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City of Spirit

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Grants is the "Uranium Capital of the World" and has many Route 66 icons: the Wayside Motel, Sands Motel and Grants Cafe.
The nearby town of Milan and Toltec village, the New Mexico Mining Museum and the site of The Old Fort Wingate near San Rafael.
Amazing outdoors: lava flows and sandstone cliffs at El Malpais National Conservation Area (don't miss the La Ventana Rock Arch), the El Malpais National Monument and El Morro National Monument. Plenty to do and enjoy in Grants.

Grants NM

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About Grants, New Mexico

Facts, Trivia and useful information

Elevation: 6,460 ft (1.969 m). Population: 9,182 (2010).
Time zone: Mountain (MST): UTC minus 7 hours. Summer (DST) MDT (UTC-6).

Grants is the county seat of Cibola County in western - central New Mexico, its motto is "City of Spirit", and it is also known as the "Uranium Capital of the World". Map of Grants.

Old abandoned Garage on Route 66, Grants New Mexico

Old abandoned Garage on, Route 66, New Mexico
Old Garage in Grants, Route 66, New Mexico, A. Whittall, click on image for street view

Human beings have been living in this area for over 10,000 years. Later their Native American descent became farmers and used the water of the rivers that flowed from the Rocky Mountains to irrigate their crops.

The first Europeans to reach the area, were those of the expedition of Francisco Vásquez de Coronado, who visited the nearby Zuni and Acoma pueblos in 1540; the Spanish returned and occupied the area to the east (Laguna) in the early 1600s. A revolt in 1680 expelled the conquerors, but they returned in 1693, to defeat the natives.

The area was not settled due to the constant raids of the Navajo Indians. New Mexico became a part of Mexico upon its independence from Spain in 1821, and then part of the U.S. after Mexico was defeated in the Mexican-American War of 1846-48. The Navajo raids were finally crushed with the presence of the U.S. Army at nearby Fort Wingate (1862-1864), opening the area to settlement.

The first settler was Antonio Chávez, who lived on the south side of the San Jose River in the 1860s. He planted cottonwoods by the river. In 1872, Jesús Blea settled there too and named the place "Los Alamitos" (Spanish for "The Small Willows", in alluson to the cottonwood trees) he was followed in 1873 by Ramón Baca and his family.

The name, Grants

The Atlantic & Pacific Railroad extended its tracks into the area in the early 1880s, the contractors who were in charge of builiding the line were three Canadian brothers, Lewis, Angus and John Grant.

They set up their base at Los Alamitos which became known as "Grants Camp". A depot and coaling station was built there as it was halfway between Gallup and Albuquerque. The stop was named "Grants Station". A post office opened in 1882 and was named "Grant" (without the final "s"), in 1935 it changed its name to Grants (with the final "s").

The postcard shown below incorrectly stated on its back that: "was named for President Ulysses S. Grant when he was General of the U. S. Army. Today, Grants (the S being adopted)...".

Vintage Postcard of Grants

Vintage 1942 postcard of Grants. Illinois State Library Digital collection

The town became known as Grants (plural) after the brothers. The Atchison Topeka and Santa Fe Railway acquired the A&P RR. and built a roundhouse to the west of town at a site known as Breecetown after the local logging magnate Breece.

Logging in the Zuni Mountains to the south was the main business in Grants but after the Bluewater Dam was built in 1927, irrigation allowed farming and Grants was named the "Carrot Capital" of the U.S.

At that time (1926), Route 66 was created and aligned through Grants along the National Old Trails Road between New Mexico and California.

Uranium ore, with a characteristic yellow color was discovered by a local Navajo shepherd, Paddy Martinez at the foot of Haystack Butte 1950. This led to a mining boom, the creation of the neighboring town of Milan and an excessive use of water for ore processing -which wiped out farming. The mining cycle ended with a bust in the 1980s.

Grants' Native Names

The native Navajos remember that a group of their tribe was massacred at Grants during a Comanche raid. They called the place N'ahto-Si-Ka'I "white smoke" or "friendly smoke" probably after a fumarole or because a peace treaty had been signed there between Chief Manuelito and Kit Carson.

Christopher Houston "Kit" Carson (1809 - 1868) was a legendary American frontiersman, guide, Army officer. Chief Manuelito (1818 - 1893) was an important Navajo leader who resisted the onslaught of the U.S. Army and fought for his people's freedom. Learn more about him at our page on Manuelito, NM.

Where to Stay

There is lodging along Route 66 in Grants:

> > Book your Hotels in town: Grants

Lodging Near Grants along Route 66

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The Santa Fe Route 66 segment

Book your hotel in Grants

>> There are RV campgrounds in Grants.

