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Continental Divide

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Where the waters flow east or west

Continental Divide is located on the 1926 to 1937 original alignment of Route 66 and is a Historical Landmark. See the remains of the Whiting Brothers Service Station and Motel and learn all about the mythical The Continental Divide itself and the Route 66 classics at the Great Divide.

Continental Divide NM

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About Continental Divide, New Mexico

Facts, Trivia and useful information

Elevation: 7,250 ft (2.200 m). Population: n⁄a (2000).
Time zone: Mountain (MST): UTC minus 7 hours. Summer (DST) MDT (UTC-6).

Continental Divide is a tiny village located in McKinley County, New Mexico on Route 66. See a Map of Continental Divide.

Old Whiting Brothers Motel and Service Station Sign on Route 66, Continental Divide New Mexico

Old Whiting Brothers Motel and Service Station Sign on Route 66, Continental Divide Route 66, New Mexico
Whiting Brothers Motel and Service Station Sign on Route 66, Continental Divide
(Read More below)

A. Whittall
Click on image for Interactive Google Street View

The area near the Continental Divide has been inhabited for almost 11,000 years. And during the last millennia Native Americans of the Diné (Najajo) people have lived in the mountains to the north and south. They farmed using the rivers to irrigate their crops of maize and squash.

The Spanish were the first Europeans to reach this region in 1540, when the expedition commanded by Francisco Vásquez de Coronado occupied Zuñi Pueblo and explored New Mexico and further east, all the way to the Great Plains.

Although the Spaniards returned in 1597 to occupy and settle "Nueva Méjico", they never occupied the area where Continental Divide is now located. Their outposts were the Pueblos of Zuni, Laguna and Acoma to the south and east, further away from the raids of the Navajo warriors.

This situation remained unchanged through the period of Mexican domination (1821 to 1848). But when Mexico ceded the territory to the U.S.A. after losing the Mexican - American War in 1848, the American Army explored the region and, between 1862 and 1864, pacified the region by subduing the Navajo.

The nearby Old Fort Wingate south of Grants and the later Fort Wingate just west of the Continental Divide, imposed peace (though at a terrible cost for the Navajo people).

In 1881, the Atlantic and Pacific Railroad (later acquired by the Atchison Topeka and Santa Fe Railway) decided to build its line through "Campbell Pass", across the Continental Divide. They built a stop on the spot which received different names as time went by:

In 1884 it was known as "Continental Divide", in 1895 it was named "Summit", but after that date, as from 1910 until 1936, it was "Gonzales". It reverted later to its current name, which is a good description of its geographic context.

In 1914 the New Mexico State Highway #6 was built through Campbell Pass, as part of the National Old Trails Highway system. In 1926 Route 66 was aligned along the state highway. It remaind so until replaced by I-40 in the late 1960s.

Where to Stay

There is lodging close to Continental Divide along Route 66:

>> Book your Hotels in neighboring Grants or in Gallup.

Lodging Near Continental Divide along Route 66

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Heading West...in Arizona

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The Santa Fe Route 66 segment
Book your Route 66 hotel now
Book your Hotel along Route 66

>> There are RV campgrounds close by, at Lake Bluewater and in Gallup

Weather in Continental Divide

Continental Divide has dry and sunny weather. Its altitude and arid climate mean that summers are warm but not too hot, on the other hand winters are cold; there is a large variation between day and night temperatures so nights are cool in summer and very cold during winter.

The average high in summer (July) is about 87°C (30°C), and the average low is 53°C (12°C). The average high in winter (Jan) is around 46°C (8°C), while the avg. low is only 14°C, well below freezing point (-10°C). Only 10,5 inches of rain falls each year (266 mm), most of it during the Summer Monsoon: July, August, September and October with 5.6 inches (143 mm).

About 30 in. of snow fall during winter (75 cm) and snowstorms may take place too. Expect strong cold winds during Spring.

Tornado risk

There is no tornado risk in Continental Divide: McKinley County has no Tornado watches. Route 66 west of this point, and all the way to California has no tornado events at all.

