HOME AWAY FROM HOME

Few things will suck the life from a grand adventure faster than an over priced, uncomfortable, dingy place to lay your head at the end of a long day on the road. Even worse is finding no room at the inn at the end of the day. This has been a travelers dilemma since at least the time when the very pregnant Mary and her husband Joseph found themselves sharing accommodations with livestock in Bethlehem.   
Kemmons Wilson addressed this game of chance with the establishment of a chain of cookie cutter motels with standards of quality under signs that read “Holiday Inn.” Travelers embraced the concept but there was a price to be paid.
Soon the generic blandness of mashed potatoes on a white paper plate spread from the sterile roadside of the interstate highway and transformed pastoral landscapes into a vast sea of colorless suburban sprawl that thrived by sucking life from the heart of cities and small towns all across America. The front porch and the adventure of the road trip were replaced with impersonal Internet chat rooms and hurried vacations paid for by long hours spent in mindless tedium.
But scattered all along a highway signed with two sixes a few embers still held the glow and warmth of that vanished era. Then came a stirring wind in the form of travelers in search of adventure, of something less cold than the generic world they knew and the embers were fanned into a cheerful blaze. 
I am quite happy to report that all along legendary Route 66 a new generation of traveler is seeking adventure where the neon glows bright, the winds stir the dust on empty streets, and a colorful cocoon where the past and present blend together seamlessly is home away from home at the end of the day. I am also pleased to announce that there is a new generation of inn keeper that is embracing the role of caretaker for rare roadside gems and that is discovering the immeasurable joy of making friends out of customers. 

The Blue Swallow Motel in Tucumcari.

On our recent excursion to New Mexico we were privileged to discover, and rediscover, four delightful places to rest our head at the end of the day. One was a blending of the generic chain and the family run motel of the past. Another was a true classic that is the capable hands of new owners that have gladly accepted the responsibility that comes from being entrusted with a true treasure. 
Another is not technically on Route 66 and it has origins that predate that highways certification by almost a half century. Last but not least is a roadside relic that has risen from the ashes of abandonment through the tireless efforts of an Austrian immigrant family. 
As the schedule was a bit constricted we set our sites on Santa Rosa in New Mexico as our destination for the first day. Several years ago we discovered the Santa Rosa Inn, a Best Western property, and again selected this as our home away from home for day one.
Again the Patel family proved to be amicable hosts that offered a clean, quiet haven for the night. This is an older property but it is well maintained. The rates are a bit on the steep side ($74.00 with AAA) until you deduct the cost of a hearty breakfast for two that is included in the price.
As our reason for taking to the road was the Wheels on 66 event in Tucumcari our home away from away from home for the next two evenings was the now iconic Blue Swallow Motel. What a delightful gem!
The owners, Kevin and Nancy Mueller, purchased the property in 2011 and have immersed themselves in the restoration and preservation of the motel as well as the culture that spawned its creation, survival, and rebirth. Only the most thin veneer of modern amenities seperate the present from the era of its construction in the 1940s.

From left to right, Shellee Graham, Jim Ross, and
Jerry McClanahan at Wheels on 66 in
Tucumcari, New Mexico.

To round out our stay the Mueller’s hosted a most delightful fireside dinner complete with smores for the guests who had also come to Tucumcari for the innaugral event including Jim Ross, Shellee Graham, Jerry McClanahan, Joe Sonderman, Christopher Robleski, and his charming girlfriend, Katie. The motel, the glow of neon on vintage cars, a gathering of enthusiasts, and the simple fellowship of a shared meal under a desert sky along Route 66 was the very essence of that highways spirit made manifest.
On Saturday we followed empty state highway 104 through stunning landscapes to one of the most amazing and overlooked little cities in New Mexico, Las Vegas. The destination was the historic masterpiece that is the Plaza Hotel built in 1882.
I had introduced this little gem to my dearest friend last year when we stopped there for lunch and an afternoon of exploring a vast historic district of architectural treasures. For this trip my goals were a bit lofty – to say thank you to my dearest friend for the love, support, and encouragement with an evening of dining and wine immersed in an historic time capsule.
Las Vegas is not on Route 66. But the detour from that storied highway is less than 20 miles and the reward is more than ample for justifying this short drive.

The historic Plaza Hotel in Las Vegas, New Mexico.

I selected the wine and dine package that included an historically furnished room with a view, a $20 credit for dinner, free breakfast, and a gift certificate for New Mexico wines. The cost of $99.00 made this one of the best bargains discovered recently.
A reluctance to rush home led us to dawdle on Sunday with the destination being somewhere between Gallup and Kingman. Late that afternoon we found ourselves in Holbrook and decided to try our luck with the Wigwam Motel.
Fortunately there was no room at the inn as that led us to try the Globetrotter Lodge across the street. What an absolutely delightful discovery!
This roadside treasure for a new generation was an abandoned eyesore for a decade before Mona and Peter Hoeller of Austria acquired the property and initiated refurbishment that included a wide array of personal and custom touches that transformed it into a wonderful haven for the weary traveler. Our room was spotless, comfortable and quiet.

Distinctive and original touches make the Globetrotter
Lodge in Holbrook a unique home away from home.

But it was the breakfast that really set this establishment apart from others along the highway. With attention to detail the Hoeller’s transformed a small breakfast nook into a quaint European cafe that included room numbers in centerpieces on fresh table cloths, a decorative bread box, a basket with a variety of bagels and muffins, fresh coffee at each table, and an atmosphere that invited friendly conversation with the owners as well as guests.

Our trip was a grand adventure that left me with new enthusiasm for legendary Route 66 and a renewed hope that, perhaps, travelers who follow its storied course will take some of the magic home and restore color, vibrancy, and individuality to the colorless generic world of the modern era.    

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