The weather in Grants

Latest weather in Grants, NM
Grants, New Mexico its location map on Route 66
Location of Grants on Route 66

Grants is located in a sunny, dry, relatively high and arid region nestled between mountain ranges close to the continental divide. Winters are cold and summers hot. There is a large day-night temperature swing.

The average high in summer (July) is around 91°C (33°C), and the average low is 57°C (14°C). The average high in winter (Jan) is 49°C (9°C), while the avg. low is only 15°C, well below freezing point (-9°C). Only 10,5 inches of rain fall each year (266 mm) and July, August, September and October have most rain (5.6 in - 143 mm).

Snowstorms may strike during winter and on average 11 in. of snow fall each winter (28 cm).

Tornado risk

There is virtually no tornado risk in Grants: Cibola County has no Tornado watches. The area west of this point has no tornado events at all.

Tornado Risk: read more about Tornado Risk along Route66.

Getting to Grants

To the west areThoreau and Gallup (62 mi.) To the east are Laguna and Albuquerque (82 mi). On the Santa Fe loop of Route 66 it is 141 miles to Santa Fe.

On the main alignment further east, beyond Albuquerque are Santa Rosa (194 mi.) and Tucumcari.

Map of Route 66 in Grants, NM

Check out Grants on our New Mexico Route 66 Map, with the complete alignment and all the towns along it.

This map shows the alignment of Route 66 in Grants. The color key for this town is:

Pale Blue: Historic Route 66 alignment.
Green: The 1926 - 1937 alignment from Prewitt (see map) to Thoreau

Grants Map

Map with the alignment of Route 66 through Grants

Click on this link > > US 66 alignment in Grants

Route 66's alignment in New Mexico: the Historic Route 66 through Grants

Route 66 logo

Route 66 across 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 Bernalillo.

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

Grants: its Attractions

Landmarks, Route 66 sights

Uranium Capital of the World

The Wayside Motel, the Sands Motel and Grants Cafe are some Route 66 icons found in town. Visit the nearby town of Milan with the Milan Motel, and the village of Toltec. Stop by the site of The Old Fort Wingate and enjoy the outdoors: lava flows and sandstone cliffs at the El Malpais National Monument and El Malpais National Conservation Area in the badlands; visit the La Ventana Rock Arch and El Morro National Monument too.

Route 66 icons in Grants

Grants was the main town along Route 66 between Gallup to the west and Albuquerque to the east. Being the county seat of Cibola County it provided travellers with all the services they needed.

Some of those classic places can still be seen:

Entering Grants from the east you will see the to the right, the Wayside Motel, followed by the Sands Motel signpost on the right side of the road, Sands is off it, to the left.

Wayside Motel on Route 66, Grants New Mexico

Wayside Motel Grants, Route 66, New Mexico
Wayside Motel in Grants, Route 66, New Mexico, A. Whittall. Click image for street view

Across the road on its south side is the sign of the now defunct Grants Cafe, which opened in 1937 (See Street View).

Sign of the Sands Motel on Route 66, Grants New Mexico

Sign of Sands Motel in Grants, Route 66, New Mexico
Sign of Sands Motel in Grants A. Whittal. Click on image to enlarge

There are other attractions for those interested in Museums:

New Mexico Mining Museum

100 N. Iron Avenue, Grants NM.

Recreates the life of the uranium miners and their legacy in Grants. See its Location Map.

More Information (505) 287-4802.

Airways Museum Grants - Milan Airport

Airport Road, Milan NM.

A free self guided tour of the beacon that once guided planes across the southwest . (Map with Directions).

It is 3.7 mi. west of Grants, in Milan. More Information

Tours & Itineraries plus outdoor Fun

There are several tours that you can do near Grants, along Route 66 or futher afield into the "El Malpais" badlands...

Nearby Route 66 Towns

You can head towards the east and visit McCartys (14 mi.), San Fidel (19 mi.) and Laguna (36 mi.).

To the southeast is Acoma Pueblo (28 mi.). To the west is Thoreau (26 mi.)



The Buddhists Stupa

To the SW of Grants, in the Zuni Mountains, see the Map with Directions

A Tibetan Buddhist temple built with the same style as the Dudul Chörten. It was consecrated in 2009. A beacon that "subdues negative forces" in a place for meditation and retreats.

More information:

West along Route 66: Milan and Toltec

A short drive -14 mi. round trip, along Route 66.

Head west on US 66 from the downtown district of Grants, and after 3 miles, you will reach the neighboring town of Milan:


Uranium Boom Town

The Name: Milán

Relatively frequent in spain, it has two origins, one which derive from "Millán" and originated from the latin name "Aemilianus". The other from the Germanic name "Milan" from the Goth root "Mil-" meaning "generous, good."