Tornado Risk: read more about Tornado Risk along Route66.
 

Route 66 and Continental Divide, NM
Location of Continental Divide, Route 66

Getting to Continental Divide

To the west is the city of Gallup (27 mi.) followed by the Arizona state line (50 miles). Heading east is Grants (36 mi.) and even further east, across the Rio Grande is the City of Albuquerque is 114 miles.

Heading north of Albuquerque along the Santa Fe loop of Route 66 is New Mexico state capital, Santa Fe (173 mi.).

Map of Continental Divide and Route66

in New Mexico.

Pale Blue: Historic Route 66 alignment; Red line: I-40 & I-25 where they overlap the old alignment.

Green line: The 1926 alignment between Prewitt and Thoreau. It cannot be driven except for a small section on Indian Service Route 7018, Read about the 1926 alignment in Continental Divide.

See Route 66's alignment in Texas

  Click to See the "Santa Fe" alignment of Route 66

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Google Maps. Terms. Icons.

The Route 66, an itinerary through Continental Divide

Route 66 logo

Route 66 across New Mexico

Click to read about the Full description of Route 66 across New Mexico.

Below is more information on Route 66's 1926 alignment by Continental Divide.

The Santa Fe Loop (1926 - 1937)

Visit our Santa Fe Loop page for full details on the "old" 1926 to 1937 alignment of Route 66 from Santa Rosa to Albuquerque via Dilia, Romeroville, Pecos, Glorieta, Santa Fe and Bernalillo. This was the original U.S. 66.

Continental Divide, New Mexico: Attractions & Sights

Things to Do and See

Across the Great Continental Divide

The village is a mere scattering of houses. The main attraction is of course Route 66 and the "Continental Divide" itself.

So lets look into both, the geography and the Mother Road:

The Great Continental Divide

Let's brush up on our knowledge of geographic terms:

  • A drainage divide (or water divide, divide, ridgeline, watershed or water parting) is an imaginary line that separates two neighbouring drainage basins.
  • A drainage basin (or a catchment) is an area of land that drains all the streams and rainfall to a common outlet.

The Continental Divide also known as "The Continental Divide of the Americas", "Continental Gulf of Division" or the "Great Divide" is a special kind of "Drainage Divide", in which the outlet of the "drainage basins" it divides, are oceans. Therefore, the Continental Divide, is a watershed: from the divide, the waters can flow east into the Atlantic Ocean or west into the Pacific Ocean.

As water flows downhill, the "drainage divide" is usually located along a high area: a mountain range, the ridge of a line of hills. In the case of the Great Divide, it runs along the main ranges of the Rocky Mountains, and further south, in South America, along the Andes, all the way from Alaska to Tierra del Fuego.

So the "Divide" begins in Alaska, at the Cape Prince of Waes on the Bering Strait in Alaska and extends across North America. In this northern part, it separates the Arctic Ocean basin from the Pacific Ocean basin. Then, further south the Divide marks the split between the Atlantic and the Pacific Oceans.

There are some Endorheic basins, which are closed drainage basins which retain water and have no outflow to any ocean in the USA, Mexico and in South America.

The Divide ends on the Strait of Magellan, at Dungeness Point on the border between Argentina and Chile, and follows the Andes into Tierra del Fuego, ending at Cape San Pio, Argentina.

The Continental Divide Trail

For those who like to hike, the Continental Divide Trail is a path that follows the Divide across the US between Mexico and Canada. It continues north in Canada as the Great Divide Trail all the way to Kakwa Lake in British Columbia.

Visit their website: www.continentaldividetrail.org

America's Fascination with the Continental Divide

During the period of British domination, King George III issued "The Royal Proclamation of 1763" which laid down the boundary between the existing colonies to the east of the Appalachian Mountains and the new territory that it had wrested from France after the Seven Years' War. The border would follow the "Eastern Continental Divide" which separated waters running west towards the Mississippi River and east towards the Atlantic Ocean. In the north it followed the "St. Lawrence Divide", along the drainage of the Saint Lawrence River to the north.

