Not that there’s any shortage of wacky roadside Americana along what’s left of Route 66, but one of the most endearing of them all, Tinkertown Museum (505/281-5233, daily Apr.-Oct., $3.75), is a quick 10-minute drive north of the old road in Sandia Park, east of Albuquerque. Like an old-fashioned penny arcade run riot, Tinkertown is a marvelous assembly of over a thousand delicately carved miniature wooden figures, arranged in tiny stage sets to act out animated scenes—a circus Big Top complete with side show, a Wild West town with dance-hall girls and a squawking vulture—all housed in a ramshackle building made in part out of glass bottles and bicycle wheels, created over the past 50-odd years by Ross and Carla Ward and family. It’s impossible to describe the many odds and ends on show here—one display case holds over 100 plastic figures taken from the tops of wedding cakes, for example—especially since the whole thing is always being improved and “tinkered” with. The spirit of the place is aptly summed up in the Tinkertown motto: “We Did All This While You Were Watching TV.” The Dalai Lama loved it, and so will you.
To get to Tinkertown, turn off I-40 at exit 175, six miles east of Albuquerque, and follow Hwy-14 for six miles, toward Sandia Crest. Tinkertown is on Hwy-536, 1.5 miles west of the Hwy-14 junction, hidden off the highway among the juniper trees.
Sandia Crest itself is another 12 miles uphill at the end of Hwy-536 National Scenic Byway. This ridge at the top of the Sandia Mountains offers a phenomenal panorama from an elevation of 10,679 feet.