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Pop the Clutch on Route 66

New Mexico

Prairie landscape gradually gives way to high desert in New Mexico along Route 66. Tucumcari boasts the pink-stucco Blue Swallow Motel, where motor court garages separate the rooms. The Tee-Pee Curios trading post sells kitschy souvenirs. The city’s Route 66 Photo Museum showcases restored cars and memorabilia. Built in 1935, the Art Deco Odeon Theatre still shows first-run movies on its single screen.

Further west, the 80-foot-deep Blue Hole of Santa Rosa became an oasis for travelers because of its constant 62-degree water temperature. Arriving in Albuquerque, Route 66, now renamed Central Avenue, features 18 miles of motel courts, diners, vintage neon signs and attractions. Because of directional alignment changes in 1937, the Mother Road uniquely crosses itself at Central Avenue and Fourth, and travelers can stand on the corner of Route 66 and Route 66. Also on Central, the historic KiMo Theater offers a full schedule of entertainment. Renovated gas stations that have been turned into nostalgic restaurants include the Standard Diner, the ’66 Diner and Kelly’s Brew Pub, which still has the original gas pumps.

“The Best of Albuquerque tour on the ABQ Trolley makes a great introduction to our city’s Route 66 sites,” said Brenna Moore, public relations and communications manager for Visit Albuquerque. “The tour travels down Central Avenue; through Old Town, downtown, the University of New Mexico; and ends in the 100-year-old Nob Hill neighborhood.”

Heading toward Gallup, Route 66 bisects the heart of the 42-square-mile Laguna Pueblo homeland, and the green chili cheeseburgers at Laguna’s 66 Pit Stop are legendary. During its glory days, Gallup’s El Rancho Hotel became a mecca for Hollywood actors. Its 49er Lounge has served tequilas and hand-squeezed margaritas for 75 years, and the hotel’s restaurant accommodates groups. Shoppers won’t want to miss Richardson’s Trading Post, which sells authentic turquoise jewelry and beautiful Native American rugs.


Crossing into the northwest corner of Arizona, the Mother Road travels through communities bypassed by the interstate system. Along the way, travelers find fascinating historic and geological sites, including the Petrified Forest National Park, Meteor Crater and the Walnut Canyon National Monument, which showcases 800-year-old cliff dwellings.

“Arizona has the nation’s longest original road at 137 miles from Seligman to Topock,” said Marjorie Magnusson, spokesperson for the Arizona Office of Tourism. “Near the California border, the former mining town of Oatman stages mock gunfights, and wild burros roam the streets.”

Arizona’s La Posada Hotel in Winslow was a favored destination of the Hollywood jet set. Fred Harvey built the showplace in 1929 for the Santa Fe Railway. Rooms feature handmade ponderosa pine beds and handwoven Zapotec rugs. Interior views overlook the lovely gardens, and Route 66 can be seen to the north.

Climbing to 7,000 feet elevation, Flagstaff lies within the world’s largest contiguous ponderosa pine forest. Its charming thoroughfare still uses Route 66 signage. Galleries, boutiques, restaurants and coffee shops have taken up residence in late-1800s buildings. A self-guided Route 66 walking tour starts at the visitors center. Afterward, groups can grab a bite at the Galaxy Diner, which sports a soda fountain and walls covered with black-and-white glamour shots of midcentury movie stars.

Near the California border, Kingman’s wide range of architecture includes adobe and Victorian. Downtown claims 60 buildings that are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The Route 66 Museum in the Historic Powerhouse depicts the evolution of automobile travel.

Elizabeth Hey

Elizabeth Hey is a member of Midwest Travel Writers Association and has received numerous awards for her writing and photography. Follow her on Facebook and Instagram at Smart Empty Nest Traveler.

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