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New Mexico is the land of retro Route 66 neon

Let the vintage signs in the Land of Enchantment light up your life

  • 10
  • 05:34
  • 329 mi
  • $48
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Created by Choice Hotels - June 9th 2019

New Mexico is the Land of Enchantment, and there's nothing more enchanting than the old-school Americana roadside stops and retro small towns along the state's portion of Route 66. The Mother Road in New Mexico is especially great for vintage neon signs that light up the desert landscape, classic theaters boasting architecture unlike anything built today, and mom-and-pop eateries feeding hungry travelers just off the road. Route 66 has it all.

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Tucumcari, NM

A curios is defined as a rare, unusual, or intriguing object. And that is exactly what the Tee Pee Curios in Tucumcari, New Mexico, is all about. What was once a gas and grocery store has now become a beloved rest stop for Route 66 travelers. Located directly along the Route, the bright white exterior, with colorful designs and fun patterns, is a novel site against the long road and surrounding flatlands. And, of course, you can't forget about the welcome sign. Glowing bright red and green, with both a tee pee and a cactus, the Tee Pee Curios neon sign is a piece of art in itself. The owners are so proud that they even encourage people to stop by and photograph it at night when they are closed. But don't just stop for the neon. Help yourself to souvenirs, small treasures, snacks, and friendly conversation inside, as well.

Route 66 Auto Museum

You can't think Route 66 without thinking cars. That's why the Route 66 Auto Museum is a must-stop for both avid car-lovers and those seeking a delightful rest stop (or anyone who needs some quality work done on their car). Bozo Cordova and his wife Anna opened the museum in 2000 as a way to show their love for both automobiles and Route 66 history. Featuring over 30 different cars, with models ranging from the 1920s to the 2000s, the Auto Museum is a visible timeline of production and ingenuity—peppered with fun, historic relics (like an old gas pump and Betty Boop statues). The Cordovas are always around to answer any questions, swap car stories, and even offer advice on mechanical issues. The Museum costs $5 and is open every day. And if you happen to be in the market for a new car, many of the models on display are actually for sale (so bring more than $5).


Santa Rosa, NM

New Mexico, and Santa Rose specifically, is filled with natural lakes, springs, and pools. And one of the most beautiful, pristine spots happens to be right along Route 66—the Blue Hole of Santa Rosa. This pool is actually an artesian well, where water from an underground river is pushed upwards and provides a continuous, fresh supply. Because the pool's water source is so far underground, the Blue Hole remains a constant 62 degrees and always has a deep, sapphire hue. The pool is surrounded by flat rocks for sunbathers and plenty of trees for those who want to hide out in the shade. And for anyone who isn't ready to take the jump, there is a set of manmade steps that gently descend into the pool. Entrance to the area costs $5, with plenty of parking near by, as well as restrooms and picnic benches.

Clines Corners Shell Food Mart

Perfectly located at the intersection of two major highways, Clines Corners Shell Food Mart captures travelers and road trippers heading in any direction. Roy E. Cline, who opened Clines in 1934, wanted to offer weary travelers a place to refill and refuel, providing gas, food, and shopping all in one place. Fast forward 85 years, and Clines is still offering the same services today. But the true star is the food. The diner-style restaurant offers both classic diner dishes and authentic Mexican food (the green chile is a favorite among visitors).

After a quick lunch, stop by the gift shop for an endless ensemble of items, from jelly beans to pottery to rattle snake heads. But Clines Corners has no plans to stop at just a gas station, a gift shop, and a restaurant. In the coming years, the current owners hope to add both a truck stop and an expansion to the retail store (which is already New Mexico's largest gift shop). Watch out New Mexico—Clines Corners may end up Clines Town at this rate.


Sandia Park, NM

The Tinkertown Museum is exactly what it sounds like—a haven for things that have been "tinkered" with over the years. Not your typical museum, Tinkertown feels more like a stroll through someone's personal home and art collection. The wood and stone entrance is lined with old wagon wheels, glass bottles, and beautiful wrought iron designs. Inside the museum, you'll find 22 different rooms filled with hand-carved wooden figures, animated puppets, hanging mobiles, and a fortune teller in the back who will predict your future for a quarter.

All the items, both inside and out, are the result of 40 years of crafting and tinkering from Ross Ward. Ward started Tinkertown as a small collection of wooden figures that he'd sell to local stores and county fairs. Over time, that small collection turned into a full-blown museum: present day Tinkertown. Pay the $3.50 entry fee and stay as long as you like. And be sure to check out the extra (large) surprise that lies across the ramp in the back...

Owl Cafe

If you're looking for the perfect burger and shake combo, look no further than Owl Cafe. With an adorable 1950s-themed interior, Owl Cafe has become a favorite hangout for locals and visitors alike. The menu is extensive and features a wide variety of breakfast, lunch, and dinner options. A must-try is the award-winning Green Chilli Cheese Burger, a burger patty stacked high with American cheese and diced green chiles. Compliment your burger with one of the famous milkshakes. Opt for an "Exotic" shake, such as the New Mexico (red chili and chocolate) or the Holy Grail (peanut butter and Oreo). Or, if you're looking for something a little healthier, there's a long list of hearty salads to choose from (with a complimentary side of beans and chilies, of course).


Albuquerque, NM

People come to the 66 Diner as much for the food as for the photo ops. The classic white stucco building is lined with bright neon lights, round porthole windows, and stylish glass blocks. You'll find customers posing in front of the "vintage sign mural" that lines the back wall behind the restaurant. Once inside, friendly staff dressing in traditional 1950s uniforms and shiny vinyl seats welcome you. There's also a large map on the back wall that shows the entire Route 66 highway, from California to Illinois. If you're hungry, try ordering one of the New Mexico favorites, like the Pile Up (a delicious tower of potatoes, bacon, chilies, and eggs). But if you're not hungry, skip straight to dessert and order a sundae or piece of homemade pie to go.

Wow Diner

The next stop on our food tour is the Wow Diner. Similar in style to the 66 Diner, but instead of a white stucco facade, this classic diner is fully chromed out. Only open from Thursday to Sunday, the Wow Diner caters to both 1950s nostalgia and modern foodies. The menu includes classics like chili cheese fries, apple pie, and fried chicken, as well as Asian stir fry, gourmet pizza, and seafood pasta. Beer, wine, and wine cocktails are also available.


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Comfort Suites Gallup

This hotel has everything you need for a complete, relaxing stay. From the pool to the fitness center to the big, luxurious rooms, Comfort Suites Gallup is the perfect place to rest and recharge after long hours on the road. Located just north of the town of Gallup, there is plenty to do and see in the area. Right across the road from the hotel, you can see Pyramid Rock and the surrounding Red Rock Park—a popular destination for hikers and campers. The town of Gallup also offers a nice selection of small shops, museums, and restaurants. However you choose to spend your time, you can rest easy knowing you'll be staying at the Comfort Suites, where the staff is always friendly, the rooms are always clean, and the breakfast is always free. Click here to book your stay.

El Morro Theater Gallup

Just down the road from the Comfort Suites hotel, you can find the El Morro Theater. A stunning cream-colored building with blue and red accents, this old theater was built in the 1920s and has remained largely the same. Inside, however, you will find a completely renovated modern space, with new seats, restrooms, sound systems, and projectors. The 460-seat theater is used for concerts, live performances, and the occasional blockbuster movie. The theater is open every day, with one movie showing per day and special events scheduled throughout the month.

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What more could you want from a southwestern Route 66 road trip? New Mexico has it all—mesmerizing neon, speciality museums, and lots and lots of green chiles.

Banner Photo Credit: Shutterstock

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