The acccent on the a means that the last syllable is stronger.

Elevation 6,519 ft (1.987 m). Population 3,245 (2010). See Location map.

It was not a classic 1930s or 1940s Route 66 stop as it was a boom-town that appeared all of a sudden during the 1950s uranium mining boom. However it has some interesting Route 66 classic attractions.

Milan was incorporated in 1957 and, though you may think so, it was not named after Milan in Italy. Its name is that of Salvador Milán, a Mexican, who with his wife, owned most of the land where the town was built.

The uranium boom turned sour in the 1980s and now, the privately operated Cibola County Correctional Center (it has over 1,000 federal prisoners) is the major employer.

To the south of Route 66 is the Airways Museum Grants - Milan Airport.

The Milan Motel

A Route 66 classic

On Route 66 between Milan St. and Airport Rd. south side.

Restored with a National Park Service (NPS) Route 66 Corridor Preservation Program grant. This classic motel was built in 1946 in a "Log Cabin" style. It had 12 units, a snack shop and gas pumps.

It survived through the Uranium bust of the 1960s the bypassing of Route 66 by I-40 and the Uranium boom during the 1970s. The motel closed in the 80s but Ron Yates purchased it and opened the Trading Post.

See the Milan Motel then and now: in a vintage 1940s postcard and its current Street View

Continue west, towards Gallup along U.S. 66 and 6.2 miles west of Grants is the tiny village of Toltec:

View from Route 66 of Toltec, NM

Toltec, former motel? on Route 66, click on image for Street View


A scattering of houses which grew next to a railway station ca. 1910 on the TA & SF railroad (see a Map with directions).

The name: Toltec

The Toltec culture was centered in the town of Tula, Mexico, around 800 to 1000 A.D. The Aztecs recognized them as their cultural predecessors (like the Romans did to the Greek). Their word "Toltecah" means "artisans". There has been plenty of discussion about a possible link between New Mexico Natives and the Toltec people.

You can head west along Route 66 to visit Bluewater (6 mi.) and the Bluewater Lake State Park or head back to Grants.

Day Tour to Zuni Pueblo via El Morro and San Rafael

A full 176 mile-long circuit. See the Itinerary Map.

Tour Summary

Head south towards San Rafael and visit the The Old Fort Wingate. You can extend your trip to the south, along NM-53 passing along the western side of the "badlands" of the El Malpais National Conservation Area, and visit El Morro National Monument and Zuni Pueblo, ending up in Gallup or returning via I-40 to Grants.

The Day tour described below, between Grants and Gallup via Zuni Pueblo is part of the Trails of the Ancients Byway, one of the designated New Mexico Scenic Byways. For more information on this Scenic Byway, Click here

Head west from downtown Grants and take a left southbound along NM-122, crossing I-40 at Exit 81B. South of the Interstate, the highway becomes NM-53 and head south towards the town of San Rafael. At the entrance of the small town is the site of Old Fort Wingate:

Historic Marker

It is 4.3 mi. south of Grants, on the eastern side of NM-53 at the junction with Old Highway 53 at San Rafael. Map and directions.

Inscription on the Historic Marker: "San Rafael, formerly know as El Gallo, is located at a spring near the Malpais, the great lave flow to the east. The area was visited by members of Vasquez de Coronado's expedition in 1540. In 1862, it was selected as the original site of Fort Wingate, focus of the campaign against the Navajos".

Site of the First Fort Wingate

1862 - 1864

During the American Civil War, the Navajo Indians increased their raids on New Mexico. The new Military Commander, Gen. Carleton decided to stop them.

He built a fort which was commissioned on Oct. 22, 1862 near what is now San Rafael, next to the Ojo de Gallo spring. He named it Fort Wingate.

Cap. Benjamin A. Wingate was an infantry officer who died during the Battle of Valverde.

From the fort he began a campaign against the Navajo and defeated them. He relocated them to "concentration" camps during the "Navajo Roundup", where they starved. Gen. Carleton was releived from his duties in 1864 due to these atrocities and the Indinas were allowed to return to their homes in the west.

The fort beame useless, it was to far from the homeland of the Navajo, so the new Commander, Gen. Getty decided to move Fort Wingate to a more western location and chose a site at Bear Springs near Grants, where Fort Lyon (also known as old Fort Fauntleroy) waas located. Lyon was renamed "Fort Wingate" (More on Wingate here). The "old" fort was abandoned.

San Rafael

Elev. 6,470 feet (1.970 m). Pop (2010): 933.

