Route 66 - Old New Mexico Ghosts

From Tucumcari traveling west, Route 66 lies under I-40 in places and runs beside it as a service road in other places, gently rolling along on the north side, crossing under to the south, and then back again. The landscape perfectly reflects the stereotypical desert southwest and dusty ghost towns lie every few miles like a string of fading jewels. With the weather perfect, the sky a deep blue, the bright sun shinning in our eyes, we lowered the sun visors in the truck and joined I-40 West at exit 329.

The Richardson's Store protected from vandals,
but still fading away.
Coming to the ghost town of Montoya, we stopped at the famous Richardson's Store. The store opened in 1908 and initially provided railroaders and ranchers with provision. It later expanded to serve the highway workers and travelers on Route 66.

In 1918, the state began improving the road between Tucumcari and Santa Rosa which lead to a substantial increase in traffic through town. In 1925, G. W. Richardson relocated his store across the railroad tracks to be closer to the road and in so doing, replaced the original wooden store with the current red sandstone building. This road eventually became part of Route 66.

During the 1930's and 1940's, Route 66 travelers found cold drinks and a cool picnic spot under the elm trees that shaded the Richardson Store. With a big portico out front to shade the windows and a recessed front door and high windows designed to let in light and a breeze, but not direct hot sunlight, the store was designed to be as cool as possible. Many locals as well as travelers bought sandwich makings and their favorite cold beverage to eat and relax a spell in the picnic grove next to the store. In addition to selling groceries and gasoline, Richardson also carried auto supplies, saddle blankets, work gloves, feed buckets and even windmill parts. Like a lot of other local stores in small towns, Richardson's also served as a community meeting spot with post office boxes and a postal service window.

In 1956, I-40 was built a couple of hundred yards south of the store. An interchange provided access for travelers, but the interstate caused a significant drop in business. The store hung on until the mid-1970's, but was finally closed. To protect the property from vandals, the windows were boarded over and a chain link fence was erected around it, but the winds of time are slowly taking their toll on the old girl.

Remnant from time gone by between
Montoya & Newkirk, NM.

Sorry, no more cold beer.

Interesting graffiti on an abandoned building.
Pay attention as you ride the highway through the plains here as it is full of history. For instance, it is along this stretch where you will pass over the famous Goodnight-Loving Trail along which cowboys herded thousands of head of cattle north to markets in Colorado and Wyoming.

Sad shell of the former Club Cafe - home of the best
biscuits & gravy in the Southwest.
A nice 12-mile drive west from Montoya will bring you into Santa Rosa on Will Rogers Drive. Santa Rosa itself is notorious for the vicious snow storms that suddenly pop up with regularity each winter. Supposedly, more motorists have been stranded in Santa Rosa than anywhere else west of St. Louis. If you come through here at night, it's a nice treat as there are still a decent number of neon signs which light the night sky. We came through in the late afternoon, too early for any of the signs to be lit up. Maybe on our next trip through here, we'll time it a bit better.

One of the things that is no longer open is the Club Cafe. From its opening in 1935, this landmark served thousands of Route 66 travelers and locals with good food and good service at good prices. Many proclaimed this place to have the best biscuits and gravy in the Southwest. Now for me, that would have been something to stop for! Once passed by I-40 though, traffic became sparse and like so many others, the place was forced to close in 1991.

Just west outside of town, you will pass over the Pecos River. Be on the lookout and you can see where in 1940, when Steinbeck's novel, The Grapes of Wrath was being turned into a movie, director John Ford used this spot for the memorable train scene where Tom Joad (Henry Fonda) watches a freight train steam over the Pecos River railroad bridge into the sunset.

Cerro Pedernal Peak
We had to rejoin I-40 at exit 267 to continue west. We looked to the southwest to spot the 7,576 foot Cerro Pedernal Peak. This is the site of numerous prehistoric flint mines. Ancient peoples made tools and weapons here and often would meet up with different tribes for trading purposes. A large number of artifacts, including arrow heads and tools, have been found throughout the area. Many stories of buried treasure have resulted in the summit to be scarred with the excavations of fortune hunters. Unfortunately, I was driving and Youngest-daughter couldn't manage to get a good picture so I found a public picture from a government web site to show you what you should be looking for.

Since we had to be on sterile I-40 anyway, it was a good time to make up some time. Youngest-daughter didn't argue when I suggested she relax from her co-pilot directions duties and she was soon sound asleep. I smiled and quietly sang along as I listened to the Oldies-But-Goodies satellite radio station (60's on 6) and pressed down on the gas. Exit 230 and Cline's Corners was just down the road.

Go to the first Route 66 entry here.
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