Located on the eastern plains just west of the Texas state line, Tucumcari, New Mexico, is a perfect spot for a summer vacation. It was my school-break playground while visiting my grandparents, who were longtime residents. Some of my favorite memories include riding in the Rattler Reunion parade with my mom, a graduate of the town’s high school. I’d perch on a hay bale on the bed of a semi-truck alongside her to throw candy to the parade viewers. Nearly everyone in town turns out to watch the purple-and-gold festooned floats glide. I also enjoyed trips to rodeos and the Quay County Fair.
Since those days, the town has added a new summer highlight: the Fired UP! Festival in September, which features a quilt show, car and motorcycle show, and mariachi and country bands. As darkness falls over the festival, the night lights up with fire dancers and a fireworks display.
Summer or not, Tucumcari is always a great place for a getaway. It’s set along Route 66 near two lakes and offers family fun whether your brood is ready to hit the museum or the disc golf course. Check out these five reasons why Tucumcari should be your next vacation spot.
1. Lake Fun
Set 27 miles northeast of town, Ute Lake is just a quick drive away. The glistening waters of this reservoir on the Canadian River stretch nearly 13 miles, making it one of the longest lakes in New Mexico. With that much space, there’s plenty of room to splash around. Boaters flock to the lake for motorized boating, sailing and sports like water skiing, or take a more laid back approach on a canoe or a kayak. If you’re up for fishing, largemouth bass, catfish, crappie and walleye are a few of the species who call the lake home.
Three campgrounds offer tent camping, and Yucca Campground was specifically designed for RVs with hookups. A network of hiking trails traces the lake’s edge and winds through the desert landscape, dipping into arroyos and along the edge of a narrow canyon.
Northwest of town, Conchas Lake is another one of the state’s largest. The 25-mile long reservoir, which the Conchas Dam creates along the Canadian River, features secluded coves, canyons, and sandy beaches—so there’s plenty of space to drop anchor or drift lazily through the afternoon. Anglers head here to cast for white bass, catfish, bluegill, and more.
The lake offers beach camping, with 500 total primitive campsites along the Cover and Central Shorelines. With miles of shoreline, there’s ample opportunity for hiking and birdwatching in the high desert.
2. Let it Fly
Disc golf shares a few similarities with the traditional, but in this game, participants swap golf balls for frisbees and “holes” for stands to catch the flying disks. Established in 2017, the Robert Lumpkin Disc Golf Course at 5 Mile Park is a permanent, 18-hole course north of town. The course is in the desert, which means you won’t find water obstacles here, but you will find tall grass, cacti, trees, and bushes to play through. The New Mexico chapter of the national Professional Disc Golf Association has hosted tournaments here.
3. Tee Off
Local resident Dr. T.B. Hoover designed the Tucumcari Municipal Golf Course and the city built it in 1948, so it’s long been a recreational staple for locals and visitors alike. The nine-hole course features well-established trees, rolling hills, and greens suitable for players of all levels. There’s also a driving range to warm up or perfect your swing. Playing the course is budget friendly, too—adults can play 18 holes for a mere $16 on weekends.
4. Many Museums
A handful of museums honor the periods of Tucumcari’s past and offer ample amusements for today. The Mesalands Community College’s Dinosaur Museum and Natural Sciences Laboratory houses the world’s largest collection of bronze skeletons and fossils, including one of the Torvosaurus, a relative of Tyrannosaurus rex. The Tucumcari Historical Museum is akin to a town attic, with displays devoted to everything from a 1926 Chevrolet Fire Truck to bootleg liquor stills. The Tucumcari Railroad Museum celebrates the town’s railroad camp beginnings with a collection of historic photographs and memorabilia housed in an original 1926 Spanish- style depot. Last but certainly not least, the New Mexico Route 66 Museum celebrates the Mother Road’s heyday in Tucumcari with photos and memorabilia—including a handful of classic cars.
5. Route 66 Kicks
A seven-mile stretch of Route 66 that runs through town is known to locals by another name: Tucumcari Boulevard. Neon signs, throwback architecture, and classic Mother Road motels mark the way. Del’s Restaurant is a Route 66 landmark and one of the best places in town to stop for a bite. It’s hearty American (don’t miss the chicken fried steak) and Mexican dishes have been travelers’ and locals’ favorites for decades, but the funky diner also has a salad bar for health-conscious visitors. Its neon sign with a cow on top is the first of several must-stop photo ops for Mother Road fans.
When cruising Route 66, it’s hard to miss the town’s mural collection, which can be found on shops, restaurants, and even the grocery store. Route 66 fans should definitely check out the Mother Road–themed mural at the corner of Second Street and Tucumcari Boulevard.
Tee Pee Curios has reached icon status along the Mother Road thanks to its novel architecture: the entrance is shaped like a teepee. It also boasts a similarly shaped neon sign outside. A nearby hotel, the Blue Swallow Motel, is known for its neon as well as its vintage architecture. Most of its rooms have carports or garages, which are also bedecked with transportation-themed murals. The motel, which has been welcoming guests since 1939, features décor in the style of the era, from the furnishings to the bedside rotary phones.
Ready to plan a trip to this fun New Mexico town? Check out the Tucumcari Facebook page to stay up-to-date on everything that’s going on this summer!
Written by Ashley M. Biggers for Matcha in partnership with New Mexico Tourism Department.