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Tucumcari

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The "Heart of the Mother Road!"

The Gatway to New Mexico

Tucumcari (pronounced TOO-kum-kair-ee) is indeed the "Gateway to New Mexico" and the "Heart of the Mother Road" with many iconic Route 66 sights listed in the National Register of Historic Places such as the Blue Swallow Motel, the Cactus Motor Lodge, the Odeon Theater and the The San Jon - Tucumcari Route 66 segment itself.
The town has other attractions: the Mesalands Dinosaur Museum and the famous Teepee Curio Shop. A place to savour the vintage feeling of Route 66.

Tucumcari NM

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About Tucumcari, New Mexico

Facts, Trivia and useful information

Elevation: 4,091 ft (1,247 m). Population: 5,363 (2010).
Time zone: Mountain (MST): UTC minus 7 hours. Summer (DST) MDT (UTC-6).

Tucumcari is the largest town along Route 66 between Amarillo and Albuquerque. It is the seat of Quay County.

Eastern New Mexico has been inhabited for at least 11,000 years, as proved by stone tools found at the nearby Clovis site.

The area was explored by the Spanish, who introduced the horse (1500s) which the local Querecho Apaches adopted. By the mid-1800s, (when Mexico ceded the area to the U.S. after defeat in the Mexican American War of 1846-48), the Kiowa and Kiowa Apache together with the Comanche dominated the region and fought with the U.S. Army and white settlers until subdued in the mid 1870s.

Soon cattle ranches were established in the region. The first settlement in the area was a village named Liberty, north of Tucumcari, north of Pajarito Creek and close to Liberty Mesa, established in 1882. Bandit Tom "Black Jack" Ketchum robbed the post office there in 1896. But Liberty dissolved when the railway was routed further south a few years later.

Palomino Motel
Palomino Motel, Tucumcari, New Mexico, Ross Griff

When the CRI&G Railroad (Chicago, Rock Island and Gulf Railroad) extended its tracks westwards from Texas into New Mexico, it set up a siding in 1901 named "Ragtown" or "Six Shooter Siding" at what is now Tucumcari. The construction camp grew into a town on land deeded by former Liberty businessmen Goldenberg, Wertheim, Street, and Smith.

The town was initially named Douglas (1901-1902) but soon after it was renamed with its current name: Tucumcari. The post office was established in 1902.

The town was named after Tucumcari Mountain that is 3 miles south of it.

Origin of the name Tucumcari

The cute legend about the name

The legend, which is surely apocryphal, goes as follows:

the local Apache Chief Wautonomah decided to choose his successor through a fight to death between two young braves, Tonopah and Tocom. Unknown to the Chief, his daughter Kari was in love with Tocom. The two men fought with knives in a mortal duel and Tocom was stabbed in the heart. Kari who was watching the scene, rushed forth and used a knife to kill Tonopah and then kill herself.

The Chief, heartbroken cried out aloud "Tocom-Kari" as he too stabbed his own heart with the same knife.

More likely origin of the name Tucumcari

Spanish explorer Pedro Vial wrote in his diary about his round-trip journey from Santa Fe to Sain Louis that in Nov. 1793 on his way back, that "to the south, leaving the river on the right hand I made out Tuconcari." A clear indication that Tucumcari Mountain had a native name back in 1793.

A 1777 record for the area tells of a Comanche woman and child captured at the battle of "Cuchuncari".

The word is probably the corruption of a Comanche word that means "lookout" (Tukamukaru), appropriate for a mountain in a relatively flat area.

Tucumcari Mountain

Tucumcari Mountain is 4,677 ft. high (1,515 m). So it is about 900 feet (275 m) higher than the surrounding area. It is not the highest peak in the area (Mesa Redonda, further south is higher), but it is very visible and shaped like a mesa on top of a mesa (see image below).

Its rocks are Cretaceous, Jurassic and older and the fossil of an extinct oyster (Gryphaea tucumcari) was named after it. The sediments are light colored clay shales.

