Discovering New Mexico’s Historic Gems

Route 66 Road Trip – Part 3

Photo credit: Krista |

Fun Fact: Gallup is the only town in New Mexico mentioned in the Route 66 song written by Bobby Troup in 1946.

Continuing with our road trip from California to Kentucky, the next state we traveled through heading east was New Mexico. As you may recall from Part 1 of this Route 66 series, we followed Route 66 for as much as we could and enjoyed seeing the sights of the historic Mother Road. In Part 2, we explored Arizona’s Roadside Icons. This is Part 3 of the series about our adventures and time exploring America’s Main Street during our June 2017 trip. The focus of this post is the Route 66 places we stopped and discovered in New Mexico, the Land of Enchantment. Many of New Mexico’s Route 66 sites are off the main highway. Let’s check them out!

According to the New Mexico True website:

“The legendary Route 66 Scenic Byway enters New Mexico across a vast, sunlit prairie before meandering through rocky outcrops, quiet streams and adobe villages. Along the way, the high desert landscape is both austere and sublime, its red-hued cliffs dropping off into immense llanos or pine-wooded hills and valleys. Motels and 1950s diners with restored neon signs line portions of Route 66, others wind through the wooded foothills of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains among Hispanic villages, where the communities center their spiritual and physical heart around adobe churches that predate Route 66 by roughly a century. Travelers who opt for the “Mother Road” of Route 66 in New Mexico are advised to arm themselves with maps and road guides before setting out, the many twists, turns and dead-ends of Route 66 among modern highways can leave even the most well-oriented travelers slightly dazzled.”

We didn’t have a lot of time to explore and discover in New Mexico, so this post covers only a few towns and stops in this state on Route 66. According to Google Maps, it would take approximately 5 hours, 37 minutes to travel the distance of 379 miles across New Mexico without any stops, but what is the fun in that?!? Of course, one must make at least a couple of stops when exploring Route 66. In addition, there are many unique sights to see from the car window as you travel across New Mexico.

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Route 66 locations in this post:

Gallup, NM – Hotel El Rancho

Continental Divide, NM – Indian Market

Albuquerque, NM – 66 Diner

Tucumcari, NM – Blue Swallow Motel


Gallup, NM – Vintage Post Card. Available for purchase at Image courtesy of Legends of America website.

Gallup (elevation 6,508 ft.) is 22 miles from the Arizona border off Interstate 40. It was founded in 1881 as a headquarters along the construction right of way for the southern transcontinental rail route. The town draws its name from David L. Gallup, a paymaster for the Atlantic and Pacific Railroad (later part of the Santa Fe Railroad). We stumbled upon Gallup on our trip heading east and I’m glad we stopped for a bit!

Hotel El Rancho – 1000 E Historic Highway 66; Gallup, NM 87301

For several miles leading up to Gallup, there are billboards enticing visitors to stop at the Hotel El Rancho – “Home of the Movie Stars.” I wasn’t sure what to expect when we stopped, and I was pleasantly surprised by what we found. Hotel El Rancho’s motto is “Charm of Yesterday…Convenience of Tomorrow.” The hotel was built in 1936 along U.S. Route 66 and from the very start El Rancho was the center of the movie industry in Gallup, thus the tagline “Home of the Movie Stars.”

When you first enter the El Rancho, the main lobby may remind you of a hunting lodge with rustic wood décor and details. There is a grand sweeping staircase at the far side of the lobby, and the walls are lined with black and white photos of the movie stars who have stayed at the hotel. The hotel has a gift shop, where I picked up some Route 66 souvenirs, and has a restaurant, although we didn’t have a chance to eat there this trip.

On our way back home heading west, we planned on staying a night at the El Rancho. We even had a room reserved in the pet-friendly section of the historic hotel. However, a thunderstorm and a traffic jam east of Albuquerque altered our plans. If you plan on staying at the El Rancho, there is the historic hotel section and a motel section that is adjacent to, and not connected to, the main historical building. A return visit to stay at the Hotel El Rancho is on our list for a future trip.

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Located less than 30 miles east of Gallup, the Continental Divide in New Mexico is a broad valley with an east to west direction known as “Campbell’s Pass.” The Western Continental Divide is an imaginary line that sits atop a continuous ridge of mountain summits that divide the North American continent into two main drainage areas. The water falling on the eastern flank of the divide runs east and eventually empties into the Gulf of Mexico and into the Atlantic Ocean. The water falling on the western slope runs west and eventually empties into the Pacific Ocean.

