New Mexico: Vintage Motels

You know I have a thing for old hotels. Not just olde historicky hotels, but what I call vintage hotels.

One of the “rules” I have about vintage hotels is that they can’t be renovated to be old-timey–they just have to be that way. But after this last trip around New Mexico, where I spied some exceptionally good old motels, I think I have to lighten up a little bit. The people who are working hard to preserve them–which also involves some renovation, because they’re so far gone–deserve some credit.

Tucumcari, on the east edge of the state, is a great little outdoor Route 66 museum, starting with the Blue Swallow Motel. It may be the oldest surviving motel on Route 66 in New Mexico, and the owners make sure it feels like 1939, right down to the old black phones. Previously, this place was owned by an electrical engineer who fixed up the neon, and before that, it was owned by the same woman for something like forty years.


Just across the road is the Motel Safari, from a slightly later era, also very nicely re-old-vated.


I especially like how the old sign has been redone to mention Internet and flat-panel TV.

newmexico 085

And down the road is the Historic Route 66 Motel, which to be honest, I was only able to peek out through cracks in the drapes, because no one was in the office, but I dig the floor-to-ceiling windows.

newmexico 077

And just to give you an idea what the alternative is, let’s take a look at some of the motels in Tucumcari that haven’t been treated so kindly. Restrain your sobs, if you can.

newmexico 079

newmexico 075

newmexico 050

That last one might be the worst, just because it was aiming so high. The Taj!

Raton, up on the northern edge of the state, is also a hot spot for great old motels. (What is it about border towns?)

First, of course, there’s the Melody Lane.


I wrote about the Melody Lane before, but the gist is: steam saunas in the bathrooms!!!!! Dreamy.

Less dreamy: the iron-fisted owner (required of a good vintage hotel; and actually, she was very nice, just intense about cleaning) retired, and sold the place to a new crew. No idea if they will keep the place up, but I am suspicious because their eyes did not light up when I asked about the saunas. They more like frowned, at the thought of how much maintenance they will require, and how many annoying people will roll up asking about them. On this visit, I left the place heartsick with worry.

But then! Just down the road, on the south side of Raton…is the delightful Robin Hood Motel.


It’s lovely and lemon-yellow, and has lovely flowers planted everywhere and a teeny-weeny pool and a woman who’s run the place for ages.

And then and then, even farther down the road, is this place.

newmexico 168

I almost didn’t stop. I was pretty done with Raton by then. But something made me turn around and drive in. Here was the office:


Look at that paint job. Look at how orderly those little cactus pots are! Good signs.

I rang the bell, but no answered. I walked around the corner.

newmexico 171

Aaaagh! I might have done a little dance right there in the empty parking lot, to release the overwhelming cute-oldness that was squeezing my heart. But it didn’t work, because then I turned around and saw these screen doors!

newmexico 167

(Please note how the *hose* is even color-coordinated!!!)

I felt a little like I was in a fairy tale when I went over and peeked at the screen doors. The inside doors were open! To let in the fresh breezes! I could see right into the rooms, and the beds were covered in powder-blue chenille spreads. And I’m practically crying while I write this. Everything was so intensely perfect, and not museum-like or kitschy-retro. I felt like if I’d opened up one of those doors, and walked in, I might never have gotten out of 1958.

But no one was around. I scuffed back to my car, got in, and drove away. But! Just as I was turning onto the highway, I saw a truck pull into the driveway of the motel, so I made a loop-de-loop back.

“Are you the owner?” I asked the guy in the truck breathlessly. He was old and weather-beaten and wore overalls.

“Yes, it’s my place.” He spoke just enough to let on that he had a German accent. What? Who comes from Germany to run an ancient motel? There was so much I wanted to ask him, but I just got the prices and went on my way. Kicking myself now. Planning my return trip soon, to sleep under one of those blue chenille bedspreads.

Thank you, Maverick Motel owner. You made my trip.