The locals have whitewashed boulders on the hill to form a letter "T" on the mountain. The movie "Cars" has a similar hill with the initials "RS" (after Radiator Springs).


Tucumcari Mountain, Tucumcari, New Mexico
View of Tucumcari Mountain, Leaflet

The county was created on Jan. 28, 1903 and named after Matthew S. Quay, (1833-1904), US Senator from Pennsylvania, and Tucumcari became county seat.

It was a cattle breeding community which received many homesteaders who settled in the area.

Route 66 was aligned through the town in 1926 bringin more prosperity as the locals catered to the travellers. In 1940 the South Canadian River was dammed providing water for irrigation, and farming boomed.

Where to Stay

Book your hotel in Tucumcari

There are several hotels in town

>> Book your Hotels in town: Tucumcari Hotels

Lodging Near Tucumcari along Route 66

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>> There are RV campgrounds close to Tucumcari.

Weather in Tucumcari

This region is semiarid and the yearly rainfall is around 16.1 inches (409 mm). Summers are hot but with lower temperature during the night which make them bearable winters are cool.

There are 40 days per year with precipitation, and most of it takes place mostly during the summer, when the North American monsoon provokes intense downpours. From May to August 9.4 in. fall (239 mm).

Snowfall is quite light; on average, 8.2 inches of snow falls (21 cm) and can take place at any time between September and May

There are 266 sunny days per year and the highest high temperature recorded was 109 °F (43 °C) on June 28, 1968 while the lowest was -19 °F (-28 °C) on January 13, 1963.

Average high in summer (July) is 93°F (34°C), and in winter (Jan) is 53°F (12°C). The average summer low is 64°F (18°C) and the winter low is 23°F (-5°C).

Tornado risk

Tucumcari is located in an area with a very low risk, as it only has three (3) Tornado watches every year.

Tornado Risk: read more about Tornado Risk along Route66.
 

Route 66 and Tucumcari, NM
Location of Tucumcari, Route 66

Getting to Tucumcari

Heading west from Tucumcari down Route 66 is Montoya (22 mi.) and two small hamlets: Newkirk (33 mi.) and Cuervo (43 mi.), then comes Santa Rosa (60 mi.). Further ahead are Albuquerque (177 mi.) and Gallup (315 mi). To the northwest is Santa Fe (194 mi.)

To the east lies San Jon (24 mi.), and on the New Mexico - Texas state line is Glenrio ( 42 mi.), and further east is Amarillo (115 mi.)

Map of Tucumcari and Route66

in New Mexico.

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

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.

Route 66 itinerary through Tucumcari

Route 66 logo

Route 66 in New Mexico

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

The Santa Fe Loop (1926 - 1937)

Our Santa Fe Loop page describes the complete 1926 to 1937 alignment of Route 66 from Santa Rosa to Albuquerque through Pecos, Santa Fe and Algodones.

Below is full information on Route 66's 1926 alignment in Tucumcari.

Tucumcari, New Mexico: Attractions & Sights

Things to Do and See

Tucumcari, its Attractions

The Gateway to New Mexico

Tucumcari is the "Heart of the Mother Road" and has some classic Route 66 sights (some listed in the National Register of Historic Places): the Blue Swallow Motel, the Cactus Motor Lodge and the Odeon Theater and of course, the Route 66 segment itself.
Other must sees are the Mesalands Dinosaur Museum and the Teepee Curio Shop.

Historic Route 66 crosses the center of the town as Route 66 Boulevard (formerly Ganyell Ave. or Tucumcari Blvd.), along it you will find many old service stations, diners, cafes and motels which were built to cater to the motorists travelling along US 66. Below we describe some of them:

Historic sites in Tucumcari

Blue Swallow Motel

815 East Route 66 Blvd., Tucumcari, NM.

Listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

Iconic Vintage 1940s Motel with its typical neon sign.

