- Lengths: 14 to 102 miles (23 to 164 kilometers)
- Duration: One Hour to a Half-Day
- Elevation: 4,093 feet (1,248 meters) to 4,620 feet (1,409 meters)
By Michael Pitel
Seventeen caliche-capped sandstone and siltstone mesas, some of them filmed by Second-Unit Director Otto Brower for the Joads' jalopy trek to California segment in John Ford's 1940 film "The Grapes of Wrath," punctuate the seven unique segments of this byway surrounding the Route 66 cities of Tucumcari and Santa Rosa.
The first two segments begin in Tucumcari.
The first, (102 miles; 164 kilometers) reaches the Canadian River town of Logan, named after a former Texas Ranger, Eugene Logan. The town's sense of humor is evident in the way Logan bills itself "the best little town by a dam site." Pass through the village of San Jon, where the last segment of New Mexico's Route 66 was deactivated in 1982. After dropping off the Caprock, the south edge of the 30,000 square-mile Llano Estacado ("staked plain"), turn west, then climb back onto the caprocked plain. Note: Mesa Redonda, Bulldog Mesa, and Tucumcari Mountain, to the west, en route back to Tucumcari. Logan and San Jon have gas, food; Logan also has lodging.
The second segment, (86 miles; 138 kilometers) goes west via Interstate 40 and a long segment of vintage Route 66. Note Palomas Mesa, south of the hamlet of Montoya. The northbound cattle herds of the famed Goodnight-Loving Trail (1868-76) crossed the highway past Montoya. In the village of Newkirk, note nearby Mesa del Gato, and turn north. In the broad Canadian River Valley is Conchas Lake. The 16,000-acre bass fisherman's and boater's paradise boasts a state park just north of the town of Conchas. The 292,000-acre Bell Ranch, established in 1871, sprawls northeast of the lake. Beyond the working cattle ranch's headquarters are distinctive Bell Mountain and Huerfano Mesa. Closer by are the smaller prominences Ding and Dong. Follow the Canadian River downstream, back to Tucumcari. En route, note La Cinta, Manhead, and Carpenter Mesas to the east. Snuggled in a bend in the Canadian River is the rubble of Fort Bascom (1863-71). Southeast of Liberty Mesa is the site of Liberty, the county's oldest settlement, where Bascom's garrison blew off steam. Newkirk has gas, and Conchas a restaurant.
The third segment (92 miles; 148 kilometers) links Tucumcari and Santa Rosa. From Tucumcari, drive south. En route, pass through the hamlet of Quay, named for U.S. Senator Matthew S. Quay (R-Penn.), a Civil War Medal of Honor winner who died in office in 1904. To the west is Saddleback Mesa, a roost of 1890s train robber Thomas "Black Jack" Ketchum.
Atop the Caprock is the hamlet of Ragland, settled in 1906. En route back to Santa Rosa, traverse the broad, treeless Alamogordo Valley, which welcomed the Goodnight-Loving Trail. Passing Luciano Mesa, ascend wide Sunshine Mesa, a backdrop in Ford's film. Nearby to the north are Cuervo Mesa. and Mesa Contadero. The final leg is paved, rural 66.
The remaining segments all originate in Santa Rosa.
Segment four, (30 miles; 47 kilometers) loops out to the quiet Spanish village of Puerta de Luna, settled in the 1860s. In PDL, visit the 1874 adobe-and-stone home and store of Alexander Grzelachowski. Not only did the Polish merchant know Billy the Kid, he hosted Pat Garrett, his posse, and the shackled young outlaw for an impromptu afternoon dinner on Christmas Day, 1880, as they were taking him to jail in Las Vegas. PDL's most imposing structure is Nuestra Senora de Refugio Church, built in 1882.
Segment five, which reaches the state park at Santa Rosa Lake, another bass fishing haven is a 14-mile (23-kilometer) round trip.
Segment six, (36-miles; 58-kilometer) is a trip back in time to the picturesque Spanish village of Colonias. Hugging the west bank of the Pecos River beneath protective Mesa Cortada and Mesa Del Medio, Colonias was settled in the 1830s. Its earliest residents once farmed, ranched, and hunted buffalo. Among the mostly abandoned, tin-roofed, cut-stone homes and buildings is the buttressed, three-steepled San Jose Church (built pre-1896). Note the beautifully cut sandstone markers in the church graveyard.
The seventh segment, (52-miles; 84 kilometers) loops out to the village of Pastura, founded in 1901 by Southern Pacific Railroad employees and famed merchant Charles Ilfeld, who once operated a company store there.