Why the Little Town of Madrid Outside of Albuquerque Is Worth a Visit
Sometimes a change in plans results in a great experience.
It was a windy and rainy Sunday morning in Albuquerque. I'd booked my very first balloon ride to celebrate my 40th birthday. This wasn't going to be just any balloon ride. My balloon was going to be among the hundreds of balloons to ascend during the final mass ascent of the 2018 Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta.
But at 5 o'clock in the morning, I was informed (along with hundreds of dejected fellow riders) that all balloon rides were canceled due to poor weather conditions. That left my family and me (along with our friends), an entire day to spend in Albuquerque. After some research, we decided to take a drive to Madrid, NM, about 46 miles from the city. Little did we know that this town would be one of the neatest towns we'd ever visited.
The Red Pony, a coal mining museum, and really nice people.
The idea to visit Madrid came from my friend Ryan. We were both fans of the Netflix show Longmire. Ryan found out the setting for the Red Pony bar featured in the show was the Mine Shaft Tavern located in Madrid. I love visiting places where my favorite shows and movies are filmed so I was all in. We packed up our families and headed out there.
The drive itself is a beautiful trip through the Sandia Mountains. The views and scenary are spectacular. Since I live in San Antonio, I don't get to spend much time around grand peaks. As we arrive in town we see the main road lined with neat little art galleries. Many of them have tables in front of their shops displaying their merchandise. We proceed straight to what attracted us to Madrid in the first place, the Mine Shaft Tavern.
The outside of the Mine Shaft resembles an old roadside bar from the 1950s. When we walk in we read signs detailing the tavern's history and find out that the Mine Shaft was originally built as a bar for Madrid's coal mining community. Ryan an I take our seats at the bar while we and our families wait for a large table to open. We are sitting at the exact bar that Sheriff Longmire sits when he is consulting with his friend and confidant on the show, Henry Standing Bear. I ask for Rainier, the beer the Longmire character always drinks on the show but I'm told they don't have any. I order a nice amber from the locally brewed Spotted Dog Brewing company. Ryan and I clink glasses and proceed to down our drinks.
Soon a table opens up and we all sit down. I order the Green Chile Burger, the Mine Shaft's signature dish and a cuisine popular in New Mexico. After we finish eating, we leave the restaurant and walk along a passageway designed to resemble a mineshaft. The kids love it. We exit the mine shaft at the Madrid Coal Mining Museum.
The Madrid Coal Mining Museum
Ryan, myself, and our kids enter the museum and are greeted by a nice young woman. The museum appears small but since we're here and the admission fee is only a few bucks we decide to give it a go. I'm glad we did, because this is one of the most unique museums around.
We enter the first room. This museum is different from most any other. Gone are the immaculate floors and walls with perfectly curated exhibits behind several inches of glass. This museum looks just as it was when it was last used as a coal mine operations center in the 1950s. You can just picture and feel the activity that went on here decades before. I approach an office with a sign that says "Applications" above it. Inside there are old-fashioned typewriters and phones. The neatest thing in there is a machine marked "Company Scrip Machine." Workers must have come to this office to apply for jobs and get their pay in scrip.
Around the corner, there is an old-fashioned dentist chair just sitting against a wall. It gives you a creepy feeling. A few feet away from that is a movie projector that looks like it was from the silent era. The coolest thing about this museum is that you can touch virtually anything. We go to the next exhibit where there is actual coal you can pick up and feel. Around the corner, there is a Thomas Edison manufactured voice recorder. Scattered around everything are various tools and miscellaneous items. I pick up a gigantic sledgehammer. I can imagine a big, tough coal miner using this all day. It humbles me. We go outside where we see a full-size locomotive that was used for hauling cars full of coal. You can actually climb up and look into the boiler where they used to shovel in coal to generate the stem used to power the train. Try getting this access at the Smithsonian!
Soon its time to leave. The kids fall asleep almost immediately after we get them in the car. We drive back to our house after one of the most unexpectedly cool trips we’ve ever had.
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© 2018 George Johnson