Route 66 in New Mexico
Perhaps no single state along Route 66 is more imbued with a deep historical past than New Mexico. With its haunted desert landscapes and high, jagged mountain ranges, the state is one of the most scenic along the road, and there is no shortage of Route 66 history associated with it. Along the way through New Mexico, Route 66 passes such storied places as Acoma Pueblo, the oldest continuously inhabited settlement in the United States, as well as places where Coronado and Don Juan de OÃ±ate stopped on their voyages of exploration in the Southwest, and loads of Route 66 history and lore, such as the fact that for stretches between Albuquerque and Santa Fe the highway actually followed the Camino Real, the fabled road between Mexico City and Santa Fe.
One of the distinguishing features of Route 66 as it passed through New Mexico was that it followed at least two major alignments during its history. One zigged and zagged in a north-south pattern as it traveled in an overall east-west direction from one side of the state to the other. Before 1936, Route 66 traveled northwest from the eastern border of New Mexico, eventually ending up in the ancient territorial capitol of the state, Santa Fe. From there it swung south, heading for Albuquerque via a forbidding escarpment that necessitated over a dozen switchbacks to traverse it. This famous escarpment, which had also foiled railroad engineers for many years, is known as La Bajada.
Later, the road was straightened so that instead of traveling northwest to Santa Fe, it bypassed the capitol city and made a beeline across the state to Albuquerque, the state’s largest and most important city. The straighter alignment made for a journey across New Mexico that was about 100 miles less than it had been previously.
There are many old Route 66 amenities still in existence across the state, from Tucumcari on the east, through Albuquerque near the center of the state, all the way to the western border with Arizona. Albuquerque is a treasure trove of old Route 66 motels, some of which have fallen on seedy times as no-tell motels, while others have found new life as viable businesses catering to tourists who are interested in the authentic Route 66 experience. In Tucumcari, a fine example of an old Route 66 motor court is the Blue Swallow Motel, which, with its blue neon swallows, still announces to travelers that there are vacancies.
Dozens of other Route 66 attractions still exist. Many have been preserved and accepted to the National Register of Historic Places, so that the Route 66 legacy in New Mexico can live on. A deep historical past is in evidence wherever one looks along old Route 66, and it has not been entirely obliterated by I-40, the interstate that supplanted the old road along much of its length. In places its fragments can be seen heading off toward a distant horizon, still hugging the land and following its contours, instead of blasting through landscape features in the manner of the interstates. The spirit of the old road is alive and well in the Land of Enchantment.