A thriving rail town in the early 1900s, Tucumcari rapidly evolved into a popular roadside stop once Route 66 was inaugurated in 1926. Visitors came by the carloads to explore the West, as “Tucumcari Tonight” billboards lined the route and enticed folks to stay a spell. Today the old Mother Road still passes through the once vibrant Tucumcari business district, but Interstate 40 largely bypasses this one-time roadside rest.
That said, thanks to an enthusiastic local community, visitors can now hop off the interstate and enjoy the charm of yesteryear, with one of the largest collections of murals in the Southwest, an intact strip of the Mother Road, and a gaggle of nostalgic museums. Not only is Tucumcari the perfect New Mexico road trip stop, but thanks to access upgrades and renovations over the years, it’s also an excellent choice for wheelchair-users and slow walkers.
Dubbed “The City of Murals” by the locals, Tucumcari boasts over 50 murals throughout the town. And although many works depict historic events or Route 66 scenes, they’ve all been painted in the last 20 years. The bulk of the artwork is the creation of artist Doug Quarle, who relocated from Louisiana to Tucumcari in 2003. Seeing the blank walls throughout town as a canvas for his creations, he set to work over the next 10 years to paint the colorful murals — some of which are realistic, while others are a bit more playful.
The largest concentration of murals is located in the five block section between Main Street and High Street, and along the Tucumcari section of Route 66. And although the section of Main Street between First Street and 3rd Street is fairly level and easy to navigate in a wheelchair, best bet is to drive around and scout out the other murals, as level sidewalks and curb-cuts are sporadic throughout the rest of town.
Still if you walk or roll along Main Street, you can easily spot a patriotic scene on the VFW building, and a map of Route 66 on the side of the building next door. And although the structure is in poor repair, you can still catch a glance at the Welcome to Tucumcari piece on the side of Lena’s Café. After that hop in your car and head down Third Street to catch the Blessed and Give Them a Head Start murals, then wind your way through the rest of the downtown area. And don’t miss the nostalgic collection on the south wall of Tucumcari Lumber.
A Blast From the Past
Tucumcari is also a great stop for railroad buffs, as the Tucumcari Railroad Museum (www.tucumcarirailroadmuseum.org/) offers a historic look at the railroad, the town and the workers who made it all happen. Accessible parking is located near the entrance, with ramp access up to the museum in historic Union Station. The first passenger train arrived at this depot in 1902, and the last one left it in 1968; and as many as seven trains passed through daily during the 1950s.
Inside, there’s a good collection of photos, schedules, uniforms and even tools used on the old railcars. There are also exhibits about the troop trains during the Korean War and WWII, and the local Polly train that ran to the coal mines in Dawson. And when you leave, don’t miss the railroad mural on the Massey Building next door.
Another good museum — the Tucumcari Historical Museum (www.cityoftucumcari.com/museum/) — is located just a few blocks away on Adams Street. Accessible street parking is available, with ramp access up to the museum that’s housed in a 1903 schoolhouse. There’s plenty of room for a wheelchair to navigate on the first floor of the museum, but the basement and second floor only have stair access. Still there’s a treasure trove of artifacts on the first floor with everything from Native American artifacts and kitchen implements, to vintage quilts, a spinning wheel and even an 1891 typewriter.
Outside there’s level access over to a Southern Pacific Caboose, and ramp access to the fire house where you’ll find a 1926 Chevy fire engine and a good collection of Route 66 photos and memorabilia. Add in some farm equipment, a big red barn and a mural – Memories of the old Swimming Pool – and you have something for just about everyone at this eclectic museum.
Mother Road Memories
No trip to Tucumcari is complete without a cruise down the Mother Road. It’s pretty easy to find, just watch for the signs along Interstate 40 near town. It’s fun to cruise past the Blue Swallow Motel, Tee Pee Curios and Motel Safari, and it’s even better after dark when some of the old buildings turn on their neon lights. There’s also no shortage of murals along the main drag, so take your time to enjoy it all. And don’t miss the mural at Lowes Market – The Legendary Road – near 1st Street.
Save some time to stop at the New Mexico Route 66 Museum (www.nmrt66museum.org/), located behind the Convention Center, just off the main drag. Accessible parking is located near the door, and there’s plenty of room to roll around inside. This Tucumcari favorite is home to a collection of Michael Campanelli’s Route 66 photographs, that take visitors on a virtual Route 66 tour from California to Illinois. Add in some old Route 66 signs, a collection of vintage cars, and a stable of knowledgeable volunteers, and you have a roadside attraction that’s definitely worth a stop.
Spend the Night
Tucumcari is also a good place to spend the night, as several modern hotels are located near the 1st Street exit on Interstate 40. At the top of the list is the Best Western Discovery Inn (www.bestwestern.com/). Not only is it convenient, but it also has some nice wheelchair-accessible rooms.
There’s level access to the front lobby, with a barrier-free pathway over to the registration desk. Room 128 is located just a short walk away, with accessible parking in front. Access features include wide doorways, a lowered peephole, low-pile carpet and good pathway access.
Furnishings include two 29-inch high platform queen-sized beds with wheelchair access between them, a night table, a chest of drawers, a refrigerator, a microwave, and a table with two chairs. The bathroom has a full five foot turning radius, and it’s equipped with a tub/shower combination with grab bars, a hand-held showerhead and a movable shower bench. The toilet, which is located in a 34-inch wide alcove, has grab bars on the back and right walls (as seated), and the bathroom also has a roll-under sink and a lowered mirror.
Access to the public areas is also good, with barrier-free access to the lift-equipped pool, the lobby area and the breakfast room. And since this property is right off the interstate, it’s the perfect place to stop if Tucumcari Tonight is on your road trip itinerary.