The idea was to keep the colonists enclosed in the east as it forbade settlement west of the border. This of course was resisted by the Americans, and shortly after, in 1776 they became independent and built a great new nation, the United States of America.

But "divides" would accompany the fledgling nation as it redefined its borders.

After acquiring the remaining French territories west of the Mississippi River in 1803 (the Louisiana Purchase), the U.S.A. and Britain shared a border which was again defined by "Divides". They had agreed that the watershed between the Hudson Bay to the north and the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers to the south would mark the border between Canada and the U.S. To the west, beyond the "Continental Divide", and all the way to the Pacific Ocean lay a vast and yet unclaimed land between Russia's Alaska and Spains California.

Lewis and Clark

President Thomas Jefferson commissioned an expedition, "The Lewis and Clark Expedition" (or Corps of Discovery Expedition) commanded by Cap.Meriwether Lewis and his friend Second Lieutenant William Clark. Their objective was simple: explore and map the territory of Louisiana and, even more important, find a route across the Continental Divide and establish an American presence to the west of it before any other power claimed that territory.

They were in fact the first American expedition to cross the continental divide and reach the Pacific coast. And, on August 12, 1805, Lewis wrote in his diary:

"The road took us to the most distant fountain of the waters of the Mighty Missouri in surch of which we have spent so many toilsome days and wristless (sic) nights. thus far I had accomplished one of those great objects on which my mind has been unalterably fixed for many years, judge then of the pleasure I felt in all[a]ying my thirst with this pure and ice-cold water. here I halted a few minutes and rested myself. two miles below McNeal had exultingly stood with a foot on each side of this rivulet and thanked his god that he had lived to bestride the mighty & heretofore deemed endless Missouri. after refreshing ourselves we proceeded on to the top of the dividing ridge from which I discovered immence ranges of high mountains still to the West of us with their tops partially covered with snow . . . here I first tasted the water of the great Columbia river..."

They left the territory of the U.S., and entered land that belonged to the Natives.

As America's confidence and power grew, President James K. Polk, wanted a bicoastal America, and that meant incorporating Oregon into the U.S. So he reached a peaceful agreement with Britain: the 49th parallel would mark the boundary between Canada and the U.S., each side ceded some land and the Divide became, at least north of Mexico, a part of the U.S.A.

America then focused towards the Southwest, the Mexican-American War of 1846-1848 and pushed Mexico south of the Rio Grande, incorporating California, Nevada, Arizona, Texas and parts of Colorado, and, the whole of New Mexico, where Campbell Pass crosses the Continental Divide.

The Continental Divide on Route 66

The Continental Divide is a broad valley with an east to west direction known as "Campbell's Pass". The Atlantic & Pacific Railroad (later the Atchison Topeka and Santa Fe Railway) chose this route for their tracks because it had a very moderate grade (21 feet per mile or 0.4%). There were no mighty summits here no mountain tops to cross, only a low lying wide pass.

The railway chose it to locate a station (Gonzales) at the summit of the pass, built at an altitude of 7,250 feet (2.211 m).

Campbell Pass

The pass has an elevation of 7,270 ft. (2.216 m) and is crossed by the Interstate 40, old Route 66 and the BNSF Railway (which in the past had been the AT & SF Railway).

It is a pass in the Rocky Mountains and marks the continental divide in this point of western-central New Mexico.

The pass is not a sharp valley between towering peaks, instead it is a wide and easily accessible pass between low altitude mountains.

The origin of its name "Campbell" is unknown, and may be connected to the railroad.

The divide is enclosed on the south by the Zuni Mountains and to the north by the high sandstone cliffs that mark the southern end of the Colorado Plateau, with Powell Mountain very close to the divide.

The water falling on the eastern flank of the divide will run east and empty into the Rio San Jose River and via the Rio Puerco reach the Rio Grande and, the Gulf of Mexico on the Atlantic.

