Above: Tinkertown Museum in Sandia Park. Photograph by Pat Canova / Alamy Stock Photo.
Before his 1998 death, artist Ross Ward liked to say that “while you were watching TV” he came up with all of Tinkertown Museum’s carved and animated characters, bottle-and-concrete walls, and circus and carnival hand-me-downs, including Esmerelda, a fortune-telling gypsy machine. It took him 30 years to craft the exhibits that wind through this hobbit’s warren of 22 rooms at the Sandia Park wonderland, all of it decidedly odd and weirdly delightful. At 36 years old, Tinkertown has begun drawing a new demographic: hipster millennials who come to New Mexico to experience Meow Wolf, in Santa Fe, then pop into what might as well be its progenitor. “We’re getting so many more young visitors,” says Carla Ward, Ross’s widow and the museum’s chief ringmaster. Some 35,000 people a year represent double the attendance tallies from one decade past. Visit April through November, bring a penny for the smashing machine, and leave time to hunt for souvenir kitsch in the jam-packed shop.
Take I-40 east from Albuquerque. At Tijeras, go north on NM 14 for about 7 miles. Turn west on NM 536 and go about 1.5 miles to 121 Sandia Crest Road.