The motel was built by W.A. Huggins, a carpenter, just before the beginning of World War II, it opened in 1942 and was operated by Ted Jones, a local rancher. After Jones and his wife died in the 1950s, it passed to Lillian Redman and her husband. Lillian becam epart of Route 66's folkore she once said: "I end up traveling the highway in my heart with whoever stops here for the night".

Blue Swallow Motel
Blue Swallow Motel, New Mexico

Interstate 40 in the late 1960s drew traffic away from the downtown Route 66 and business dwindled. Mrs. Redman sold the Blue Swallow in the late 1990s, and it is still open after being partially restored in 2007 within the Route 66 Corridor Preservation Program.

See its Street View and location map.

Cactus Motor Lodge

Cactus Motel postcard

Cactus Motel, a vintage postcard; Credits

1316 East Route 66 Blvd., Tucumcari, NM.

Listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

A classic Motor Lodge built in 1941 with a 1950s neon sign.

It was built in 1941 by I.E. and and Edna Perry in a Pueblo Revival design with stucco plastered walls. They sold it to Norm Wegner in 1952. Wegner modernized it by adding Perma-stone to its outer walls and a dance hall.

When he retired in 1972 he sold it to Harry and Jean. Its current owners Indrajit (Andy) and Sugandhi Patel bought it in 1979. Its courtyard has been converted into an RV Park and the units are long-term apartments.

It was "U" shaped and had 25 units. It was located on the eastern tip of the town and was the first that westbound travellers would find when they reached Tucumcari.

The building on the northeast corner was originally a dance hall but the local myth says that people gambled in the basement and that it had a tunnel with an outside exit in case of a police raid.

The postcard shown above, had the following text printed the back of the card: "Duncan Hines and AAA Recommended Located at the East Entrance of TUCUMCARI, NEW MEXICO on Hiway 66 Tile tub and shower baths, each with individual heating unit. Double insulated walls. Carpeted floors. Steam heat. Enclosed and locked garages. Free radios, Phone 600 Member Best Western Motels Mrs. I E Perry, Owner".

See its Street View and location map.

Odeon Theater

123 South Second Street, Tucumcari, NM.

Listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

Movie Trivia

The character Raymond played by Tom Cruise mentions Tucumcari in the 1988 film "Rain Man"

A genuine pre-World War II motion picture theatre with Art Deco details.

The Odeon Theater was built during 1935-36 and opened on May 16, 1936. The auditorium seats 270 viewers and the top floor balcony 90; and remain unchanged, conveying a strong impression of how movie theaters were in the 1940s.

It is Greek word "odeon" means "theater" and was chosen because it was short and cheapened the costs of the neon sign.

See its Street View and location map.

Other Landmarks in Tucumcari

The landmark buildings related to Route 66 are located along Route 66 Blvd., the town's oldest buildings ara in the Historic Downtown district along or near Main Street.

Rock Island-Southern Pacific Train Depot

N 2nd St. and W Railroad Ave., Tucumcari

This landmark was built in 1926 and restored in 2001. It was built in Spanish Mission style, a long depot for freight plus the passenger area. It served the Rock Island Railway and Southern Pacific Railway. Open to the public.

See its Street View and location map.

Teepee Curio Shop

With its eye-catching teepee (See its Street View and location map).

Teepee souvenir shop, New Mexico
Souvenir Shop in Tucumcari, NM. by Carol M. Highsmith
More landmarks

Don't miss the Palomino Motel (See its Street View and location map),

Museums

Mesalands Dinosaur Museum

222 E Laughlin St, Tucumcari NM

Exhibits with the full range of prehistoric creatures: from saber-tooth cats to giant crocodiles and T-Rex-like dinosaurs.

Visit the Museum's website. Open: 10 AM - 6 PM (Tue-Sat) March - August and 12 - 5 PM the rest of the year.

Tucumcari Historical Museum

416 S Adams St, Tucumcari NM

The local history: from a sherfiff's office to a historical classroom. Plus a fighter plane and more...

(575) 461-4201. Open: 9 AM - 3 PM (Tue-Sat).

