The most prominent side trip south of the city is along the fabled Turquoise Trail, an excellent—and leisurely—alternative route from Santa Fe to Albuquerque that's far more interesting than Interstate 25. Etched out in the early 1970s, the scenic Turquoise Trail (or more prosaically, NM 14) is a National Scenic Byway that's dotted with ghost towns now popular with writers, artists, and other urban refugees. This 70 miles of piñon-studded mountain back road along the eastern flank of the sacred Sandia Mountains is a gentle roller coaster that also affords panoramic views of the Ortiz, Jémez, and Sangre de Cristo mountains. It's believed that 2,000 years ago Native Americans mined turquoise in these hills. The Spanish took up turquoise mining in the 16th century, and the practice continued into the early 20th century, with Tiffany & Co. removing a fair share of the semiprecious stone. In addition, gold, silver, tin, lead, and coal have been mined here. There's plenty of opportunity for picture taking and picnicking along the way. You can drive this loop in three hours with minimal stops, or make a full day of it, if you stop to explore the main attractions along the way and make the side excursion up to Sandia Crest, which overlooks Albuquerque. You’ll find plenty of great information online at www.turquoisetrail.org.
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