The water falling on the western slope will run west along the Rio Puerco (of the west), and then the Little Colorado River to the Colorado River and along it until it empties in the Pacific Ocean.

Route 66 at the Great Divide

As the road climbs towards the pass, towards the north you will see the red sandstone escarpments of the southern terminus of the Colorado Plateau, to the south the Zuni Mountains. The vegetation changes from the scant grass, tumbleweed and shrubs commmon in the high desert, to one that includes pinyon pines and junipers close to the Pass.

Official Continental Divide Marker

On the south side of Route 66 just west of the Indian Market Continental Divide shop, before reaching I-40s exit 47.

See its Street View and location.

Landmark Official Marker

The sign reads:

Continental Divide
Elevation 7,245 ft.
Rainfall divides at this point. To the west it drains into the Pacific Ocean, to the east, into the Atlantic.

There are more signs however!, to the right, (north), at the junction of Exit 47, there is another signpost marking the Continental Divide. This one makes for a nice photo with the red sandstone cliffs to the north, in the background.

At the Exit, if you head straight west, along the north frontage road of I-40, you will encounter the following sing: "Dead End".

Dead End Sign on Route 66, Continental Divide New Mexico

Dead End Sign on Route 66, Continental Divide Route 66, New Mexico
Dead End Sign on Route 66, Continental Divide
Public Domain

Shops, Motels and Trading Posts

The Divide was a place where travellers stopped to fill their tanks and bougth mementos. Jack DeVere Rittenhouse in his "A Guide Book to Highway 66" lets us know how it was in 1946: "... are several establishments: The Top O' The World Hotel & Cafe, Great Divide Trading Co., and the Continental Trading Post and grocery..." at that time gas was found 3 miles west, at Fred Wilson's Indian Trading Post.

Great Divide Trading Post was on south side of route 66, and was ran in the late 1940s by Bert Greer. Now demolished.

Distant Drums was on north side of route 66 and opened in the early 1960s, the Gonzalez family ran it until the 1980s.

There are still shops and trading posts at the Divide, for instance, before reaching I-40s Exit 47, is the the Continental Divide Indian Market, which sells fireworks.

Passing the Exit 47, and ignoring the "Dead End" sign, head along the North Frontage Road. Just before it ends is the "Top O' The World Motel", in operation, and ths signpost of a now defunct Whiting Brothers Motel and Service Station.

Whiting Brothers Service Station and Motel

1958 Whiting Brothers Road Map

Whiting Bros. 1958 Southwest US road map. John Roma

Four Whiting brothers (Arthur, Earnest, Eddie and Ralph) founded the company in 1926 -the same year that Route 66 was created- and saw it grow to over 100 filling stations plus fifteen motels and truck stops from California to Texas. Many of them were located along Route 66 where you can still see the remains of those that were abandoned.

Their slogan was "Most of the Best for the Least".

The company based in Arizona went through difficult times during the Arab Oil Embargo in 1973, which led to fuel shortages and when the Interstate highway system bypassed many of their service stations located on U.S. Highways (like Route 66). The company sold the stations piecemeal.

There are two (one in ruins and one operating) iconic Whiting Bros. service stations in New Mexico, in Moriarty and San Fidel, also the Whiting motel in Holbrook AZ, is still open, but under another name. The remains of another one are at Newberry Springs, CA

The motel is gone but the sign is still there, and the service station still stands. See its Street View. It has the typical simple flat-roofed building with the canopy covering the two pumps. The Canopy now it reads "interlock installers".

in case you are wondering what an "interlock" is, it is a device like a breathalyzer, installed in a vehicle to deter drinking and driving. To start the vehicle, the driver must deliver a breath sample into the device. In New Mexico it is required for at least one year for all first-time Driving Under the Influence offenders; subsequent offenses require longer periods of installation. Drinking and driving is a problem in NM.

Tours & Itineraries plus outdoor Fun

There are several tours that you can do near Continental Divide, along Route 66 or futher away, towards the south into the "El Malpais" badlands and Zuni Mountains.