On the south side of Route 66 just west of the Indian Market Continental Divide Shop, before reaching I-40s exit 47, there is an Official Continental Divide Marker. The Divide was a place where travelers stopped to fill their tanks and bought mementos at shops like the Indian Market. We did not stop at the Continental Divide or at the Indian Market, but I was able to snap a few pictures from the car.  We plan on stopping here on a future trip.

Continental Divide, NM – Indian Market. View from the car. | Photo credit: Krista


Albuquerque, NM – Vintage Post Card. Available for purchase at Image courtesy of Legends of America website.

Albuquerque (elevation 5,252 ft.) is located about 165 miles from the Arizona border and about 215 miles from the Texas border. Originally founded in 1706 as a Spanish colonial outpost, present-day Albuquerque retains much of the Spanish cultural and historical heritage. On our trip east, we stopped in Albuquerque so I could try a meal at The Cube BBQ, which had been featured on Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives. You can read about The Cube in Part 1 of this series.

66 Diner –  1405 Central Ave NE; Albuquerque, NM 87106

I did not realize until later in our trip that on the same street as The Cube is the diner that inspired the costumes of Flo’s V-8 in Cars Land at Disney California Adventure. Had I known this when we drove through, I would have made sure we stopped! On our trip west, we ended up staying the night in north Albuquerque at a pet friendly La Quinta. However, we were back on the road before sunrise and before the 66 Diner opened for the day. From what I can tell by reviews online, the 66 Diner seems like a great place to stop. We’ll be sure to do so next time!

66 Diner in Albuquerque, NM – Retro Diner with home cookin’ inspired comfort food. Costumes worn by the waitresses were the inspiration for the ones at Flo’s V8 in Cars Land. | Images courtesy of


Tucumcari, NM – Vintage Post Card. Available for purchase at Image courtesy of Legends of America website.

Tucumcari (elevation 4,085 ft.) was once known as Six-Shooter Siding and was founded in 1901. Tucumcari (pronounced “TWO-come-carry”) is approximately 40 miles from the Texas border off Interstate 40. As we were on our trip east, I had learned about some of the Route 66 locations that inspired Cars Land and since one of them was in Tucumcari, we made sure to drive through town to check it out.

Blue Swallow Motel – 815 East Route 66 Blvd.; Tucumcari, NM 88401

The Blue Swallow Motel was originally called The Blue Swallow Court and opened with ten rooms sometime in 1940. The L-shaped plan of the motel now consists of 12 units (two more were added prior to 1948). The name was changed to the more up-to-date term “Motel” in the 1950s. Also in the 1950s, a new, larger neon sign was installed. The Blue Swallow Motel’s neon sign and the motel’s office were part of the inspiration for the Cozy Cone Motel in Cars Land.  When we drove east, we stopped in Tucumcari after dark and saw the historic neon sign all lit up – it was beautiful! It was 82° F at 9:00 p.m. and the motel guests were enjoying the balmy evening and a break in the thunderstorms and rain.

On our return trip heading west, we considered staying the night at the Blue Swallow Motel. However, the motel has a no pet policy. Since we were traveling with our Chihuahua, Trinity, we couldn’t stay here this trip. Still, we made sure to drive through Tucumcari to see the sites during the daylight hours. Tucumcari has a mix of abandoned buildings and ones that continue to be open for business. Across the street from the Blue Swallow Motel is a unique shop called Teepee Curios, which appeared to be open for business, but we didn’t have time to stop. New Mexico is known as the Land of Enchantment and we were enchanted by the charm of Tucumcari. A return visit is definitely in our plans!

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Of course, there are other Route 66 locations in New Mexico that are not covered in this post. We are planning to go on another road trip (hopefully soon) for a return visit to New Mexico and explore some of these sites more, especially the Blue Swallow Motel. If you are interested in purchasing some Route 66 artwork for yourself, like the historic postcards of Gallup, Albuquerque, and Tucumcari shown in this post, be sure to check the “Legends of America” online store at this link. Part 4 of this series will cover the Route 66 places we explored in Texas. Look for this post soon!

What are your favorite Route 66 places to visit in New Mexico? Looking forward to hearing your suggestions!

State of New Mexico Fast Facts | Image courtesy of

Updated August 31, 2017:

Part 1: Why We Took an Old School Road Trip (Route 66 Road Trip)

Part 2: Exploring Arizona’s Roadside Icons (Route 66 Road Trip) 

Part 4: Sightseeing Texas’ Route 66 Stars (Route 66 Road Trip)   

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