This post is part of a series I’ve done on Route 66. In 2022, I drove the entirety of Route 66 from Chicago to Los Angeles. 2500 miles, 8 states, countless stories, and an endless stretch of small towns, neon, diners, motels, and roadside attractions. Read through all of my Route 66 posts here. They’re also linked at the end of this post. If you’re planning your own Route 66 road trip, either the whole thing or just a part, I hope these help you out. Enjoy the drive!
Onward to New Mexico! I really love Northern New Mexico and I’ve been spending quite a bit more time there lately so I was pretty excited to cruise Route 66 across the state. Especially to see all of that neon in Tucumcari!
But first, we’ve still got half of Texas, including the midpoint of Route 66.
Driving from Amarillo to Albuquerque takes about four hours on the interstate, but you’ll spend a lot longer stopping to see all of the sites…especially if you spend the night in Tucumcari to see all of the neon (which you totally should ; )
Route 66 Amarillo to Albuquerque
Route 66 in Amarillo
Read my full post about Route 66 in Amarillo here.
So leaving Amarillo and traveling west, here’s what you’re going to see…
There are only a few small towns in the Texas panhandle west of Amarillo and it’s several miles before you come to Vega.
Magnolia Station: Vega, TX
This fully restored gas station was originally built in 1924. This one has actually been done on the inside too which is cool to see. And there’s a little lending library out front if you need a book or have one to leave.
Dot’s Mini Museum: Vega, TX
A small family museum that may be open or maybe not…if it is, it’s one of those special places along the route where you’ll have the chance to visit and hear stories. I’ve heard that Dot Leavitt served as the inspiration for the Lizzie character in the Pixar Cars movie.
Adrian is a don’t miss town in the Texas panhandle. It’s the official midpoint of Route 66 (1,139 miles from both Chicago and Los Angeles) and because of that it’s usually pretty hopping.
Stop for an official photo op on the midpoint line.
Midpoint Cafe: Adrian, TX
What’s a roadside attraction without a restaurant and gift shop? Thankfully you won’t have to find out here. We didn’t do a full meal here, but their pie was very, very good (the chocolate was probably my favorite I’ve had anywhere).
Bent Over Midway Station: Adrian, TX
This old gas station is my favorite type to find along the route: in a state of decay but still with a ton of interesting details.
Route 66 is littered with ghost towns…once thriving communities that just shriveled up when they were bypassed (or in many places cut in two) by the interstate. And so far, Glenrio is probably the one that’s been the most interesting to me.
You’ll cross back over the interstate to the south side and the road feels a little more remote. There’s a motel, diner, and service station all in various stages of decay that straddle the Texas New Mexico border.
The Road from Glenrio to Tucumcari
When you’re done in Glenrio, there are two ways to get to Tucumcari (different alignments). One follows I-40 which obviously isn’t very exciting, BUT it’s the route you’ll take if you want to stop at the Russell’s Travel Center where there’s a small auto museum with a ton of 1950s Route 66 memorabilia (all free to look at) and several different people told me it was worth a stop.
The route I took (which was more interesting to me) was to continue on through the Glenrio ghost town and take the road through Endee (another ghost town) to San Jone (pronounced San Hone). It’s a dirt/gravel road and kind of rough, but very passable (if it’s been storming it might get muddy) and a nice slow drive.
Travelers along Route 66 are on the lookout for signs of vintage Americana at every turn…wacky roadside attractions, diners with homestyle cooking, and my personal favorite…sooooo much neon.
Well, if you’re a neon gazer like me, you’re going to want to spend some time in Tucumcari, New Mexico.
It’s got to be the #1 small town on the route that’s most heavily concentrated with old Route 66 gems. Mostly motels, but plenty of restored gas stations, restaurants, and soooooooo much neon.
If you’re doing the full cross country road trip, it surely warrants an overnight stop, and even if you’re committed to overnight in Albuquerque you’ll want to stick around Tucumcari until dusk before you scoot on down the road.
Here’s everything you need to know about visiting Tucumcari:
Blue Swallow Motel: Staying overnight at the Blue Swallow should be at the tippy top of every Route 66 traveler’s bucket list. It’s been so pristinely preserved that it feels like it could be a movie set or in a museum or theme park, but it has such a great community atmosphere. Make reservations well in advance because it only has a dozen or so rooms and regularly sells out during peak travel seasons.
Teepee Curios: The first time I showed up in Tucumcari it was after dark and we just popped off the interstate real quick because I’d heard about the neon in town. Well we drove into town on the end of town where Teepee Curios and the Blue Swallow are (they’re pretty much across the street from each other), and I’m not going to lie, it felt like I was at Disneyland (Carsland is spectacular if you’ve never been).
