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Last Updated: . By Austin Whittall

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The Owl Rock and Dead Man's curve are here

Mesita a small village in the Laguna Reservation, next to Route 66. It has two remarkable landmarks: the Owl Rock and the Dead Man's Curve.

Enjoy a stop in Mesita New Mexico on your Route 66 Road Trip.

Route 66, the "Old" The Santa Fe Loop
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< Head West
Budville ¦ Paraje ¦ Laguna

Head East >
Suwanee ¦ Albuquerque ¦ Carnuel

Route 66 in Mesita NM

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About Mesita, New Mexico

Facts, Trivia and useful information

Elevation: 5,669 ft (1,728 m). Population: 1,214 (2023).
Time zone: Mountain (MST): UTC minus 7 hours. Summer (DST) MDT (UTC-6).

Mesita is a small village located on Route 66 in Cibola county, NM.

Owl Rock next to Route 66 in Mesita, NM

large owl-shaped rock on shoulder ahead, cliffs beyond, highway heads towards it
Owl Rock by Route 66 in Mesita NM. A. Whittall. Click for street view

The archaeological site of Sandia Cave shows that New Mexico has been inhabited for the last ten thousand years. In more recent times, the Native American people have lived in the valleys of the rivers that flow from the Rocky Mountains into the Rio Grande Basin, using the water to irrigate their crops of maize, squash and beans.

The first Europeans to visit this region were the Spanish of Francisco Vásquez de Coronado's expedition in 1540. They visited the nearby Acoma Pueblo. Later, when they finally annexed the area to their American Colonies in 1598, they subdued the Pueblo people by force and established missions to convert them to Catholicism. The Pueblo people expelled the Spaniards in 1680 (Pueblo Revolt), but they were defeated and reconquered in 1692.

The nearby Indian pueblo of Laguna was established in 1697. In 1821, after Mexico gained its independence from Spain it took possession of New Mexico, but ceded it to the U.S. after being defeated in the Mexican - American War (1846-48).

Mesita was established on the south bank of the San Jose River (also known as Cubero River), a tributary of the Rio Puerco in the 1870s by a faction that split from the Laguna Pueblo people.

The split was due to the growth of Protestant Christianity in the area after the arrival of the Baptists in 1850 and the Presbyterians in the 1870s.

The town's Native name is "Tsé Ch' ééhii", which means "Red Rocks Pointing out horizontally".

In the 1880s the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad reached the area and extended its tracks from Albuquerque towards Gallup. Its station was named "El Rito".

Origin of the name Mesita

The word is Spanish and means "Small Mesa". A "Mesa" is a plateau (the word means "Table" in Spanish).

Rito is a colloquial Spanish word used in New Mexico as a short form for "tiny river" (riito, diminutive of r&iaute;o -river), and basically means "Sping" don't confuse with the correct meaning for rito whic is "rite" (as in ceremony).

The San Jose River was once known as "Arroyo del Rito" or "Spring Stream". And the ranch at El Rito was known as "El Riito del Pino" (Spring of the pine tree).

In 1926, Route 66 was aligned along the "Old National Trails" which linked Gallup, Laguna and Mesita with Los Lunas and Albuquerque. It remained on the alignment and even today the old US 66 can be driven on, close to the town. Interstate 40 was built just to the west of Route 66 and you can access the town from Exit 117.

To the east of Mesita is the San Jose River and behind the river rises the Mesa Gigante. advertisement

Where to Stay: Hotels in Mesita

Neighboring Albuquerque has plenty of lodging options for those driving along Route 66, you can book a hotel or motel in town:

>> Book your Hotel in neighboring Albuquerque or in Acoma Pueblo

More Lodging Near Mesita along Route 66

Below is a list some of the towns along Route 66 east and west of Mesita, click on any of the links to find your hotel in each of these towns.

Heading West in NM and AZ

Heading East

The Santa Fe Route 66 segment

Find your room in neighboring Albuquerque

>> There are RV campgrounds near Mesita in Paraje

The weather in Mesita

Route 66 in Mesita NM; location map

Location of Mesita on Route 66

Mesita is located just west of the Rio Grande Valley. Its climate is dry and sunny (278 sunny days per year) with a low relative humidity. There are large swings between day and night temperatures, even in summer.

Average High ⁄ Low Temperatures during summer (Jul.) are: 92 ⁄ and 65 °F (33 ⁄ 18 °C) respectively. The average high and low in winter (Jan) are about: 47 ⁄ and 24 °F (8 ⁄ -4 °C)

Summers are hot and winters are cold. Rainfall falls mostly during the summer monsoon season (July through September), and adds up to about 11 in. per year (279 mm). Snowfall is quite low: around 10 inches (25 cm) per year.

Tornado risk

The tornado risk in Mesita is nil: Cibola County has no Tornado watches. The area west of this point has no tornado events.

Tornado Risk: read more about Tornado Risk along Route 66.

Map U.S. 66 in Mesita New Mexico

Into Mesita along Route 66

This is the Map from Suwanee to Mesita. It carried Route 66 from 1926 until the 1950s when a four lane upgrade was built where I-40 is now located. The western tip of this segment meets I-40 on the south side of Mesita at where Sparrow Hawk Rd crosses it. After this point, the original 1926 alignment it is overlaid by the freeway (blue line in our custom map). The highway passes beside the western side of the village of Mesita.

The original roadbed: Route 66 just west of Suwanee, NM heading towards Mesita:

Old road with cracked tar cover heading across flat shrublands, Route 66 in Suwanee, New Mexico
The old highway: Route 66 in Suwanee NM. A. Whittall

Owl Rock

You will have to take Exit 117 to cross to the northeastern side of the Freeway to continue your journey. Ahead, 1.7 mi. west of Mesita along Old Route 66 (see this Map and directions) is Owl Rock; we describe it further down. It is a rock formation on the eastern side of the road that actually looks like an owl.