The town was originally located there because of a spring, ("ojo" in Spanish means in this case "water eye" or "spring"), called "El Gallo" ("The Cock"), perhaps due to the ducks, turkeys and grouse in the wetland next to it. In the past water was abundant and flowed east towards the Rio San Jose River. Later, excessive use lowered the water table and diminshed the flow. In the 1880s it became known as San Rafael (St. Raphael).

During Coronado's 1540 expedition to New Mexico he sent a group of men to explore the area, and they visited San Rafael en route to Acoma Pueblo.

Camel Stopping point

The expedition led by Lt. Edward Fitzgerald "Ned" Beale (1822 - 1893) to survey and build a wagon road from New Mexico to the Colorado River near present Needles CA and Tropock AZ, camped at Ojo del Gallo in 1857.

He used camels, imported from Tunis as pack animals. Though hardier than mules, the camels scared both horses and mules. The Army decided not to use camels in the future.

On the right side you will see the Zuni Mountains which the road will follow along its eastern flank for 11 mi. On the left, beyond the low trees that cover the landscape, is the "badlands" or "Malpais" a jumbled lava flow area, which can be accessed via NM-117 and which we describe further down (see El Malpais National Monument and National Conservation Area).

The Zuni Mountains are the remains of an eroded anticline made up of 2-billion-year-old Precambrian granites and metamorphic rocks at its core. It is a high desert country area with lava flows and sandstone.

Further south, NM-53 takes a curve towards the right and heads westwards entering the El Malpais National Monument and passing by the El Malpais NPS Information (28 mi south of I-40) and the privately operated Bandera Crater and Ice Cave. The road crosses the Continental Divide, from which the waters flow west towards the Pacific Ocean or east towards the Atlantic Ocean, and reaches the El Morro National Monument (43 mi.)

El Morro National Monument

Visit the Official Website, for more details.

Its Inscription Rock, accessible along an easy trail has over 2,000 inscriptions carved in the sandstone.

The name is Spanish and means "Bluff", "Headland". It is a great sandstone promontory which provides a shaded oasis for those travelling along the trails south of the Zuni Mountains. It was a camping spot and those explorers who passed by left their names dates or simply inscribed their symbols in the soft rocks, a memento of their visit: the Inscription Rock.

The journey continues west passing by the town of Ramah in the Navajo Reservation and entering the Zuni Indian Reservation. At the junction of NM-53 and NM-36, you should keep on westwards for another 9.5 miles and visit the Zuni Pueblo. We describe it in detail here: Zuni Pueblo, visit the pueblo and its historic mission church built in 1630 and rebuilt in 1705.

From the junction of NM-36 and 53, turn towards the north, and reach Gallup (96 mi.).

You can end your journey in Gallup or head back towards Grants, eastbound along I-40 or take the Old Route 66. Finally, after a circuit of 176 mi., you will reach Grants again.

Day tour to visit the La Ventana Natural Arch

It is a 48 mile round trip to the Natural Arch. (See the Map with directions).

Head towards the East either down I-40 or Route 66. At the junction of I-40, Old Route 66 and NM-117, head south along NM-117.

The road will take you into the badlands:

El Malpais, National Monument and National Conservation Area

The badlands of El Malpais are protected as both a National Monument and a National Conservation Area. You can reach them through two different and separate routes: From Grants, south through San Rafael along NM-53 or, to the southeast, along NM-117. Between both roads lie the lava fields of the badlands. Below we describe the National Conservation Area along NM-117.


The Spanish words "Mal" and "País" mean "Bad" and "Country" respectivley, hence: "Badlands", an appropriate name for the lava slag that covers most of the region.


Lava Flows

The Zuni-Bandera Volcanic Field spans this part of New Mexico, and the Grants lava flow is the youngest flow in the field and one of the youngest in the 48 contiguous United States.

The flow came from a volcano located 25 mi (40 km) south of Grants, and when it reached the San Jose River it turned eastwards for another 6 mi (10 km) down the valley.

Only 3,000 years old

The lava has been dated to between 2910 and 3080 years ago. And this is interesting: there is an Indian legend about it!

The Pueblo people tell about a river of fire in the San Jose River Valley, so they must have witnessed the outflow.

El Malpais National Conservation Area

The Official Website has fulll information.

Created in 1987, the El Malpais National Conservation Area (NCA) protects the environment as well as cultural resources in the "Badlands" of Grants Lava Flows.

There are many sights that include canyons, sandstone cliffs, the famous La Ventana Natural Arch (Ventana is "Window" in Spanish) and much more.

Ideal for hiking, trekking and picnics.

