Tucumcari, New Mexico, the largest town on a monotonous Interstate 40 stretch between Albuquerque, New Mexico and Amarillo, Texas , is a good place to make a quick trip down memory lane.
You could gas up at the Flying J or Pilot travel stations on the interstate and be on your way, but on a recent trip we took 15 extra minutes to ride along the Historic Route 66 that goes through the edge of town.
Route 66 is called the “Mother Road” because the long route between Chicago and Los Angeles became famous as the one of the original U.S. highways. Built in 1926, it became synonymous with road trips and is immortalized in film and song. Today, pieces of the road remain as an iconic relic of early road tripping.
Most of the motor courts were abandoned after Holiday Inn Express and others opened along the interstate. Some have been restored. Others have become eyesores. One still had a sign hanging out bragging that Clint Eastwood had stayed there as if it was making a last gasp for survival. (Indeed, Rawhide with Eastwood was filmed in Tucumcari until the early 1960s.
The most photogenic is the Blue Swallow Motel, which looks like it is frozen in time with a Hudson automobile out front and rooms remodeled to every detail including vintage magazines and rotary dial telephones. We were driving through on a late afternoon but next time I’d like to pass through when the Blue Swallow and other businesses turn on their neon lights.
Tucumcari is making a decent attempt to draw nostalgia tourism with its Route 66 Museum and an annual festival called Rockabilly on the Route. Its community college also has a well-regarded dinosaur museum.
Maybe I’ll check out the museum on another trip, This time, I only saw the dinosaurs along old Route 66.
When you are traveling across country seeing how many miles you can cover, you don’t usually have time to take the backroads. Sometimes just a small detour — 15 minutes in this case — is enough to quench your curiosity and make the drive more memorable.