Tours & Itineraries

Nearby Route 66 Towns

Visit, to the east, the nearby towns of San Jon and Glenrio (on the Texas state line).

To the west is Montoya, Newkirk and Cuervo followed by Santa Rosa.

The Old alignment of Route 66 near Tucumcari

route 66 shield New Mexico

San Jon to Tucumcari Historic Route 66

Route 66, Tucumcari, NM.

Listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

This is the historic segment of Route 66 from San Jon to Tucumcari.

See its Street View and location map.

The road was originally aligned along the "Ozark Trail", a highway system that was promoted and created by private organizatioins, counties and states in the 1915s. It predated the Federal highway system that appeared in the mid 1920s. Initially it was a dirt road but it was completely paved by 1933.

Lesbia

At the junction of US 66 and QR Ag (15 mi. west of San Jon), take a left along QR Ag and after 0.7 mi. you will reach Lesbia, which once was a station on the Rock Island Railroad. It was named Rudulph from 1908 to 1910, then Castleberry (till 1913) and finally Lesbia, until 1918 when the post office closed.

After San Jon the original road becomes the South Frontage Road of I-40. Follow it all the way to Exit 335 of I-40 and cross the Interstate to enter Tucumcari along East Route 66 Blvd. (formerly E. Tucumcari Blvd.) - I-40 Bus. Loop, into the town of Tucumcari.

Go through the downtown district and keep west until reaching US 58. At the junction take a left turn towards I-40 and get onto it at Exit 329.

> > See the previous segment Glenrio (TX) to San Jon (to the east) and the next one Tucumcari to Montoya (to the west).

Some Side Trips from Tucumcari

Petrified Forest

It is located 6 miles southwest of Tucumcari and 1 mile south of Route 66.

Unfortunately most of the fragments of logs and petrified wood that lie strewn on the ground, have been taken by tourists as souvenirs.

Five Mile Park or Metropolitan Park

Located 5 miles west of town (hence its name), see its Map and Directions

It was designed by Trent Thomas during the Great Depression to employ local labor. It was completed in 1940 and had New Mexico's largest outdoor swimming pool.

It is part of New Mexico Heritage Preservation Alliance's list of Most Endangered for 2003. A fire destroyed the main building in 2010.

Day Trips

Scenic Byways

There are several loops that you can drive along close to Tucumcari that will take you through the countryside marked by multicolored sandstone sediments. You may also catch a glimpse of a Pronghorn antelope too.

The road loops range from 14 to 102 miles in length, along NM state highways 54, 84, 91, 104, 129, 156, 209, 219, 231, 252, 278 and 469.

For more details on these day trips, call the Tucumcari Chamber of Commerce (575) 461-1694.

La Frontera del Llano

The meaning of the Spanish phrase "La Frontera del Llano" is "The prairies' frontier", it is a ride north of the town of Logan along NM 39 all the way to Abbot, it has a lenght of 94 miles (one way). See the Map and Directions.

The road takes you through plains, mesas and crosses rivers; it it the grasslands where the "deer and antelope roam".

National and State Parks

Las Conchas Lake State Park

Conchas means shells in Spanish. The park is 32 miles northwest of Tucumcari along NM 104 (Map with directions).

Contact: Website, (575) 868-2270.

Ideal place for boating, fishing and swimming. Hiking and wildlife watching near the lake too. There are campsites and parking for RVs

Ute Lake State Park

27 miles northeast of Tucumcari via US-54 to Logan, NM and then NM-540 to the lake. (Map with directions).

Contact: 1800 540 Loop Logan, NM, Website, (575) 487-2284.

The reservoir on the Canadian River is 13 miles long and offers many options for water sports: fishing, boating, swimming. There are campgrounds and RV facilities too.

Sources

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

Image by Ross Grif under its CC BY 2.0 License

The postcard is from the James R. Powell Route 66 Collection at the Lake County Discovery Museum, view it online, under Fair Use.

Image Leaflet, under its CC SA 3.0 License.

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