Route 66 graffiti painted cars at Cadilac Ranch in Amarillo Texas

Route 66 from New Mexico to Texas

Join me on this unique Route 66 roadtrip as I unravel the rich nostalgic history of this iconic highway, also known as The Mother Road. In Part 2 of this exploration, I will venture from New Mexico to Texas. Along the way, I will delve into the history of several roadside attractions and landmarks. I will share the stories I uncovered from the legacy of this amazing highway before heading back home to Nashville. Be sure to read Part 1 here if you missed it!

In Gallup, we grabbed some dinner, and I headed to the hotel room for the night. The next morning, we needed to make up for lost time due to the snow in Albuquerque. Donnie needed to get the bus back on Sunday afternoon, so we drove all day to make up for lost time before stopping in the town of Santa Rosa, New Mexico.

Lettie’s Restaurant, Santa Rosa, New Mexico

Our first quick stop was an old run-down restaurant referred to as the “Route 66 Restaurant” Lettie’s was run by the Velasquez family from 1986 to 2019, when it closed for good. The bright yellow diamond-lettered signage is a Route 66 icon.

La Mesa Motel, Santa Rosa, New Mexico

Next was the La Mesa Motel, built in 1938, in its prime the neon sign brightly attracted tired travelers seeking a room.

I learned of an interesting story in The New York Times about how a singer-songwriter who sang about UFOs vanished without a trace soon after checking into the La Mesa Motel. Jim Sullivan was an LA folk singer who sang about aliens on his 1969 debut album. He was known to hang out with Hollywood actors, including his friend Dennis Hopper of the movie “Easy Rider.” 

As the story goes on March 4, 1975, at the age of 35 Jim left LA for Nashville in his VW Bug in hopes of escalating his songwriting career. The next day he called his wife to check in acting a bit odd, Jim disappeared the next day. His wife learned that Jim had been pulled over for allegedly driving under the influence but passed a sobriety test. He checked into the La Mesa Motel in Santa Rosa that night but the bed was never slept in.

On March 8, Jim’s car was found 24 miles south of town with his ID, some of his albums, and his 12-string guitar. His body was never found and some believe he may have been abducted by aliens.

Esso Gas Station, Santa Rosa, New Mexico

Next to La Mesa is the run-down Esso Gas Station from the mid-1960s. The “Happy Motoring!” signage with vintage pumps under a canopy in the foreground feels like something out of a ghost town. An old Coca-Cola machine offering drinks for 75 cents sits in front next to an ice machine. Signage showcasing maps available, Bank America Charge, and Mastercard payments accepted reveal a time when things seemed much simpler.

Motel Safari, Tucumcari, New Mexico

A little less than an hour down the road we pulled off the interstate to visit the town of Tucumcari where the neon signs and vintage motels seemed to showcase the historical spirit of Route 66. As we walked around the streets, there were several places to photograph all within walking distance.

The Motel Safari was built and designed in 1959 by motel developer Chester Dohrer using a Googie-themed architectural style. Its quirky geometric signage, counter-stacked brick facade, and dripped brick mortar make it uniquely stand out as something from the past.

Blue Swallow Motel, Tucumcari, New Mexico

Not far down the street was the Blue Swallow Motel. Built by carpenter W.A. Huggins in 1939, it was opened in 1940. It is one of the longest continuously operated motels along Route 66 in New Mexico. The blue swallow bird symbolizes love, comfort, loyalty, and safety. Its glowing neon sign offering “100% Refrigerated Air” and “TV” is as iconic as the drive-in rooms off to the back and side of the main office. Its pink stucco walls and bright blue neon sign make it one of the most popular places along the strip to take photos.  

Tee Pee Curios, Tucumcari, New Mexico

Across the street, the Tee Pee Curios souvenir shop (orTePee on the neon outside) has changed over several times as have many of the businesses along Route 66. Built in 1944 it was originally a Gulf Gas Station, then Leland Haynes Grocery, Meats & Curious in 1948, and in 1960 Jene’s Trading Post. The gas pumps were removed and the unusual Tee Pee door was added when the highway was widened around 1959. Today it offers all kinds of Native Indian and Route 66 souvenirs.

Johnny’s Conoco Gas Station, Tucumcari, New Mexico

These cool restored gas pumps caught my eye and I had to stop for a photo.

Palomino Motel, Tucumcari, New mexico

My final stop as the sky was turning dark was the brightly lit Palomino Motel. Opened in 1953 by James & Gladys Hyde, this motel sign brightened the street with its changing green, yellow, pink, and purple neon lights against the sunset of the New Mexico sky.

