The Blackbird Saloon in Los Cerrillos, New Mexico a delicious place
On the “Turquoise Trail," the little town of Los Cerrillos is on the back road from Santa Fe to Albuquerque. This is a trip off of the Interstate, and if you are like me, that in itself is a singular pleasure.
From time to time, we at BootheGlobalPerspectives find an interesting place or meet special people. We wanted to share Los Cerrillos and these lovely people with our readers in more than 30 nations.
We drove on Hwy 14 from I-40 east of Albuquerque. Hwy 14 is the best route from Santa Fe to the north. The population of 229 is somewhat down from the year 1,886 when it hosted the biggest silver, lead and turquoise mines in New Mexico. The area mountains had been a center of turquoise and mined by Indians for 1,000 years, long before Anglos. But an event in Persia (Iran) changed history in New Mexico. The turquoise mines of Persia which supplied the world closed down by 1885 when they were mined out. The price of turquoise skyrocketed, higher than the price of gold or silver. Cerrillos had mines in the area for coal, silver, lead, and gold, and suddenly it boomed with turquoise.
Turquoise was called the “gem of the Turks” by Persians and thus “turquoise.” If you are adventurous, you can take a four-wheel-drive and still find some of the old mine sites, some which are still sources of turquoise for prospectors and hikers willing to dig around.
You'll find the rustic cafe' on the corner of First and Main Streets. Don’t let it fool you, the building may be almost a century old, but the food is terrific.
There, on a recent trip, Patrick and Kelly Torres served the most delicious portabella mushroom burger I have ever eaten. There were all kinds of exotic menu items, but that portabella was memorable. They have captured, or created, an 1800’s saloon, and I yearned for my boots, hat and a Colt 45 while there, just to fit in. The music, art, furniture, wooden floors, even the poetry on the bathroom wall, added to the rustic charm mixed with culinary sophistication of this unexpected place. You might want to sit down and play a tune or light up the wood burning stove to prop your "boots" up after a snowy day.
The ambiance of The Blackbird Saloon is right out of the 1800’s. The movies “Young Guns,” "Vampires" and "Outrageous Fortune" were filmed in Cerrillos. The town has become an unexpected mecca for weekend tourists, people seeking a piece of turquoise to take home. In addition to my fantastic sandwich, my wife went down the street to the Petting Zoo and Museum and found a Persian coin of her birth date in Iran. No doubt, when turquoise mined out in Persia, some adventurous Persians traveled to New Mexico to participate in the boom of 1885. In a bit of wit, the “Petting Zoo” put up a hand-painted sign at the dead end of the street saying: “Scenic View.” It overlooks an overgrown riverbed, and it takes some effort to find the “scenic” part.
But that is the magic of Cerrillos. You have to get your mind in a different dimension to see the entirety of history, dreams, fortunes and curiosity, to see the place as it should be seen. The ghosts of Cerrillos are eager to demonstrate their town to you. You can see their “autographs” at the town cemetery, just across the river, those who died in this place for their dreams. You can see their handiwork in the old abandoned mines, or in the old rustic buildings that still stand in Cerrillos.
The old town and the cemetery are worth a walk through, with reverence. It feels much more real than “Boot Hill” of old Dodge City. Because it is.
A Bit of History
If you don't like history, don't come. Because most of what is Cerrillos is its history. You have to get into that to make this meaningful!
Six-seven hundred years ago, Cerrillos was the land of the Keres and Tano Indians. They long appreciated the beauty of nature and stones with color. In 1581, Capitan Chamuscado, and later in 1583 Antonio de Espejo, found silver, lead and traces of gold in these hills. Some believe their discovery contributed to the “Cities of Gold” legend that lured people here. After them, Franciscan monks came to bring their religion to the area. There was a discovery of coal about three miles south that became popular as the town and railroad developed. Lead was found and mined in abundance. Real de los Cerrillos was founded in 1695. Almost 200 years later, Anglo miners from Colorado “discovered” the area, and people from all over the world rushed in. The enthusiasm attracted the Topeka and Santa Fe railroad, and from that time it was a given that the town would attract people with jobs and money.
And Cerrillos did, for another 50 years. Now it attracts people with money and a yearning for a glimpse of history.
Mount Chalchihuitl, three miles NW of Cerrillos, became known as “Turquoise Mountain” and was eventually purchased by Tiffany’s. One man, a Freemason who appreciated different cultures and loved turquoise, stayed for years, working and even designing outstanding turquoise jewelry for Tiffany’s. They named it "Tiffany Blue" because of the beautiful, mild color. Look it up in the Tiffany catalogue. The old mine is now owned by a jewelry investor and maker in Albuquerque, but we understand that they still maintain a historic relationship with Tiffany. The Tiffany Blue Book has been published for more than 100 years, and that color was adopted for promotional materials of Tiffany. One must wonder how many of those rough miners and "new rich" may have sent turquoise that they dug up to their sweethearts or wives.
From the eccentric and oddly grumpy man at the Petting Zoo and Museum who scolded my wife with, “Haven’t you ever seen a museum. Just how many museums have you visited?” to the hospitable Pat and Kelly Torres at The Blackbird Saloon who seemed like family, eager to please and happy to show off their saloon and good cooking, Cerrillos is worth a day trip.
What to Bring?
Bring your hiking boots or walking shoes and a four-wheel-drive and you can get some exercise and perhaps a turquoise or quartz rock.
Bring your camera and get some authentic shots of a “mining town.”
Bring a thirst and go to the Blackbird Saloon and just sit and sip some of their vintage “amber” beer on the wooden, hand built chairs.
Bring your imagination. After a beer or two, you might be able to see some of those ghosts.
Bring your appetite. As for me, I plan to go back just for that portabella burger, mmmmmm, makes my mouth water.
Ghosts, eat your heart out!
CALL PATRICK OR KELLY TORRES IF YOU HAVE A GROUP OF 6 OR MORE AND THEY WILL BE EXPECTING YOU WITH SMILES. 505-438 1821. BLACKBIRD SALOON IN CERRILLOS, FIRST AND MAIN.
Map of Cerrillos, New Mexico: