Santa Rosa, New Mexico


After driving across the dry and dusty plains, Santa Rosa is surprisingly wet.  Called the “City of Natural Lakes”, Santa Rosa has several lakes, including the “Blue Hole” which is popular with scuba divers.  There’s also a man-made lake north of town, formed by a dam along the Pecos River.

If you stick to Route 66, there’s a good chance you will miss all of that water.  You will, however, be able to enjoy a lot of great neon, and get a close-up look at some famous Route 66 relics.

The original, pre-1937 alignment of Route 66 ran south of Interstate 40.  You can’t follow it now, because part of the road is on private land, and another section is now part of the runway at the Route 66 Municipal Airport.  The post-1937 alignment follows US Hwy. 54, and the I-40 Business Loop.

The awesome neon sign at the Sun ‘n Sand Motel has been recently restored. It’s one of the first signs you’ll see, after you exit (or cross) I-40, and the Business Loop begins.

The La Mesa Motel is also still in business.  Not far away is the historic La Loma Motel, which appears to be a good choice, if you’re looking for a well-maintained classic motel.

Sadly, one legendary Route 66 business that didn’t survive is the Club Cafe.  The restaurant’s towering neon sign still stands…

… above what’s now an empty parking lot, littered with the remnants of some of the restaurant’s other signs.

This sign used to be displayed above the Club Cafe’s front door.  Now, its plastic letters are shattered…

… as it leans up against a wall at the edge of the parking lot.  The Club Cafe was famous for its “fat man” logo, which is now in use at another restaurant, “Joseph’s”, also on Route 66.  The owners of Joseph’s planned to purchase the Club Cafe and re-open it, but found that the old building was in too bad a shape to rehabilitate.

You can still see the original “fat man” sign on display at the Route 66 Auto Museum in Santa Rosa.  There, you’ll also find more than 30 classic cars, and of course, a Route 66 gift shop.  Visit the museum’s website for more info.

This just in: the sign at the Santa Rosa News needs a lot of attention.

West of Santa Rosa, the pre-1937 alignment of Route 66 used to run diagonally from what is now I-40 (at exit 267), to the community of Dilia on US-84.  This section of the old road is either on private land or has been abandoned.  You’ll need to continue on I-40 to US Hwy. 84, then head north.  The post-1937 alignment bypasses Santa Fe altogether, and heads straight for Albuquerque.  Much of this alignment is now buried underneath I-40, so you’ll need to stay on the interstate. 

Since I didn’t have time to head any further west on this trip (I still had to drive back to St. Louis to return the rental car!) I decided to follow the original alignment of Route 66 up to Santa Fe, then start the return trip.  That meant leaving I-40 behind, and taking US 84 north.

US 84 starts out flat…

… but eventually some hills appear, marking the point where you leave the plains behind, and the landscape becomes more interesting.

Note: This trip was first published in 2008.

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