Route 66
Travelling the Main Street of America


The vast cattle feed-lots around Wildorado remind you that this really is the West of the Westerns. Route 66 remained a dirt road on this section longer than any other and many businesses had to move twice - first when the concrete bypassed the dirt, then again when I-40 bypassed US66. Many failed to survive the transplants, of course, and as you pass through the last few Texan villages from Vega to Glenrio, you'll see plenty of closed and collapsing reminders of how destiny toys with human dreams. Appreciate the picturesque backdrops provided by these atmospheric ruins, but spare a thought for those who believed that they'd found their Eldorado serving the tide of travellers along the Mother Road.

Crossing into New Mexico, I popped on and off the Interstate, sometimes on purpose. The old road basically parallels I-40, but with variations! By now you will be familiar with the "Tucumcari Tonite" billboards that have counted you down towards this fabled destination from way back in Missouri. Now you're almost there. Originally called Six-Shooter Siding, Tucumcari is a product of the Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific Rail Road, although it's main claim to fame since 66 came through has been the number of its motels. It has a really switched-on Chamber of Commerce and has managed better than most to survive the coming of the Interstate. I stayed in the legendary Blue Swallow Motel, whose stunning neon sign is one of the ultimate icons of the Route. Since its famous owner, Lillian Redman, died a few years back, the Blue Swallow has been through a rough patch but it's now in friendly hands once more and being (slowly) restored. It's a genuine "Motor Court", each unit having a garage attached, and at night you'll see that there's a neon swallow over each garage door. Staying here is a great antidote to the blandness of the chain motels, as long as 'thirties plumbing is your bag. The Blue Swallow is only the start of Tucumcari's charms. Along the main drag you'll find dozens of evocative old business premises, including a couple of original '50s drive-in restaurants. The downtown area by the railroad tracks also repays exploration. The station is in a sort of Spanish mission style and the Big Dipper store on the main cross-roads defies description! For a good meal at any time of day try Del's in Tucumcari Boulevard, and on your way out of town, stop by the Convention Centre for a great photo of your car by the "Giant 66" with Tucumcari mountain in the background.

blue swallow motel
The Blue Swallow Motel

It's not for nothing that New Mexico is called "The Land of Enchantment", as you will discover heading out across its majestic desert landscapes. Through the ghost town of Montoya and on past Cuervo, the magic of your surroundings will lift the spirits. After Cuervo, I went bush for a real Mother Roading adventure. The original concrete is just passable for a wild loop into Santa Rosa. It's only 6.6 miles but very dodgy, very tricky and only to be undertaken with extreme care. The high grass in the centre of the road brushes on the exhaust system all the way causing burning smells that are a bit of a worry, but the real danger comes from a washaway about 1.5 miles in. This can be skirted by going off to the left, but the results of not seeing it in time do not bear thinking about. There's another ditch to cross with circumspection, and the roughest cattle grid in the territory, so why bother? Well, fantastic scenery, abundant birdlife, the nostalgia of the abandoned road, a feeling of achievement, and the tremendous vistas that open before you when you reach Highway 156 into Santa Rosa. It is an option for the adventurous, but ground clearance is critical. My Chevrolet Malibu (approx. Vectra class) only just cleared some of the rough patches. You need to travel in company, drive very slowly, be suspicious of all shadows (some of them are in fact holes), and crawl over the cattle grid at the end.