About Thoreau, New Mexico
Facts, Trivia and useful information
Elevation: 7,200 ft (2.200 m). Population: 1,863 (2000).
Time zone: Mountain (MST): UTC minus 7 hours. Summer (DST) MDT (UTC-6).
Thoreau, which is pronounced as "Thuh-Roo" (like "threw"), is a town located in McKinley County, New Mexico. See a Map of Thoreau.
First Ave. in Thoreau, New Mexico, the 1926 to 1937 alignment of Route 66
Henry David Thoreau, Public Domain
Western New Mexico has been inhabited for over 10,000 years and the Native Americans who lived in this area during historic times were the Diné or Navajo.
The Europeans reached the area during the Francisco Vásquez de Coronado's expedition in 1540. The Spanish passed by the pueblos of Acoma and Zuni, just south of Thoreau. Almost sixty years later, the Spanish returned and settled the Rio Grande River area, subduing the Indians. Despite a brief period during which the natives revolted and explled them (1680 - 1692), Spain held on to the territory until 1821, when it passed on to an independent Mexico. After the Mexican American War (1846-48), the land became a part of the U.S.
During this period the region where modern Thoreau is located, had not been settled as the Navajo warriors kept settlers at bay. Between 1862 and 1864 the American forces defeated the Navajo and opened up the area to settlement.
In 1881, the Atlantic and Pacific Railroad (later the Atchison Topeka and Santa Fe Railway) reached the area in and built a stop which was named Chaves after a local family who had a small store there. By the way, there are still two sidings named Chaves just 4 miles to the east of Thoreau.
The post office was first named Chaves from 1886 to 1892, then it switched to Mitchel until 1896 becoming Thoreau after 1899.
The Name: Thoreau
Although Wikipedia and the locals maintain that Thoreau was a person who worked for either the railway, the Mitchels or the army) and not the famous Henry David Thoreau, the book Thoreau, where the trails cross! by Roxanne Trout Heath (1982) affirms that it was named after the famous philosopher and has contemporary written proof to back her assertion.
Henry David Thoreau (1817 - 1862). Thoreau was an American author, poet, philosopher and naturalist. He was opposed to slavery and taxes, he was also a historian.
He is well known for his quotes; we list some below:
"Rather than love, than money, than fame, give me truth".
"Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you have imagined". "It is never too late to give up your prejudices".
"I would rather sit on a pumpkin and have it all to myself, than be crowded on a velvet cushion"
"Under a government which imprisons any unjustly, the true place for a just man is also a prison."
The Mitchel brothers, William and Austin moved to the area in 1890. They had their eyes on the forests on Zuni Mountains, they wanted to build a sawmill and sell the lumber in the Southwest. They platted a town that they named "Mitchel". But their business did not prosper.
In 1896 Talbot and Feed Hyde Jr., heirs to the Babbit Soap fortune sponsored a scientific expedition in New Mexico. The Hyde Exploring Expedition set up its base in Mitchel and from there conducted excavations in Chaco Canyon until 1901. Professor Frederick Ward Putnam of Harvard University and the American Museum of Natural History was in charge, and the field operations were directed by George H. Pepper. Accusations of impropriety ended the work but were later proved false.
The scientific expedition led to a growth in trading with the Navajo and the town was renamed as Thoreau by the Hyde brothers. The Navajo name for the place was "Little Prairie Dog". (Dlóí Yázhí).
Route 66 was aligned right through the village in 1926, and followed a winding course that crisscrossed the tracks between Prewitt and Thoreau. It was straightened out in the early 1930s and Thoreau was left on the north side of Route 66, beyond the tracks, just off the alignment. Drivers had to go into the town, leaving US 66 to do so.
In the 1960s Interstate 40 bypassed the old Route 66.
Where to Stay
There is lodging close to Thoreau along Route 66:
Lodging Near Thoreau along Route 66
- 33 miles. Motels and Hotels in Gallup.
Heading West...in Arizona
- 80 miles. Motels and Hotels in Chambers.
- 127 miles. Motels and Hotels in Holbrook.
- 160 miles. Motels and Hotels in Winslow.
- 30 miles. Motels and Hotels in Grants.
- 49 miles. Motels and Hotels in Acomita Pueblo.
- 108 miles. Motels and Hotels in Albuquerque
- 144 miles. Motels and Hotels in Moriarty
The Santa Fe Route 66 segment
Weather in Thoreau
Thoreau has dry and sunny weather. The area is quite high and arid close to the continental divide. Summers are warm and Winters are cold; there is a large day-night temperature swing which makes for cool summer nights and very cold winter ones.
