The stretch of Interstate 40 between Amarillo, Texas, and Albuquerque, New Mexico, is fairly desolate. Aside from roadside truck stops and the occasional fast food chain, there’s not much to see or do along this 280-mile open road, but just a few miles off I-40 is an opportunity to cruise through one of Route 66’s most iconic towns: Tucumcari, New Mexico.
The next-level Russell’s Travel Center is located right on Historic Route 66 and has everything a road traveler could possibly want, including an onsite grocery store, a retro diner, a classic car museum, showers, and even a chapel.
1800 State Park Road, Logan, NM, US
If you need a break from driving, Ute Lake State Park in Logan features many miles of shoreline (the lake itself is 13 miles long), RV sites, and a campground where you can sleep under the stars. It’s a peaceful spot to recharge before getting your kicks in Tucumcari.
Tucumcari, New Mexico, United States
Tucumcari is an iconic Route 66 town—full of retro signage, abandoned motels, and classic diners—that's actively fighting to make a comeback. Tucumcari has a unique and fascinating history filled with tales of Native American settlements, notorious train robberies, and rowdy railroad construction workers so prone to pulling pistols on each other that the area was nicknamed “Six Shooter Siding” before getting its current name in 1901. A few years later, plans for the Mother Road began, and according to local history buffs, the town prepared itself for some of the route’s earliest alignments by building up its downtown accordingly. The result? Tucumcari’s downtown is separated from Route 66, where most of its kitschy motels and shops are still located today.
As larger highways took over, the town was largely left behind, and examples of Tucumcari’s struggles began to pop up everywhere. Many shops and motels closed their doors, but hope for a revival was not lost. Spending a day in Tucumcari means stepping back in time to Route 66’s glory days.
801 w route 66, Tucumcari, NM, US
1620 E Route 66 Blvd, Tucumcari, NM, US
1202 E Route 66 Blvd, Tucumcari, NM, US
If you find yourself in need of sustenance while exploring Tucumcari, there's no better place to get a good meal than Del's Restaurant. It's got history; a friendly, small-town atmosphere; classic, home-cooked specials; and the iconic retro signage you want from a joint in Tucumcari. If you're feeling hungry, try the chicken-fried steak or a ribeye. The enchiladas offer a real taste of New Mexico. Wash it all down with a prickly pear margarita.
502 S Lake St, Tucumcari, NM, US
1102 E Route 66 Blvd, Tucumcari, NM, US
For an authentic Route 66 diner experience, pull into Kix on 66, where you’ll find chrome tables and classic diner grub. This place is so authentically ‘50s that it's regularly used as the setting for pinup photo shoots.
1023 East Route 66 Boulevard, Tucumcari, NM, US
924 E Tucumcari Blvd, Tucumcari, NM, US
One of the last remaining curio shops in Tucumcari, Tee Pee Curios is not only awesome from the outside, but the inside is packed with all the Route 66 souvenirs, pottery, shirts, and jewelry you could ever want. Stop by after dark to check out the beautiful neon sign, one of only a few along this stretch that still lights up at night.
815 E. Route 66, Tucumcari, NM, US
The iconic Blue Swallow Motel in Tucumcari has been open since 1939. As far as vintage neon signage goes, it doesn't get much better than the Blue Swallow's classic sign. If you can, stick around until dusk, it’s worth the wait. And there’s a reason for the classic “Tucumcari Tonite!” campaign—there’s no better place to stop for the night. Many rooms at the Blue Swallow come with their own garage, so you can stow your car, grab a lawn chair, and sit outside to bask in the glow of the iconic neon.
722 E Route 66 Blvd, Tucumcari, NM, US
Motel Safari is a fantastic motel oozing with retro charm. It’s been a veritable Route 66 icon for more than 60 years. Built in 1959 by Chester Dohrer, the Googie design of the motel is quite fabulous. Architecture buffs will love discovering the many details, from the excellent signage to the counter-stacked brick grids in the facade. The current owners are diehard Route 66 enthusiasts, and they’re more than happy to share a beer on the patio and tell you all about Tucumcari.
711 E Route 66 Blvd, Tucumcari, NM, US
416 South Adams, Tucumcari, NM, US
The Tucumcari Historical Museum is a fantastic place to learn all about the town’s history. Housed in a 1903 schoolhouse, the museum features several themed rooms and outdoor exhibits.
222 E Laughlin Ave, Tucumcari, NM, US
If you’re more into prehistoric history, stop at the 10,000-square-foot Dinosaur Museum located in the Exhibit Hall of Mesalands Community College. The museum, which focuses on the Mesozoic period, is full of fossils and replicas, including a 40-foot-long Torvosaurus skeleton.
1302 W. Historic U.S. 66, Tucumcari, NM, US
The Caravan Bar & Grill, located at the Tristar Inn Xpress, is renowned as one of the best bars in Tucumcari. Locals and tourists alike flock here after a long day. The bartenders may not know your name when you walk in, but by night’s end chances are good that you’ll have made a new friend.
Santa Rosa, New Mexico, United States
Located along the Pecos River about halfway between Tucumcari and Albuquerque, the small town of Santa Rosa was once bustling with activity during the heyday of Route 66. Today you can visit the Route 66 Auto Museum, grab a bite to eat at the Comet II Drive-In, or take a dip in the famous Blue Hole of Santa Rosa. Alternatively known as "The Scuba Diving Capital of the Southwest," or the "City of Natural Lakes,” Santa Rosa is a desert oasis with lakes, ponds, and streams fed by natural springs.
Will Rogers Drive, Santa Rosa, NM, US
The historical Silver Moon Cafe sits just off of Route 66 in Santa Rosa. The recently renovated restaurant has a homey feel, complete with friendly staff, reasonable prices, and a gift shop featuring Route 66 merchandise. Don’t leave without trying the chips and salsa.
2866 E Hwy 66, Santa Rosa, NM, US
2136 Will Rogers Dr., Santa Rosa, NM, US
Santa Rosa Campground is a great place to spend the night after swimming in the Blue Hole. The campground has plenty of sites for both RVs and tents and offers free WiFi and a heated pool. The campground is home to the Southwestern Gift Shop, which is full of authentic Native American goods and Route 66 souvenirs. The best part of the campground might just be the Western Bar-B-Q restaurant, which offers traditional home cooked meals delivered straight to your cabin or RV.
You’re more than halfway through the Mother Road, but don’t get nostalgic just yet—there’s still plenty left to see on your way into Arizona. The trading posts—and opportunities to buy moccasins—will become more frequent as you head further into the desert Southwest. Grants and Gallup, New Mexico, and Holbrook, Arizona, are all historic towns still full of top-notch neon and whimsical motels, so take your time and enjoy the dry air and colorful sunsets. Keep an eye out for black rocks that line the road between Grants and Gallup—this part of the route follows the Zuni-Bandera Volcanic Field.