Ventana Arch in the Malpais, near Grants New Mexico

Rock arch, near Grants New Mexico
Ventana Rock Arch near Grants New Mexico, Lee , click on image for Street View

Head south from the junction of Route 66 and I-40 along NM-117. After 9 miles, The road will lead to the Malpais ranger Station, Joe Skeen Camping area (11 mi.), and The Natural Arch of La Ventana. Further south there are several trails leading to Hole In The Wall, Lobo Canyon and Homestead Canyon.

La Ventana Natural Arch

Visible from the road (there is also a short primitive trail). It is the second largest of New Mexico's natural arches (135 ft. - 41 m), it is an arch eroded in the sandstone that dates back to the Age of the Dinosaurs.

The Old alignment of Route 66 near Grants

route 66 shield New Mexico

Route 66 Near Grants

1926 Alignment near Grants

Route 66 passed through Grants as Santa Fe Avenue in its 1926 and later alignments.

Historic segment of Route 66 from McCartys to Grants

Route 66, Cibola county, 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. See a Map of the McCartys - Grants Segment.

Originally aligned along the National Old Trails Highway which later was NM-6, Route 66 was created in 1926,. The roadbuilding was an engineering challenge when it was built as it crossed the basaltic flows of the Malpais badlands. New Deal programs during the Great Depression improved the road and paved it between 1935 and 1936. A steel pony truss bridge was built in 1936 across the San Jose River (see the Bridge location (see map).

In 1956, I-40 replaced the road, which became its south frontage road between Grants and the junction of I-40 and NM-117.

The Historic Segment

Route 66 did not enter McCartys, it curved around its north and western side, bypassing it.

To reach the historic segment, head west from McCartys along Pueblo Rd. until reaching Route 66. Take a left; the old road will cross the San Jose River. It is NM-124 and the frontage road on the south side of I-40. After 2 mi., is the 1936 steel bridge across San Jose River.

The road goes through Anzac, once again crosses the River and passes under I-40 (4.2 mi). It continues west on the north side of the Interstate. At Exit 89, the junction of NM-117, I-40 and Route 66, it takes a course that separates it from I-40, heading towards the NW, crossing the River again and the railway tracks via an overpass (6.9 mi).

It turns west and meets NM-117 at the eastern tip of Grants (10.6 mi) reaching the downtown district (1st and Santa Fe Ave.) 12.1 mi. west of Grants.

> > See the previous segment Laguna to McCartys

> > See the next segment Grants to Thoreau.

National and State Parks

There are several parks in the are surrounding Grants. We have described some in the day-tours above.

El Malpais National Conservation Area

Further up, we detail the El Malpais National Conservation Area with its incredible La Ventana Natural Arch.

El Malpais National Monument

Stop by the Visitor Center just off I-40 at Exit 85.

The El Malpais National Monument is managed by the U.S. National Park Service. It is adjacent to the El Malpais National Conservation Area.

Visit the Official website for more details.

The El Malpais NPS Information Center is located on NM-53, 28 mi south of I-40.

Passing the Information Center, on the south side of the road is the Bandera Crater and Ice Caves ... private.

The Ice Cave

Known to the Pueblo Indians as the Winter Lake it is a lava cave that is always cooler than 31°F, so the rain water that seeps in, freezes. It has an ice layer that began forming in 1100 A.D.

Bandera Volcano

A 10,000 year-old volcano with a crater 1,400 feet wide and 800 ft. deep (427 m x 244 m). Bandera means "flag" in Spanish.

Cibola National Forest

Mt Taylor Ranger District, 1800 Lobo Canyon Rd.; Grants, NM. (505) 2878833. Official Website

The Cibola National Forest and National Grasslands spans several locations covering 1.6 million acres in New Mexico, Texas, and Oklahoma.

Here we describe the area closest to Route 66 in Grants, Mount Taylor District, further east, beyond Albuquerque are the Sandia and the Mountainair Ranger Districts (more information on these two: Cibola Sandia and Mountanair).

There are two mountain ranges within the Mt. Taylor Ranger District: to the north Mt. Taylor and to the south, the Zuni Mountains. They cover 520,000 acres of land.

Bluewater Lake State Park

25 mi. west of Grants. Read more at Bluewater Lake State Park. Ideal for fishing, hiking and watching wildlife. RV Campground.

Accommodation Search box:


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Banner image: The Dead Man's Curve, Laguna, NM by Perla S. Eichenblat.

City website

Harold L. James, The History of Fort Wingate.

Paul Milan, 2013. History: The Way We Were - The Milan Motel.

Geologic Map of the Zuni-Bandera Volcanic Field.

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.

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

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