Tucumcari, NM: The heart of Route 66 fighting for a comeback

The town that time *almost* forgot

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Created by Tatiana Danger - July 21st 2016

Tucumcari, New Mexico is a town that's fighting for a comeback. It's got blocks upon blocks of preserved retro signage, and the obligatory abandoned motels and diners. As of the 2010 US Census, there was a little over 5,000 people living in the town, which was founded way back in 1901. Back then, the town was certainly a rough one. The first construction camp was even named "Six Shooter Siding" on account of the frequent gunfights that took place there. Fun fact: Up until a few years back there was a bar called "Six Shooter Siding", and it was quite the popular (and rowdy) local hotspot.

Spending a day in Tucumcari totally feels like you're stepping back in time. The people are salt-of-the-earth, friendly and passionate. They believe in Tucumcari and will fight for it. Don't let this incredible Route 66 town go the way of so many others in the wake of the highway system.

When my son Bruce and I were traveling down Route 66 we knew we had to spend the night in Tucumcari. It's such an iconic part of the Mother Road. We were expecting a few fun photo-ops, some good eating and spending the night in a retro motel. What we got was so much more. We ended up spending two full days exploring Tucumcari, getting a photo in front of pretty much every single vintage road sign and meeting new friends like Richard Talley, owner of the Motel Safari.

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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.

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…

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Tucumcari, NM

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.

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Tucumcari, NM

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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.

4.8

Tucumcari, NM

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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.

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Tucumcari, NM

If you find yourself in need of sustenance while exploring Tucumcari, there's no better place to get a good meal than Del's Restaurant. It's got the history, the friendly, small-town atmosphere, the classic, home-cooked specials, and, of course, the iconic retro signage you want from a joint in Tucumcari. If you're feeling hungry (and craving something old-school) try their chicken-fried steak or a ribeye. If you want a taste of New Mexico cuisine, go for the enchiladas topped with green chile sauce. Wash it down with a prickly pear margarita or a can of beer!

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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.

Tatiana Danger

Roadtrippers co-founder. When I grow up I'm going to be Indiana Jones or a professional pizza tester. Current Status: Mom to Bruce and Nina.

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