When I was elected as the new President of the Oklahoma Route 66 Association, I also became a board member of the Route 66 Road Ahead Partnership. This nationwide group just entered their third year of operation and their annual board meeting took place last weekend in Albuquerque, New Mexico. After taking the Mustang in for a check-up, I packed a bag and headed towards the Land of Enchantment.
Driving all the way from Tulsa to ABQ in one day is doable, but not advisable. I spent a quiet Wednesday night in Shamrock, TX (The Western Motel, right across from the U-Drop Inn, is comfortable and economical) and continued early Thursday morning. Rather than head straight west, though, I took a detour through the Texas panhandle for a very important stop.
When my mother was a little girl, her family lived in Pampa Texas. I’d recently come into possession of a few old photographs from that time with a street name on the back – but no specific address. Using Google Maps, I found where the photos had been taken…but the street view was way outdated. I had no way to know if the house still stood.
Thankfully, it was still there – and I was able to take a few photographs. I also drove by the site where my grandfather once owned a service station – though today it’s a Braum’s. I bought a coffee and went on my way.
The next place I stopped, just over the border in New Mexico, was a small town called Nara Visa. In 2000, it supposedly had a population of 112…but that number feels really inflated in 2019. The only signs of life came from the occasional car coming through on Highway 54. The truck stop was closed, the bar was shuttered, and one of the motels had collapsed.
I soon found myself in Tucumcari, but I wasn’t quite ready to settle on a straight shot to my destination. Instead, I took the 1926-1938 alignment of Route 66 northwest to Las Vegas, NM. The road through the mountains was a beauty; a recent snowfall cloaked the ground in sun-shaded spots. By the time the road took me past Santa Fe, though, the weather had warmed and all the ground was dry.
I took the off-ramp once more at Tewa Pueblo so I could cross off another stop on my map. The Santo Domingo Trading Post dates back to 1922 and enjoyed a spot on that original Route 66 alignment for a little over a decade. The trading post survived after the Main Street of America was re-routed, though, and it served the community until the owner passed away in 1995. Six years later, a fire nearly claimed the site but it has since been mostly restored.
Finally, after a long (good) day of driving, I arrived in Albuquerque. My home for the next few days was the El Vado Motel – a remarkably resuscitated roadside relic.
The El Vado was essentially abandoned when the city took over some years back. Parts of the adobe were caving in and the parking lot was filled weeds rather than tourists. Today it’s a stunning example of 21st Century vision. The parking lot was turned into a large, lounging patio area (complete with swimming pool – a vanishing amenity). The front few rooms have been converted into “food pods”, basically small restaurant spaces. Several other rooms hold retail shops and a tap room sits adjacent to the main office. Reminds me a bit of Mother Road Market back home, actually.
And the rooms – marvelous! They have been restored using the same building methods and materials as were used back when the motel was originally built in the 1920s. Although the covered garages were converted to additional rooms, they were designed with history in mind. They are fronted with deeply-tinted glass to simulate those car ports of long ago. There’s even an event space in the back. The restored neon sign out front is the icing on the cake.
It’s the perfect place for a bit of rest – or a bit of work, as was the case for me. The next few days would be full of introductions, revelations, exploration, and recommendation. But all of that will have to wait for another post.