New Mexico Travel Guide
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.
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. 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.
Most 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 www.turquoisetrail.org or call 505-424-1333.