Travel Along New Mexico’s National Scenic Byway And Explore The Turquoise Trail
More than 5500 years ago Queen Zar, of Egypt,
passed into the afterlife with her arms adorned by her most valued jewelry,
four turquoise bracelets. Centuries later the Anasazi, of Pueblo Bonita in
Chaco Canyon, New Mexico, mined this startling blue rock to produce beads
and ornaments. The Zuni, Hopi and Pueblo peoples, who also used turquoise,
believed it held secret healing energy and was the unifying power between
the spirit of the air and the spirit of the earth. Whether for beauty or
belief, we’re still drawn to this precious gemstone today.
Mexico’s National Scenic Byway is called the Turquoise Trail, with its 62
miles connecting Santa Fe and Albuquerque. Along the trail you will find
many opportunities to learn more about this gemstone and purchase your own
pieces. The best place to begin your journey is the Turquoise Museum in
Albuquerque. Tucked into an inconspicuous building in a tiny mall, the
museum is home to an incredible array of turquoise treasures. In fact, there
are samples from 60 turquoise mines around the world. Owned by the Lowry
Family, who are also the owners of a turquoise mine, the museum combines a
wide spectrum of knowledge, experience, and artifacts to create exhibits
that are educational and exciting.
I found the information I received
from the museum made me a much wiser shopper buying my turquoise souvenirs
to take home! Until the 1920s New Mexico mines were the largest producers of
the US gemstone, however Arizona and Nevada have taken over that position.
The biggest change, however, to turquoise jewelry in the last century is a
result of new technology.
By law, the only turquoise stones that are
guaranteed not treated or colorized, are those labeled “natural.” The most
common treatment of inexpensive turquoise is to use a process, called
stabilization, to take earthy or highly porous types of turquoise (usually
white or light in color) and pressure-impregnate it with hot acrylic resins.
The resins improve color, hardness, and durability so the material can be
used in jewelry. These trinkets can be labeled 100% real turquoise, which
they are—even if various aspects of the stone are enhanced.
shoppers in the southwest are also looking for authentic Indian
craftsmanship in the turquoise gems they purchase. During the mid-eighteen
hundreds, Navajo artisans learned the silversmith craft from a Mexican
blacksmith hired by the US Army.
The term “authentic” Indian
craftsmanship, by New Mexico law, indicates the entire process involved in
producing the piece was done by Indian hand labor, using manually controlled
methods, which allow the artist to vary different aspects of the piece, from
shape to design to finish. “Indian crafted,” on the other hand, is a term
meaning the piece may have been created in part by machine. Of course there
are lots of stops along the Turquoise Trail to buy authentic natural pieces
of turquoise, and many more to buy less expensive items that are still
beautiful by any standard. I did a lot of my shopping in Old Town, in the
heart of Albuquerque’s heritage area. Some of Albuquerque’s best stops
include Naranjo’s Gallery of Art, Mariposa Gallery on Nob Hill, the Concetta
D. Gallery, and the House of Shalako.
New Mexico’s National Scenic
Byway is called the Turquoise Trail, with its 62 miles connecting Santa Fe
and Albuquerque. Along the trail you will find many opportunities to learn
more about this gemstone and purchase your own pieces. So, whether you
believe your turquoise jewelry will bring health and prosperity, banish all
unpleasant dreams, or just make you feel more beautiful wearing it—schedule
a trip along the Turquoise Trail with your next visit to the southwest.
By Linda Aksomitis
Learn more about the Turquoise Trail by
visiting the Turquoise Trail Association online at