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Murals, Mesas and the Mother-Road

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By Wayne Lazarus on June 14th, 2010

Categories: Linda's Travel Articles

Tucumcari is the first medium-sized town that drivers encounter on either I-40 or US 54 as they drive into New Mexico from Texas. Besides being the “Gateway to New Mexico,” this historic and picturesque community offers a number of reasons to take a break from highway travel and get a closer look at the countryside.

The town was originally a tent city named Ragtown. It later was renamed Six Shooter Siding. When the railroad came through, it was officially re-named Tucumcari, after the mountain just south of the settlement. There are varying stories about the origin of the mountain’s name — that it meant “to lie in wait” because the Comanche used it as a lookout, or “place of the buffalo hunt” due to the use an earlier tribe put it to. A tourist favorite is that it unites the names of star-crossed Apache lovers.tucmt

For a closer look at its history, visit the Tucumcari Historical Museum, housed in a 1903 schoolhouse with both indoor and outdoor exhibits. Another interesting look at the area can be seen at the Mesalands Community College Dinosaur Museum, with its collection of life-sized brass dinosaur skeletons and a wide selection of fossils and minerals.

If the museums give you a hunger to get closer to the landscape, take the Mesalands Scenic Byway, a 109-mile route that will take you to the outdoor recreational areas of Ute Lake, Santa Roasas Lake and Chonchas State Park. You’ll see the Saddleback Mesa, former hideout to Black Jack Ketchum, a famous train robber. The many other mesas here add to the unique beauty of this area. Ribbons of color on the steep sides represent the various periods of the Triassic Jurassic and Cretaceous periods, Fossils abound in the area.

tee pee curio neonBack in Tucumcari, be sure and take note of the 35 murals in town. The rattlesnake on the water tower represents the high school mascot. Tucumcari is on the original Route 66, so while some of the landmarks may look straight out of the fifties, they are preserved that way in honor of the historic “mother road.” A graveled part of the road is still traveled, east of town. Make your plans to stop overnight so you can experience a little “road food” from a diner that looks out onto the nostalgic neon-lit highway.

(Photos: Courtesy Tucumcari Chamber of Commerce. Used with permission.)

1 Comments Total

Tourist Attractions - August 25, 2010 at 7:37 pm

Route 66 came into its own during the Depression years, when hundreds of thousands of migrants escaping the Dust Bowl slogged west in beat-up jalopies painted with “California or bust” signs. Meanwhile unemployed young men were hired to pave the final stretches of muddy road. They completed the job, as it turns out, just in time for WWII. Hitchhiking soldiers and factory workers rode the road next. Then, amid the jubilant postwar boom, Americans took their new-found optimism and wealth on the road, essentially inventing the modern driving vacation. And so the era of “getting your kicks on Route 66” was born. Traffic flowed busily in both directions. But just as the Mother Road hit her stride, President Dwight Eisenhower, inspired by the German autobahn, proposed a new interstate system for the USA. Slowly but surely, each of Route 66’s 2200 miles was bypassed. Towns became ghosts and traffic ground nearly to a halt. By 1984, the road was history.
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