Road Trip for True Rt. 66 Fanatics (14 stops - 322.3 miles)
Nat King Cole signed off on getting your kicks on Route 66—specifically naming Gallup near the Arizona border. But start instead in the east, with Tucumcari’s Route 66 Museum and timeless roadside motels and curio shop. Then head west, stopping in at historic service stations, trading posts and RV parks, and passing under the neon arches commemorating the highway on Albuquerque’s West Central Avenue. Culminate the tour at the historic and former Hollywood elites’ haunt, El Rancho Hotel.
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This Tucumcari icon is home to a juke box, gas pumps, porcelain signs, a signed Loretta Lynn Route 66 guitar, and classic cars all memorialize the 604 miles of the original route that ran through New Mexico on its way from Chicago to Los Angeles. The Route 66 Monument, a tribute to the golden era of automobiles, its base made of tire, road and tread, and its top a chrome tailfin with taillights that still beam, sits on the adjoining property.
A rare find in a curio shop still open, Tee Pee Curios started as a gas and grocery store, and now sells Route 66 souvenirs, pottery, shirts, postcards, and jewelry—of course, under the banner of a neon sign and accessed through the teepee-shaped entrance.
Famous for its neon sign, which still often oversees vintage cars parked nearby, this motel in Tucumcari has been taking guests in since 1939. Rooms maintain a nostalgic feel through details like rotary dial phones, vintage lamps. A two-room suite named for longtime owner/operator Lillian Redman has been restored with much of the period décor in place.
D. Blue Hole
A truly refreshing stop, this 81-foot-deep sinkhole filled with remarkably clear, blue water has long restored travelers, from Native tribes to cowboys headed for the Pecos. The area has become a destination for scuba divers and swimmers seeking a respite in the cool, 60-some degree waters, located in Santa Rosa.
Four brothers launched this company in 1926, the same year Route 66 was created, eventually running 100 filing stations, motels, and truck stops spread from California to Texas, many of them along Route 66. The service station in Moriarty opened in 1954, the 72nd of its kind, and is one of few still running. The original sign was restored in 2014.
Another iconic service station, the Southwest Vernacular style has this shop listed on the National Register of Historic Places, though the pumps and canopies gone. Built in 1940 as a repair and gas station, it’s now known as Jr’s Tire Shop.
This trading post just east of Edgewood was shuttered after Interstate 40 opened in the 1970s and traffic moved off Old Route 66. It remained empty for decades. Then in 2013, a volunteer crew undertook a major cleanup at the site, and the property now recalls some of its glory days from the 1950s, when its highway storefront was painted to welcome drivers to “Indian curios” and “good eats.”
The neon buzz looms on in arches that bracket the entrance and exit to Nob Hill’s section of Central Avenue. The arch crosses four lanes of traffic, one of the wider stretches of the highway.
I. 66 Diner
Burgers and shakes abound at this classic 1950s-style diner, decorated with images of Elvis, Betty Boop, and Marilyn Monroe, a jukebox, and soda fountain. The restaurant runs out of a former Phillip’s service station. At their “Pile Up” and “Fender Bender,” a wall of road signs and advertisements make for a prime photo op.
Here, in pedestrian-friendly downtown Albuquerque, Route 66 crosses...itself. The original Route 66 alignment looped around the north side of the Sandias to reach Santa Fe. But politics and geography blended in 1937 to "re-align" the Route. Instead of passing through Albuquerque north-to-south along 4th Street it shifted to and east-to-west trajectory along Central Avenue. So today 4th and Central is the corner of Route 66 and Route 66. A unique intersection surrounded by Route 66 icons like the KiMo Theater and Skip Maisel's Store.
Built in the 1940s, and originally called the Hill Top Trading Post, this RV park just off Central Avenue offers full hookups for motorists hauling their own tow-behinds. But those without, or curious to test out sleeping quarters of the era, can rent vintage trailers, choosing from a ’69 Airstream, ’63 Winnebago or ’56 teardrop, among others.
Grants now has its own Route 66 arch, 18 feet tall, illuminated in LED neon and shaped like the highway sign. Cars can pull right through and pause for a photo. The arches were installed in 2016 to wish a happy 90th year to the historic highway and as part of a downtown restoration effort.
Painted kachina dolls, more than 3,000 Navajo rugs, feathered headdresses, pottery, and other relics await visitors to this trading company. Contemporary Native jewelry fills the cases alongside antique concho belts, strands of coral, and turquoise beads. This old school trading post still does a bustling pawning business, and galleries in the back feature art depicting Native and Old West scenes.
Once the height of luxury four Route 66 travelers, Hollywood crews and movie stars, including John Wayne, Ronald Reagan, and Katherine Hepburn, have frequented El Rancho Hotel while shooting films in the area since the 1930s and ’40s. The hotel bar, the 49er Lounge, has also been named one of the best places to belly up for a fresh-squeezed margarita or a beer.