The Big T and Colorful Signs

Tucumcari is a small town in northeastern New Mexico. It is located along the modern day Interstate 40 and the historic Route 66. The town is the first town of significance in New Mexico if you’re driving west bound from Texas. For the Route 66 enthusiasts, the town is a higlight of any road trip as there are many businesses along the main road through the town that have colorful neon signs outside the stores. The town is often considered as among the best representation of what Route 66 was like in its heyday with many stores and motels along the way that provide unique merchandise or services to the travelers on the route.

I first learned about Tucumcari when I was researching Route 66 before the road trip. There were several Route 66 landmarks in Tucumcari that many suggested to look for, such as the Tepee Curios shop that had an entrance shaped like — you guessed it — a tepee, and the Blue Swallow Motel, a local motel with a neon sign outside that had been photographed in many Route 66 literature. These landmarks were among the many that served as inspirations when the Pixar animators created the fictional town of Radiator Springs in the movie Cars. There was also a big T sign on the Tucumcari Mountain that can be seen from the Interstate highway as well as from the town. This was the inspiration for similar vista behind Radiator Springs in the movie (with the big with RS on the side of the mountain).

We reached Tucumcari after a few hours drive from Santa Fe. I remembered the drive on Interstate 40 prior to reaching Tucumcari because, well, I didn’t want to remember it. It was driving on a long stretch of very straight highway that seemed to continue forever to the horizon, and the sun was shining through the windshield and it got really warm after a while at the front seat. The combination of warm and somewhat boring ride meant I had a challenging time to keep myself from falling asleep. So it was quite a nice relief reaching Tucumcari and stopping at a local gas station to fuel up and freshen up with some nice cold drinks. I suppose that’s part of the experience of doing such road trip. The sight of a town with a gas station selling fuel for both the car and the passengers, as well as options to stop for a meal, shopping souvenirs, or even staying overnight are quite welcomed by the travelers. And for the locals, they welcomed the travelers as to some, these were the main source of income.

Aside for taking photos of some of the landmarks that we passed on the drive, we ended up just continuing our drive to our next destination. I thought that brief drive and visit through this small town really drove the point about the impact of the Interstate Highway on the livelihood of towns that were previously dependent on being on the Mother Road. I’m glad we took the little ‘detour’ to exit the Interstate highway to see the town, rather than just driving pass it on the Interstate like most of the modern travelers do.

Below is a photo of the Tepee Curios shop, one of the landmark businesses on Route 66 in Tucumcari. It was like a scavenger hunt driving through the town and looking left and right for these landmarks that we read in the guidebooks.

Tepee Curios

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