I knew then that I had to come back when I had more time (and things were open), but the neon at Teepee Curios is just so stunning.
It’s a cute gift shop too with everything Route 66 themed you could imagine. And I’ll say it again…it takes a lot to maintain places like this so if you stop by, take pictures of the place, and enjoy it, make sure to buy something inside. There aren’t many places like this left along the route.
If you have time:
New Mexico Route 66 Museum: The museum has really limited hours so I haven’t been able to catch it open yet, but it’s supposed to be worth a stop. It’s located in the back of the convention center on the far end of town.
Don’t miss the Route 66 Monument out front.
Mesalands Dinosaur Museum: This place was closed for a private event when I was in town so I didn’t get to check it out, but it supposedly has the biggest collection of lifesize bronze dinosaur skeletons…in the world. Because they’re bronze castings, you can touch them and I guess climb around on them…try doing that at the Natural Museum of History in New York City ! ; )
Tucumcari Historical Museum: I was 0/3 on museums when I was in Tucumcari, but this one sits in a 1900s schoolhouse and has a lot outside on the grounds to look at (train cars, etc.).
Where to Eat in Tucumcari
Del’s Restaurant: We had dinner here and went back for breakfast the next day because we like it so much. There are several restaurants on the route in Tucumcari, but this one seemed the most “alive” and was full of locals and I think that’s always a good sign. There’s a fresh salad bar at dinner and everything from diner and home cooked favorites to New Mexican specials.
Breakfast was really solid…try the pancakes!
Watson’s BBQ: Being from Oklahoma I love to try BBQ different places, but it can be hit or miss. The brisket was a miss for me here, the pork ribs were good and their sides (coleslaw, potato salad, they were out of mac and cheese) were exactly how I like them. If I went back, I think I’d try the burger or one of their grill specials.
But it’s a REALLY cool place and definitely worth a visit.
Kix on 66: Didn’t have time to try it, but it gets great reviews.
Loretta’s Burrito Hut: This place didn’t look like much from the outside, but it was HOPPING so it’s probably a great place for New Mexican cuisine.
El Cita: Famous for their giant sombrero out front.
Other Things to See in Tucumcari
You could spend a while just driving up and down the route to see all of the signs and cool sites. Here are some of my favorites:
Head over to “downtown” too. It’s a bit crumbly, but has a lot of character and the train station is a big reminder that the railroad is what originally put Tucumcari on the map.
Santa Rosa, NM
Santa Rosa is pretty much the only town between Tucumcari and the outskirts of Albuquerque so it’s a nice place to stop and break up the drive.
And there’s some nice neon and old buildings downtown.
Route 66 Auto Museum: Santa Rosa, NM
I’m not really much of a car person, but I’d read good things about the auto museum in Santa Rosa and there wasn’t much else in the area so I decided to stop and check it out.
It’s $5 per person and IT’S TOTALLY WORTH IT. It’s one man’s private collection and I seriously couldn’t have been more impressed. Besides the cars (of which there are around 30), there’s a ton of vintage memorabilia in the warehouse and it’s well air conditioned.
I’ll drop a bunch of photos here because I couldn’t even describe what I saw very well, but I will say that there were some teenage boys that came in with their parents while I was there and they were pretty thrilled. It’s definitely a place that the whole family can enjoy.
The Drive into Albuquerque
From Santa Rosa, Route 66 follows I-40 most of the way until you get to Moriarity and Edgewood.
You’ll pass through the mountains around Tijeras and then it’s one long shot all the way across Albuquerque on Central Avenue.
Albuquerque is a large city…there’s roughly 15 miles of Route 66 that goes right through the middle of town.
Read my full post of Route 66 in Albuquerque here.
Planning a Route 66 road trip? I’ve got all of the info you need!
I’ve written about my cross country road trip pretty extensively section by section. Read them all here: Part 1 (Chicago), Part 2 (Chicago to St. Louis), Part 3 (St. Louis), Part 4 (St. Louis to Springfield MO), Part 5 (Springfield, MO), Part 6 (Springfield, MO to Tulsa), Part 7 (Tulsa), Part 8 (Tulsa to OKC), Part 9 (OKC), Part 10 (OKC to Amarillo), Part 11 (Amarillo), Part 12 (Amarillo to Albuquerque), Part 13 (Albuquerque), Part 14 (Albuquerque to Flagstaff), Part 15 (Flagstaff), Part 16 (Flagstaff to San Bernardino), Part 17 (Los Angeles).
I’ve got the scoop on where to stay including the best Route 66 motels recommendations.
And finally, my final trip recap where I spill the beans on how many days you need, the best itinerary, my favorite don’t miss spots, and other tips.