Exploring the Spirit of Route 66 in New Mexico

The neon lit front of the retro Blue Swallow Motel along Route 66.
Tuck yourself into 1939 at the Blue Swallow Motel in Tucumcari, NM. Photo © Michael Zanussi, licensed Creative Commons Attribution.

“Get your kicks,” advises Nat King Cole’s classic anthem of the Mother Road. Though officially decommissioned, Route 66 (now traced by I-40) is still alive in New Mexico in the form of neon signs and cruising culture. And even off that iconic highway, many parts of the state foster nostalgia for the mid-20th century.

Hit the road, preferably in a convertible, to enjoy good old-fashioned fun like drive-in movie theaters in Las Vegas (summers only) and Carlsbad. The car is still king in Clovis, where you’ll find original drive-ins, such as Foxy, complete with carhops—this is the way burgers and fries were meant to be eaten.

Clovis is also where 1950s crooner Buddy Holly recorded his early hits—check out the Norman & Vi Petty Rock & Roll Museum, or plan a trip for the September Clovis Music Festival. Hotrod fans can see one of Elvis’s Caddies at B-Square Ranch in Farmington (the taxidermy museum here also seems like a relic of another age). And capture the real spirit of a road trip by heading out U.S. 60 to remote Pie Town, so named because it served intrepid motorists sweets in the 1930s. Two cafés keep this slice (pun intended) of Americana alive with mixed berry, chocolate cream, and more at the ready. For more sweets, head to Carrizozo, where Roy’s mixes up chocolate ice cream sodas at an old fountain. Don’t miss the very groovy early-1960s signage on the short main street.

The best legacy of the Route 66 era is the motels. Tuck yourself into 1939 at the Blue Swallow Motel or the slightly newer Motel Safari in Tucumcari, or at El Rancho Hotel & Motel in Gallup, which hosted Ronald Reagan and other Western movie stars. Farther afield, in Raton, the Maverick Motel is meticulously preserved, and the Budget Host Melody Lane Motel has vintage saunas in the rooms. In Truth or Consequences (a town named for a 1950s radio show), the owners of Blackstone Hotsprings have decorated rooms as homages to The Twilight Zone and Lucille Ball. Sleep tight, and dream of the charm of yesteryear.

Travel map showing Driving Distances in New Mexico
Driving Distances in New Mexico

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