Western Trips

Western Trips

Saturday, June 16, 2012

New Mexico Tourism / Cerrillos NM

Cerrillos New Mexico is one of those intriguing old mining boom towns that today could be considered a ghost town just a short drive south of Santa Fe. Cerrillos NM at same time is a popular New Mexico tourism attraction for a variety of reasons. Located on the scenic Turquoise Trail, Cerrillos NM is both an historic and artist center which is definitely worth a visit while vacationing in northern New Mexico. Cerrillos is often referred to as Los Cerrillos which means "The Hills" in Spanish.

cerrillos
The What Not antique shop
One of the fun attractions at Cerrillos NM is the Cerrillos Hills State Park which opened to the public in 2003. The park features excellent hiking trails and interpretive signs which winds it's way past several of the abandoned mines that made Cerrillos a booming settlement. The state parks existence can be credited to the volunteer efforts of the Cerrillos Hills State Park Coalition. Cerrillos NM has also been the site for several Hollywood films including the 1988 movie Young Guns. There have been reportedly thirteen different movies that used Cerrillos as a filming set. Like many old mining towns, Cerrillos has now become a haven for artists and history buffs.

At the towns peak in the 1880's, Cerrillos NM had as many as twenty-seven saloons and four hotels. The total number of saloons has never been officially verified however as we know with the California mining camps of the early 1850's, building a saloon often required as little as a tent and a card table. Also, as in the case of many towns like it, the growth happened almost overnight. Such is the rapid growth only something like a rich mine strike will produce. Gold, silver, lead and zinc were the valuable minerals extracted from it's mines.

cerrillos new mexico mission
St. Joseph Parish, Cerrillos, NM
The area where Cerrillos is located was at one time home to pueblo Indians and the Indians were not at a loss for the minerals found there. The Indians mined turquoise in the hills long before the Spaniards arrived. The turquoise color was used extensively in Native jewelry and clothing. Today, when you visit northern New Mexico you'll find many turquoise color products sold by the local Indian population, most notably in front of the Palace of the Governors on the Santa Fe plaza. Turquoise mining there can be traced back to the Indians of about 900 A.D.

It's been estimated that most of New Mexico's turquoise production did indeed come from the Cerrillos Hills. The Spaniards themselves in the 1600's  found gold, silver and lead deposits. Much of the work was performed by pueblo Indian slave labor which was the norm at the time. It was this type of treatment of the native population which would eventually lead to the great Pueblo Revolt of 1680 that drove the Spaniards out of New Mexico for twelve years.

Cerrillos NM experienced a second boom or rediscovery in 1879 when two Colorado prospectors found rich mineral deposits in the area. There were over 1,000 mine claims filed in short order. The Santa Fe Railroad built a line down to Cerrillos in 1879. Just as with the mining towns of California, the settlement began with tents being erected and then in short order permanent structures which included saloons, hotels, churches, houses, dance halls and mercantile stores. The old Palace Hotel in Cerrillos was known to host several prominent guests during it's existence including Ulysses S. Grant and Thomas A. Edison.

hills in cerrillos NM
The Cerrillos Hills
The boom times lasted about twenty years. By the year 1900, the mines started shutting down and, of course with that, the population started to decline. Most people departed but some did remain. What the New Mexico tourist today will find in Cerrillos is a western looking main street witha trading post, an excellent mining museum located a few blocks west, an art gallery and the What Not Shop displaying a large selection of antiques. Cerrillos represents a significant part of New Mexico mining history and is a popular destination for New Mexico tourism.

Two additional New Mexico tourism articles we've published are Madrid New Mexico on the Turquoise Trail and the world famous Sandia Peak Tramway.

The State of New Mexico has added the Cerrillos Hills Mining District on the list of New Mexico State Register of Historic Properties. If you're looking for a perfect short day trip while visiting Santa Fe NM, Cerrollos is a perfect addition to your vacation planner. Cerrillos New Mexico is located about 25 miles south of Santa Fe on NM 14.

(Photos are from author's private collection)

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