Our first outing for the caravan is to the Turquoise Museum, in Albuquerque.  The museum has just recently moved out of Old Town to a much larger facility…

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We carpooled with our RV park neighbors, who are from North Carolina.  We drove about 20 minutes to downtown Albuquerque, to an area near the train station.  This is “skid row” according to the locals; it was clean, but shabby.  In the midst of this area is this “castle”, surrounded by a 12′ tall wall and iron gates.  We were let in and we met with the others in the front courtyard.

We gathered and sat in the chairs provided, and we heard all about turquoise, and the role the family that runs the museum has had on the industry.  The Zachary-Lowry family has been in the turquoise business for five generations.  They have amassed one of the largest collections of rare natural turquoise in the world.  In 1993 they opened their museum, in a strip mall near Old Town.  They have just moved into this facility, and it is not yet officially open.

As interesting as turquoise is, I was more interested in this “castle”.  Lynda and I had been in Albuquerque 4 1/2 years ago for a friend’s wedding.  The day after, as we walked around exploring downtown Albuquerque, waiting to board the return train to California, we came across this place.  There were no signs, and no indication what it was.  It just sits here, adjacent to an overpass across the railroad tracks, next to a row of power lines and adjacent to a run-down antique jewelry store and a dive bar.  Eventually we were able to Google it and found that it is, indeed, a house. Construction started in 2006 and was completed in 2008.  Today we learned that the owner/builder, who was also the owner of the adjacent  run-down antique jewelry store, lived here for about four years before she passed away.  The house stood empty until six months ago, when the Museum of Turquoise started moving in.  One of the interesting facts we learned today was that Mrs. Zachary, who built the house, had been briefly married to a member of the Zachary family many years ago – Zachary, the family that has amassed this fabulous collection of turquoise, and who now operates the museum here… apparently the museum leases the “castle” from the estate and descendants of old Mrs. Zachary.

So after we heard all about turquoise, we were able to tour the house.  And what a house it is… A huge mess of a building, typical of houses designed by old people with some sort of idea of what a 500 year old castle ought to look like.  I was intrigued, and I always love to see odd houses, no matter how ugly they might be… One of the more interesting things of this house is the site:

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The back yard features views of the highway overpass, her own billboard, and razor wire atop the back yard fence.

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The sign for the adjacent bar hovers over the back yard fence.

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And the power lines alongside the driveway that leads to the garage.

But the Museum of Turquoise really is a fascinating place, as is the family that runs it.  As we toured the museum there were five or six members of the family – three generations – were on hand to explain and answer any questions we had.

We learned that New Mexico actually has very few turquoise mines; in the US, the most, and best, turquoise mines are in Nevada.  Turquoise mines are also in Iran, China, and other countries with arid regions.  Since the Indians in New Mexico were great artists and crafters of turquoise, they had to trade for it.  This starts to explain the importance of trading posts in the history of New Mexico.

Turquoise is a semi-precious opaque mineral composed of hydrated copper and aluminum phosphate.  About 85% of turquoise is white, with a soft consistency and other characteristics much like chalk.  Only about 15% has enough color and hardness to be called “natural” turquoise.  The word “natural” is key here.  The US Federal government defines “natural” turquoise to be the one true indicator of semi-precious, gemstone  turquoise.  If you buy turquoise and you are given a “certificate of authenticity”, if it doesn’t say “natural”, you bought junk.  It may be beautiful junk, but it is not the semi-precious, gemstone-quality turquoise you might have thought it was.

Turquoise made from the softer, chalk-like substance, has been treated:  it has been dyed, reconstituted, stabilized, enhanced, oiled and/or waxed.  While it may make  beautiful jewelry, it does not have the enduring quality, or value, of natural turquoise.  Interestingly, the most rare and expensive natural turquoise is mined in the US.  However, some of the highest quality natural turquoise comes from China; because of the vast quantities of Chinese turquoise it is available at a much lower price.

There is also imitation turquoise, otherwise known as plastic.  Again, these pieces may be very beautiful, but they don’t have anywhere near the value of natural turquoise.

So how can you tell if the turquoise necklace you just bought is worth what you paid for it?  How can you protect yourself from misrepresentation?  Get it in writing!  Turquoise dealers are required by law to provide an accurate certificate or receipt, truthfully stating what you have bought.  If he tells you the jewelry you are buying is sterling silver and natural turquoise, and was hand made by  a Native American artisan, ask that this information be spelled out on your receipt.  Any reputable dealer will be glad to give you a detailed written confirmation.

After our morning at the Museum of Turquoise we needed a little lunch.  We drove to El Pinto, a New Mexican restaurant in north Albuquerque that is dripping with charm:

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The food was fabulous!

We returned to the RV park and had a leisurely afternoon.  At 5:00 we joined four other caravan couples for the first “Fandango”.  This caravan calls the traditional “Get Acquainted Meeting” (GAM) a Fandango, just for fun…

So we had happy hours, meeting and getting acquainted with these other four couples.  We will do this seven times, so that after about two weeks we will have had a chance to meet and spend time with all 60 caravaners.

And after the Fandango we returned to the Villa. And an enjoyable time was had by all…