Ah, New Mexico. Land of Enchantment. Route 66 in New Mexico offers a choice of routes – you can either carry along straight from the Texas State line to Albuquerque, or you can head north to Santa Fe and back down to Albuquerque and pick up the route there.
If you’re on a shorter trip (2 weeks) and aren’t staying in Santa Fe, it may be better to try the more direct route to Albuquerque. Here are some of our top tips for making the most of the Land of Enchantment.
1. Take the Gravel Stretch
This 18 mile stretch of Old Old road lies between Glenrio (the last town in Texas) and San Jon (pronounced ‘hone’). The tarmac was ripped up on purpose to force people onto the Interstate. You have to go slow here – but it’s a great ride, and gives you a whole different perspective of how travelling would have been all those years ago. You’ve got to do this section!
2. Stay in an iconic Route 66 Motel in Tucumcari
Motel Safari is a great little motel. Founded in 1959, it has been serving travellers of the Mother Road since then. With the proper forecourt outside and each room opening onto it directly with its own parking spot, it feels really authentic. It’s clean and modern on the inside and the owner is really friendly. There is even a shuttle bus (free, plus a tip of course!) to a local restaurant (Pow Wow’s). There are murals of Elvis and various other Tucumcari and Route 66 icons dotted around this little town close to the motel. It’s also home to the famous Blue Swallow Motel, which books up really quickly, so needs to be booked well in advance!
3. Get a train driver to honk the horn!
Ok, so technically you can do this along the route in many places, but the long roads running so close to the railroad track in New Mexico lend themselves so well to this exhilarating (if not childish) pursuit. If you have never played this game before, it is simple and (for some unknown reason) immensely satisfying when you get a result. Not all train drivers will oblige so persevere 🙂 .
Instructions (pay attention as this is the tough bit):
a) Roll down window, b) Extend arm out of window, c) Imagine you are the train driver pulling on the horn and mime the action as the train engine rolls past you, d) Let out a whoop of joy and celebration as that wonderful ‘whhhhhooooeeeooooooheeeooohh’ sounds out for all to hear.
If there was anyone around. Which there isn’t. But it was fun anyway, right? YOU did that. YOU made that happen. Ah the simple joys of life on the road!
4. Drive straight to Albuquerque & grab some lunch at a roadside diner
Let’s face the reality here. Driving Route 66 in 2 weeks is a bit of a push – especially if you want to see as much of the authentic road as you can. There are a lot of long drives and here you have the option of a very long drive up to Albuquerque via Santa Fe. Of course, you can stay in Santa Fe – but it’s a bit more pricey and you will really need to add another night to your hotel bill. Going straight to Albuquerque allows you to slow the pace somewhat – take your time, look around, play silly games with train drivers – you know, that kind of thing. Both routes are faithful to Route 66, so don’t worry about betraying the road! And besides, then you can:
5. Get the train (the Railrunner) up to Santa Fe
This is a great thing to do. Not only do you get a break from driving, experience train travel in the States, rub shoulders with the locals, miss out on all the traffic jams and get to see some pueblos belonging to the Navajo tribe – but you get to see Santa Fe, the State capital of New Mexico. There were virtually no tourists on this train. It was all local people heading off to work, school or college. We met Pete, a grandfather who had taken care of his granddaughter as if she were his own for years – he was so proud of her – and he had some stories to tell. He was one of those people who had been everywhere and done everything, yet was really down to earth and humble, and so so friendly. He couldn’t help us enough and gave us a running commentary of the history and culture on our way up to Santa Fe.
And the train company have got it right! It was $10 each return. That’s less than £6! The time on the train was the equivalent of Nottingham to London, and was almost 10 times cheaper! There was a little button at the platform that you could press and seconds later, a tinny voice asked if they could help…and they could! It was so refreshing – British companies need to take note!
Seeing as you’ve gone to all that effort to get to Santa Fe, it’s only right that you…
6. Wander around the State Capital of New Mexico
That’s right…I said WANDER. Santa Fe is one of the few American cities that you can walk around with ease. It’s the oldest capital city in the States, and as such has narrow little streets, and far smaller and fewer cars than most other cities. It’s quite European in feel, and is full of little boutique shops selling pricy art and clothing. The architecture is a real mixture of Spanish/European styles and the traditional Adobe structures of the Native Americans. The church pictured above is the San Miguel Chapel, apparently the oldest church in the United States with its adobe walls constructed in the 1600s. There are many lovely restaurants to choose from and you can sit outside in the ambient temperatures well into late September.
7. Explore Albuquerque Old Town
Much like Santa Fe, the Old Town district is very Spanish in style, yet with a Native American twist. Radiating out from the central Plaza (where live music is played from a very European looking bandstand), it is a very relaxing environment to shop, have an ice-cream or a meal and watch the world go by. Albuquerque itself is the most populated city in New Mexico and is made up of several different districts. I would suggest trying to get a hotel as near to Route 66/Old Town as you can – travel is easy by car, but the roads are BUSY! Pop down to Old Town in the evening – the shops are open until around 8pm and it’s very peaceful there away from the hustle and bustle of the newer parts of town.
8. Have brunch at the 66 Diner in Albuquerque
This was the BEST diner we ate at. The food was great, but it was the atmosphere that made it for us. There were people queuing when we arrived at 11am (it opens later on a weekend) and with good reason. There were classic 1950s tunes playing, the decor was brilliant and the staff were excellent (and dressed in 1950s attire). When we asked if there was wifi available, the reply was, “Not in the 1950s”. Authentic to the last! The apple pie was to die for. We asked to share one, so they put double the amount on one plate – only in America!
There are many other things that are wonderful about a journey across New Mexico on Route 66. Too many to mention here. These are just a few of our tips for a short visit. It is so worth spending more than 2 weeks on the road in order to get the full flavour of each State. But most importantly, DO this trip. It’s amazing!
If you can’t stretch to a Route 66 trip just yet, you can buy our photographs to help with the dreaming here.