It’s been said that the most valuable experience while on travel isn’t actually arriving at the destination, but the journey to the destination.
However, while in a small gallery/gift store in Madrid, N.M., I was reminded about an equally important aspect of travel – the memories collected while traveling.
My recent tour of Madrid proved both these statements true. The road to Madrid starts with the bustle and traffic of Santa Fe, but the further my mother and I continued down U.S. 285, U.S. 84 and then N.M. 14, the more the houses and buildings dwindled before disappearing altogether. Despite the lack of fellow commuters, we were not alone on the road.
Cyclists dressed in bold-colored spandex, or in one case, pink-stripped knee socks, powered along the edges of the asphalt. The numbers pinned to their shirts told us that they were in a race, but keeping an eye out for racers was not the only thing on our minds.
We scanned either side of the car, searching for something. A friend had informed me that years ago she spotted a bar named Middle of Nowhere on the road to Madrid. It seemed to be too good to be true that the establishment and this column shared the same name and a similar love for the unbeaten path. Our eyes were peeled for the bar but it was to no avail. We never saw it.
It didn’t seem to matter that we did not spot this roadside curiosity. Madrid is a whole town filled with wonderful oddities.
According to the town’s website, Madrid is the state’s oldest coal mining region. It may have started out a coal mining town, but today it is an artist haven. About 300 people call it home.
Sure, you can see evidence of the town’s origins in the antique-looking train engine that rests beside the Madrid Old Coal Town Museum and the Mine Shaft Tavern. But art has infiltrated every nook and cranny of the place. At Gypsy Plaza, every store’s entryway is painted a different, vibrant color. You can not miss it, especially since the plaza is bright pink stucco.
Painted mailboxes in Madrid. Photo by Kirsten Laskey
My mother and I were lured into one store by its owner, a young-looking man with long ebony hair, who wanted to talk about chakras while pointing out his beaded jewelry.
In the Color and Light gallery, we met another shopkeeper. This man was an artist who worked with tin. The store carried a few of his pieces. The man had a snowy beard and a black leather motorcycle vest with a badge that I initially thought was a Harvey-Davidson patch, but on closer inspection revealed this man is a volunteer firefighter.
Another gallery, Weasel and Fitz, saw the art in junk. An old frying pan, metal comb and brass drawer handle became a mask, an old measuring tape was woven into a purse and coffee cans were turned into lamps.
Art is not just in stores or galleries in Madrid. It is in the clumps of painted mailboxes haphazardly stuck into the ground in all angles. It is in the numerous outdoor sculptures such as a minstrel propped between parking spaces and the numerous hammerhead sharks that swim through planted flowers. Art flows through air as friends sing and play their guitars during a break from work.
I will lovingly recall the town’s funky eccentricity and one-of-a-kind beauty. But I will also remember trying to catch of glimpse of that elusive bar that is so aptly named. Where else could you find gems like Madrid other than the middle of nowhere?