Nearby Route 66 Towns

You can head towards the west and visit Gallup (27 mi.) or east and visit Grants (36 mi.) and the Indian Pueblos of Laguna (68 mi.) and Acoma Pueblo.

The Old alignment of Route 66 near Continental Divide

route 66 shield New Mexico

Route 66 Near Continental Divide

Historic segment of Route 66 from Grants to Continental Divide

Route 66, Cibola and McKinley counties, NM.

Listed in the National Register of Historic Places

Route 66 between Milan (Grants) and Continental Divide is listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

When US Highway 66 was created in 1926, it was aligned along New Mexico State Highway #6. This NM-6 had been established in 1914 as a part of the National Old Trails Highway system that linked NM with California and the Mississippi.

Route 66 climbed from Milan and Grants towards the Continental Divide reaching the highest point of its whole alignment at 7,263 feet in Campbell Pass, from where it descended towards Gallup.

The road was paved in the mid to late 1930s and at that time, the original aligment which had two grade-crossings across the AT & SF Railway was moved to the south of the tracks, to avoid the dangerous crossings and also, to shorten the length of the road. This change moved the road out of the town of Thoreau, which was bypassed, as it was on the north side of the tracks: Route 66 ceased to cross it along its Main Street.

The remains of the 1926 alignment east of Thoreau

Route 66's original 1926 alignment passed right through Prewitt, on the south side of what was the later 1930s alignment of Route 66. This map shows its course through Prewitt.

West of Prewitt and all the way to Continental Divide, it followed another alignment. In the Map above you can see the relict remains of the original 1926-1930s alignment. It is marked by the Green line from Prewitt to Thoreau.

If you zoom into the map you will make out the roadbed. It cannot be driven along, but you could walk it or drive a bike along it. Notice that some culverts have washed away. It may lie in private property so request permission to avoid trespassing.

One small section of the original alignment can still be driven, the one corresponding to Indian Service Route 7018 on the north side of modern US 66.

Through Thoreau to Continental Divide (1926 -1937)

The road crossed the town of Thoreau along 1st Street and then 1st Ave for 1.2 miles as shown in the Map of Route 66 through Thoreau (1926-37).

The original alingment beyond there is now gone and ran just north of ther railway tracks. There is however one other place where it can be driven: west from NM-27 for 1.5 miles till it veers off towards the north. (This map shows this segment).

After 1937, the current road

Route 66 is now NM-122 and runs next to I-40 as its frontage Road from Milan all the way to the Continental Divide. The part in Milan was improved to a four-lane highway in 1951. In 1956, I-40 replaced Route 66. See a Map of this segment.

The historic segments continues all the way to the Continental Divide, west of Thoreau as the north Frontage road of I-40, but ends in a Dead End just west of Exit 43. So you will have to get on I-40 at that point and head west towards Gallup.

> > See the previous segment McCartys to Grants

> > See the next segment Continental Divide to Gallup.

National and State Parks

There are some parks realtively close to Continental Divide. We have described them in our Grants to Gallup tour and in the Ventana Rock Arch tour, which visit the El Malpais National Conservation Area, the El Malpais National Monument and El Morro National Monument.

Not to far east, is the Bluewater Lake State Park with an RV campground.

Sources

Jack DeVere Rittenhouse, 1946. A Guide Book to Highway 66.

Image, by John Roma (2008), under Fair Use

Image Public Domain

Guidebook of the Western United States: Part C - The Santa Fe Route, With a Side Trip to Grand Canyon of the Colorado, bulletin 613. Nelson Horatio Darton.

Image Used as per Google Street View Image Api Updated Dec. 31, 2014.

Original artwork by A. Whittall based on Google Street View Imagery.

Robert Julyan. 1996, The Place Names of New Mexico, UNM Press.

Image by Vítězslav Válka adapted under its CC BY-SA 3.0 CZ License

Map Icons by Nicolas Mollet under its CC BY SA 3.0 License