1926 to 40s alignment

Keep on along Route 66 for another 0.7 mi. and drive the "deadly" Dead Man's Curve described furhter down where the road curves 270° around a cliff. It is 2.4 mi. west of Mesita along Old Route 66 (see this Map marking the spot).

1932 to 1985 Route 66

Due to the dangers of Dead Man's Curve, a new straighter alignment was built in 1932. It was described by Rittenhouse in 1946 and you can see it in this 1951 aerial photo), we marked it with a yellow line in our custom map. It runs in a staight line from Owl Rock to Laguna.

This is the older 1926-40s alignment map with the road from Mesita into Laguna including Owl Rock and Dead Man's Curve. Both alignments meet at Laguna next to Exit 114 in Laguna.

Route 66 Alignment near Mesita

With maps and full information of the old roadway.

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.

Mesita: its Attractions

Mesita: Owl Rock, Dead Man's Curve

Historic Context

Jack Rittenhouse in his 1946 classic Guidebook to Route 66, mentioned Mesita as follows:

... the highway enters upon an area of richly colored desert and mesa... you will notice MESITA VILLAGE off to the right. This cluster of homes is not on US 66 and has no facilities for the traveler... The countryside looks much as it did in the days when Coronado wandered through here seeking the fabled cities of gold. Rittenhouse (1946)

We will cross the town from east to west. Drive west from Suwanee along the 1926-50s Route 66, cross the freeway to its north side using the overpass at Sparrow Hawk Rd. Ahead at Mesita Rd., to your right is the access to the small village. Head west along the Frontage Rd.

Owl Rock

magazine page with photo of Owl Rock and article about it

The article about Owl Rock in Route magazine

Remarkable Natural Formation

This rock is located 1.7 mi. west of Mesita along Old Route 66 (see this Map and directions).

It is a 20 foot tall sandstone formation on the eastern side of the road (right side heading from Mesita towards Laguna), that looks like an owl.

We were interviewed for an article, Owl Rock a Natural Wonder, published on page 39 of the Feb-Mar 2021 issue of Route magazine. In the article I mentioned that there were only two animal-shaped natural rock formations close to Route 66, on its shoulder. Both were located in New Mexico. This one has survived, the other in Carnuel was taken down (Elephant Rock).

Below is a 1940s postcard describing it as "Owl Rock on Highway U.S. 66 About 40 Miles West of Albuquerque, N. Mex."

color linnen postcard, US 66 runs on the left side and a large owl-shaped rock on shoulder to the right, cliffs beyond
1940s postscard of Owl Rock by Route 66 in Mesita NM. Source

It is part of the same rock formation to the west, and it seems that the highway was aligned right by it on purpose. Below is a picture we took in 2016, driving west:

photo taken through the winshield of a car, showing the highway and to the right, a large owl-shaped rock on the shoulder
Owl Rock by Route 66. Perla Eichenblat

US 66 Shields painted on the Roadway

Just ahead you will see the U.S. 66 shields painted on the highway see map, ´pictured below.

This one is just past the "Dead Man's curve" between Mesita and Laguna, New Mexico

Close up of painted US 66 shield
US 66 painted on the tarmac, Mesita NM.

> > Learn more about the Shields Painted on Route 66

Fork in the alignments

Here the 1926-32 highway curves to the west and the later and straighter 1932-1985 road continued with a SE to NW course as shown in our custom map with a yellow line.

This road avoided the dangerous Dead Mans curve just ahead but, as Rittenhouse in 1946 mentioned, three miles west of Mesita there was a "short, steep hill going up west here, in a cut through a mesa." You can see this road in the postcard further up and in the image below. Now I-40's westbound lanes run where the old roadbed was.

I-40 to the left, old 66 to the right, a sandstone cliff and hill ahead, lines and shaded tint mark the original alignment of Route 66

The 1932 alignment of US66 in Mesita. Click for St. view

Dead Man's Curve Satellite view and highlighted in red

Satellite View of the Dead Man's Curve at Mesita. Click for view

Dead Man's Curve

The narrow canyon of the river is closed in by red colored sandstone bluffs, and the road runs between the cliff and the river. There are great views of the red sandstone rocks on the sheer walls of the mesa.

At the northern tip of the mesa the river curves sharply around it, and so does the old Route 66; it takes a long curve around a mesa switching its south-to-north direction for an east-to-west one, and does so by following a circular curve that spans 270° as can be seen in the image above.
It was a much cheaper option for roadbuilders than cutting through the sandstone. But, as the curve's name shows, a not very safe option for unwary drivers.

The "deadly" Dead Man's Curve is 0.7 miles west of Owl Rock, and 2.4 mi. west of Mesita along Old Route 66 (see this Map with directions).

Dead Man's Curve between Mesita and Laguna

cliff ahead as highway curves aound it. Yellow road sign warns of dangers: Dead Man's Curve between Mesita and Laguna on Route 66 in New Mexico
Dead Man's Curve between Mesita and Laguna on Route 66, NM.P. Eichenblat.

Continue your Road Trip

Your Route 66 itinerary through Mesita ends here. You can continue your Route 66 road trip by heading west into the next town, Laguna NM. advertisement

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>> Book your Hotel in Albuquerque

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Banner image: Hackberry General Store, Hackberry, Arizona by Perla Eichenblat
Jack DeVere Rittenhouse, (1946). A Guide Book to Highway 66.

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