As the sun set casting beautiful pink clouds against the blue sky we got back on the bus and traveled east leaving New Mexico before stopping just west of Amarillo for the night. I was beginning to realize how much more time I wanted to explore these places and how little time I felt he had to showcase the true spirit and history of this highway. As I fell asleep I felt a little sad that it was all coming to an end. We had hundreds of miles to get back home and only a short time left to get there.


Cadillac Ranch, Amarillo, Texas

The next morning we stopped on the west side of Amarillo to visit Cadillac Ranch. This easily accessible roadside public attraction has gained popularity over the years making it a significant symbol of American roadside culture. It has been referenced in various music, literature, and film projects including Pixar’s Cars movie. 

It is an art installation that was created in 1974 by a group of artists based in San Francisco known as the Ant Farm. The idea was to create an interactive art configuration to pay homage to the American automobile culture. Incorporating the Route 66 Main Street of America symbolism of adventure and freedom, ten Cadillac cars were half-buried nose-first in the ground at an angle. The idea was to correspond to the Great Pyramid of Giza. 

This unusual art project was funded by billionaire Stanley Marsh III who wanted to create an unusual thought-provoking piece of art in his hometown of Amarillo. Born in 1938, Marsh inherited wealth from his family’s oil and gas fortune allowing him to pursue his unique and often eccentric interests. Although he was a banker his true passions were art and philanthropy.

As we got off the bus and walked through the gate towards the cars, it was obvious it had rained recently. Within minutes we all had layers of mud stuck like glue on and around the bottom of our shoes. The mud was so thick we would later have to take off our shoes before Donny would allow us back on the bus. 

Visitors are encouraged to use spray paint from an onsite vendor to interact with the cars by adding graffiti. This process allows an ever-changing and evolving piece of artwork to morph over time. It is exactly what the creators had hoped would happen when they dreamed up the idea.

We spent about an hour walking around the display or cars shooting photos, video, and drone footage. From there we drove through Amarillo with little time to spare.

Leaning Water Tower, Groom, Texas

As we passed by the Leaning Water Tower, in Groom Texas, I was able to capture it in the distance from the bus window. Constructed in 1983 by local Ralph Britten, the tower legs were intentionally bulldozed to tilt 10 degrees attracting travelers to his truck stop and travel center. In 1985 the truckstop was destroyed in an electrical fire but the memorable tilting water tower still stands along Route 66 for passing motorists to see.

Conoco Tower Station and U-Drop Inn Cafe, Shamrock, Texas

Our last stop was the Conoco Tower Station and U-Drop Inn Cafe in the town of Shamrock. Built in 1936, it served as a prominent stopping point for travelers along the famous highway. In its prime, it offered food, lodging, and a friendly atmosphere for weary travelers. The building was restored in the 21st century and now serves as a museum and visitor center.

Unfortunately, it was closed when we stopped but we enjoyed taking some pictures and looking around. We missed the cool nighttime lights but I loved the Art Deco architectural-styled building, distinctive tower, and colorful geometric decor. 


The rest of our travels were spent looking out the windows of the bus and taking turns sitting in the front seat to talk with Donny as he drove the remaining 845 miles back to Nashville. We passed through Oklahoma, spent the night outside of Little Rock Arkansas, and drove through Memphis, Tennessee before making it back home in Nashville.

From Arizona’s picturesque Grand Canyon to the unusual art experience of Cadillac Ranch, there was no shortage of cool things to see and appreciate along this historical highway. Our trip despite not being long enough was something I will always cherish.

From cultural significance to classic Americana, Route 66 has it all. It’s a reminiscent symbol of American culture, a testament to resilience, and is considered to be the most famous highway in the world. 

Route 66 maintains its appeal through a combination of nostalgia, historical relevance, and captivating experiences. The “Mother Road of America” remains a symbol of the classic American road trip with a glimpse into the nation’s history.

The countless classic motels, gas stations, and trading posts, made this road trip unforgettable. I plan to do much more exploring on this unique highway from the past in the near future. I hope that you enjoyed reading about my journey. I would love it if you would share it with your friends. 

The Creative Push Vlog on YouTube

You can watch my Route 66 travel vlog Part 2 from Arizona to New Mexico in this video. If you missed Part 1 you can watch it here!

The Creative Push Podcast

You can listen to my Route 66 travel vlog Part 2 from Arizona to New Mexico here or on The Creative Push Podcast! If you missed Part 1 you can listen here!

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