New Mexico: Land of the Ancients

Text: James T. Parks • Photography: James T. Parks, Fabio Almeida

Some of the earliest humans who migrated to North America occupied the high desert region of Northwest New Mexico. Remnants of ancient structures and other historical artifacts bear testimony to the presence of the Ancestral Puebloans, a pre–Columbian Native American civilization dating to about A.D. 100. The area also is home to present-day Native Americans. There is visual evidence of geological upheavals that occurred millions of years ago.

Albuquerque, NM, is where I meet with my two RoadRUNNER magazine riding companions, Publisher Christa Neuhauser and photojournalist Bob Griego. We’re all astride 111-cubic-inch V-twin Indian motorcycles. Firing them up, we immediately enjoy their rhythmic staccato exhaust note. Rolling on some throttle, we surge forward and begin our exploration of Northwest New Mexico. 

THE SPANISH CONNECTION

Interstate 40 provides a quick exit from Albuquerque, and we’re soon following the Sandia Crest National Scenic Byway to the high point of the Sandia Mountains, the Sandia Crest ridge, at an elevation of 10,678 feet. The serpentine 14-mile climb gains almost 4,000 feet of elevation and at the same time the temperature drops about 20 degrees. Ascending higher, we notice the curves getting tighter as we lean the big Indians into them. At the top, we’re rewarded with stunning panoramic views of Albuquerque, the Rio Grande, Mount Taylor volcano, and the Jemez and Sangre de Cristo mountains.

Following the historic Turquoise Trail (aka NM State Road 14), we soon arrive at the Bohemian-style village of Madrid, NM, nestled in a narrow canyon. This former coal mining town’s street scene is a happening place for road warriors. There’s a colorful collection of boutiques, art studios, vintage vehicles, and trendy restaurants. We dismount for a stroll through town and lunch at the Mineshaft Restaurant with its underground ambiance. A seemingly constant parade of motorcycles rumble through town.

Arriving in Santa Fe, NM, by mid-afternoon, we soak up the city’s architectural and cultural brilliance. The trendy adobe buildings in the historic downtown area house upscale shops and restaurants, but we don’t stop, because we still have miles to go to our overnight destination. The High Road to Taos Scenic Byway leads us through red rock terrain and along cool streams on our way to historic Taos, NM. Spanish conquistadors in the 16th century were the first Europeans to explore this area, chasing rumors of large gold deposits. This was followed by a period of Spanish colonization, when towns and Franciscan missions were established. The native peoples, however, eventually revolted against Spanish repression and late in the 17th century forced them out of New Mexico, at least for a while. 

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For the complete touring article, including facts & information, map(s), and GPS files, please purchase the March/April 2020 back issue.