The stretch of US 40 between Albuquerque, NM and Amarillo, TX 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 of loneliness, but just a few miles off US 40 is an opportunity to cruise through one of Route 66’s most iconic little towns, Tucumcari, NM.

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Tucumcari has a unique and fascinating history filled with tales of Comanches, notorious train robbers, and the rowdy railroad construction workers who were so prone to pulling pistols on each other the then-called settlement of Douglas was nicknamed, “Six Shooter Siding,” until eventually being renamed Tucumcari in 1908.

A few years later plans for the Mother Road began, and many local history buffs believe the town prepared itself for some of the earliest alignments of the road and built up their downtown accordingly. The result? Tucumcari’s downtown is seperated from the traditional "Route 66" where most of its kitschy motels and shops are located today.

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As larger highways took over, the once bustling little town of Tucumcari was largely left behind, and examples of the town’s struggles began to pop up everywhere such as the abandoning of Metropolitan Park, once home to New Mexico’s largest outdoor swimming pool, and many shops and motels closing their doors, but hope for a revival was not lost…

Today, the town of nearly 6,000 is the “big city” of eastern New Mexico, a fact that highlights just how beautifully desolate much of the surrounding area truly is. It functions as the hub for rural New Mexico ranchers offering a hospital, grocery store, and other necessities for civilization, and that hope for a revival is beginning to take shape. With the efforts of dedicated locals, an active chamber of commerce, and even passionate folks from far away, Tucumcari is again persuading road travelers into its arms.

The half-thriving, half-abandoned stretch of Route 66 in Tucumcari tells the whole story of the town… Its days of business; its days of decline; and its steadily growing revival. While visiting last month Roadtrippers tried to capture a snapshot of the hard past few decades and the awesome Route 66 places that have weathered the storms to be around today:

Remnants of the past:

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A Route 66 Revival (just a few examples):

Tee Pee Curios

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One of the last remaining curio shops in New Mexico, Tee-Pee Curios is not only awesome from the outside, but its packed with all the Route 66 souvenirs, pottery, shirts, and jewelry you could ever want. The new owners are incredibly friendly, and even following their Facebook page feels less like you’re being advertised to and more like you’re having a conversation with the owners, wishing you could be in Tucumcari to stop in and say hello.

Motel Safari

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When you combine a classic retro design with an eye for style you get the beautifully renovated Motel Safari. The owners, diehard Route 66 lovers, are more than happy to share a beer on the patio and tell you all about Tucumcari. Their outgoing, friendly spirit is a prime example of the people making Tucumcari great once again.

Blue Swallow Motel

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Its neon sign is already well-known to most travelers before they ever arrive in Tucumcari, but the whole place is just as classic with little garages and plenty of vintage cars on the grounds to give it just the right feeling. Walk next door to the old filling station, and you’ll likely find one of the owners fiddling with an old car or two.

Historic Route 66 Motel

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Home to the town’s best (and possibly only) coffee shop, Route 66 Motel is another retro 1-story motel like Motel Safari, and like the owners of Motel Safari, they’re more than willing to bend over backwards to make you feel like more than a guest. Roadtrippers saw this first hand when they offered up covered parking at another property during a hailstorm.

Gas Stations

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Numerous old gas stations of town have been given a little facelift to resemble the gas chain in this area during Route 66’s busiest times. Some even have new businesses repurposing the buildings. Many of the vacate stations were painted by volunteers to make the town feel more vintage and to eliminate eye sores.

Convention Center & Route 66 Museum

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The convention center’s Route 66 sign sees a constant flow of tourists snapping pictures cloaked on it, but the real fun is around back at the Route 66 Museum. This little gem features the largest Route 66 photograph display in the world. Residents have even donated their cars to fill the museum with wonderful vintage automobiles.

With pro-active business owners, friendly locals like the DJs down at the radio station, KTNM/KQAY (who were more than happy to have us on their shows), and beyond hospitable town officials, the revival has started to catch the eyes of people from all over the country and world. 

Most recently, it has become the host city for an ever-growing rockabilly festival known as “Rockabilly on the Route.” In only its 2nd year, the festival has become so popular they added days to it this year and plan to add even more in 2015.

If you’re going across Route 66 in New Mexico, make a stop in friendly Tucumcari and help support their efforts to make this place alive with travelers once again. And if you’re lucky a local might even take your group up to see the top of Tucumcari Mountain. A thank you to that local who did it for us.

Thinking of traveling Route 66 in New Mexico? Use this guide to Tucumcari, NM to make the most of the town:

Route 66's Tucumcari, NM | My Bucket List itinerary on Roadtrippers.com!

 

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Rockabilly festival brings big crowds to one Route 66 town