The average high in summer (July) is about 91°C (33°C), and the average low is 57°C (14°C). The average high in winter (Jan) is around 49°C (9°C), while the avg. low is only 15°C, well below freezing point (-9°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).
Snowstorms do take place in winter and strong cold wind can be met during spring. Expect around 12 in. of snow during winter (30.5 cm).
There is no tornado risk in Thoreau: McKinley County has no Tornado watches. The area west of this point all the way to California has no tornado events at all.
Tornado Risk: read more about Tornado Risk along Route66.
Getting to Thoreau
Map of Thoreau and Route66
Map of Thoreau and Route 66 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 Thoreau.
See Route 66's alignment in Texas
Remove or restore State shading
The Route 66, an itinerary through Thoreau
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 next to the town Thoreau (Route 66 passes just to the south of the town, but not through it).
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.
Thoreau, New Mexico: Attractions & Sights
Things to Do and See
Thoreau was once on the 1926 to 1937 alignment of Route 66, it is best known for Roy T. Herman's Garage and Service Station, a site listed in the National Register of Historic Places.
The town is set in a wide valley enclosed on the north by the red sandstone escarpments of the southern terminus of the Colorado Plateau, visible from Thoreau. Mount Taylor lies to the northeast and Powell Mountain to the northwest. To the south are the Zuni Mountains. The vegetation begins to change from the tumbleweed and shrubs commmon in the high desert, to one that includes pinyon pines and junipers.
Roy T. Herman's Garage and Service Station
Route 66, Thoreau, NM.
Listed in the National Register of Historic Places
A classic service station built in 1937 on the old Route 66 in Thoreau.
It is located on NM-122 (Old Route 66) just west of I-40s Exit 53.
The steel building was originally locate din Grants, in 1935, as a Standard Oil Company station. When Route 66 was re-routed south of Grants in 1937, the building was uprooted and placed on the new alignment just outside of Thoreau. After World War II, the veteran Roy T. Herman operated it as a franchise.
Herman purchased it in 1950 and has operated it since then. In 1963 he moved it 200 yards towards the west, and stopped selling fuel, it became a repair garage.
The building had enamelled steel and a canopy that covers the gas-pumps island.
Herman's Garage and Service Station Route 66, Thoreau, New Mexico
Jack DeVere Rittenhouse in his Guide Book to Highway 66 written in 1946 mentions two trading posts: the Thoreau Trading Post and the Beautiful Mountain Trading Post. He also points out that the town is not on the road itself.
Tours & Itineraries plus outdoor Fun
There are several tours that you can do near Thoreau, along Route 66 or futher away, towards the south into the "El Malpais" badlands and Zuni Mountains.
Nearby Route 66 Towns
The Old alignment of Route 66 near Thoreau
Route 66 Near Thoreau
Historic segment of Route 66 from Grants to Thoreau
Route 66, Cibola and McKinley counties, NM.
Listed in the National Register of Historic Places
Route 66 in this part of New Mexico is listed in the National Register of Historic Places.
In 1926 Route 66 was aligned along State Hwy. 6, which had been created in 1914 as part of the National Old Trails Highway system. It climbed towards the Continental Divide reaching the highest point of the whole Route 66 at 7,263 feet. Here the juniper and pinyon trees dot the landscape and replace the lowland pastures. The geology changes too, with red sandstone cliffs which will follow the road all the way to Arizona.
The road was paved in the mid 1930s when two level-crossings with the railway were eliminated by realinging the highway on the south side of the Atchison Topeka & Santa Fe railway. This hit the town of Thoreau, which remained on the wrong side of the tracks: Route 66 stopped passing along its Main Street.
The remains of the 1926 alignment east of Thoreau
Route 66's original 1926 alignment passed right through the "village" of Prewitt, along its "Main Street", located on the south side of what was the later alignment of Route 66. This map shows its course through Prewitt.
West of Prewitt and all the way to Thoreau, 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 and west (1926 -1937)
The road crossed the town 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.
National and State Parks
There are several parks realtively close to Thoreau. 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.
Much closer to the village is the Bluewater Lake State Park with an RV campground.
Jack DeVere Rittenhouse, 1946. A Guide Book to Highway 66.
Herman's Garage, New Mexico Historic Preservation Division. NPS.
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.
Robert Julyan. 1996, The Place Names of New Mexico, UNM Press.