The Historic Motels of Route 66

One of the most enjoyable parts of any Route 66 experience is seeing the historic motels that once lined America’s most notable highway. While Route 66 hasn’t been a major passageway across the country for decades, many of the iconic signs, buildings, and establishments still exist.

For many travelers, you’d just assume sleep in the back of your car before setting foot into a “motel”. The word motel tends to conjure up images of dirty towels, mold infested bath tubs, bugs, and criminals. And while all of that might certainly be fair depending on your location, many of the motels along Route 66 are charming, comfortable, and totally dependent on good experiences for travelers just to stay open.

The Blue Swallow Motel in Tucamcari, New Mexico offers 100% “refrigerated”rooms.

Most of the motels along Route 66 are recognizable by their flashy or distinct neon signs that were designed to lure travelers in off the road. The importance of a good sign can never be underestimated. Bright colors, mascots, quirky slogans, or tag lines like: “100% Refrigerated Rooms” are key to getting customers. Places like the American Sign Museum in Cincinnati, Ohio or the Neon Museum in Las Vegas have worked hard to preserve many signs that once lined the streets as Americans first began using automobiles in full force.

When it comes to actually staying in these motels, it certainly adds to the overall enjoyment of traveling the mother road. Route 66 expert Jim Hinckley says: “The essence of a Route 66 odyssey is immersion into the experience. This means taking time to talk with people, blurring the line between past and present at every opportunity, and slowing the pace.”

Hinkley, who is based in Kingman, Arizona – one the stops mentioned in Nat King Cole’s (Get Your Kicks On) Route 66 – writes about travel and history over at Jim Hinckley’s America. He adds: “when a modern, generic motel is selected at the end of the day, the infectious magic of Route 66 is lost. Choosing a renovated hotel or motel seamlessly blends the past and present.  You interact with the owner, you interact with fellow travelers, and you interact with the past.”

La Mesa Motel in Santa Rosa, New Mexico

You can easily search the internet for websites dedicated to Route 66 with advice on places to see, things to do, and of course – which motels to stay in. You can even find booking sites that will help you plan your Route 66 drive and select motels along the way.

As I recently drove from St. Louis to Los Angeles, I stopped many, many times along the way to take photos of these beautiful motel signs. In fact, it was my favorite part of the entire experience. New Mexico seemed to have the best variety of motel signs. There were so many to choose from, I became sunburnt just from hopping in and out of the car so many times during my drive through the state.

Palomino Motel in Tucamcari, New Mexico
Sun N Sand Motel in Santa Rosa, New Mexico
El Rancho Hotel in Gallup, New Mexico
Motel Safari in Tucamcari, New Mexico

As always, especially these days, call ahead to make sure your choice of motel is still open for business and check motel reviews on other Route 66 websites and social media groups for the best advice.

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