Across the New Mexico Continental Divide on Route 66

Though the village is called home to about 600 people, the community is mostly a cluster closed business, and homes, but it still has a school.

All that’s left today of the Route 66 era are the remains of the old Bluewater Motel, Allen’s Garage, and the Old Crater Trading Post. All silent now, they attest to the better times along this old chunk of the road

Just beyond Bluewater you will see beautiful red sandstone cliffs to the right and the volcanic cone of El Tinterio, where lava was said to have flowed as far east as Grants.

Prewitt

A small settlement was in this area before it became Prewitt. Called Baca, after a local ranching family, it dates back to at least 1890. However, in 1916 two brothers by the names o Bob and Harold Prewitt moved to the area and established a trading post in a large tent along the National Old Trails Highway. When a post office was established in 1928, it took the name of Prewitt. In 1946 it was described of consisting of little more than a trading post and a railroad siding.

At Prewitt, New Mexico a side trip to nearby Bluewater Lake State Park might be a stop for you if you’re looking for camping or fishing opportunities. The lake is stocked with rainbow trout, native or cutthroat trout, and catfish, with trout weighing up to 9 pounds having been caught in the lake. The park is also host to many of nature’s feathered friends. Situated on the north flank of the Zuni Mountains, the reservoir is about seven miles southwest of Prewitt. Swimming, water-skiing, boat ramps, electrical hookups and dump station are also available

Thoreau

Just another eleven more miles brings you to the small town of Thoreau. The town got its start as a siding for the Atlantic & Pacific Railroad in 1881. In 1886 a store and post office were established called Chavez. Several years later, in 1890, brothers William and Austi Mitchell relocated their timber business from Michigan to the Chavez area. The next year, the post office filed for a name change to Mitchell. Though timber was plentiful in the area, their business did not prosper. The third and final name change to Thoreau came in 1899 when the Hyde Exploring Expedition established an extensive Indian trading network and established their headquarters in the town. Residents pronounce the town’s name like “thuh-ROO” (similar to “through” or “threw”.

During Route 66′ heydays, Thoreau was home to several trading posts, a gas station, a garage, and about 375 people. One popular stop during these times was Roy T. Herman’s Garage and Service Station. Built in 1937 on Route 66, the building remains today and is listed in the National Register of Historic Places. In the 1960s Interstate 40 bypassed the old Route 66.

The population was 1,863 at the 2000 census.

Another side trip presents itself here. The town of Crownpoint, some 24 miles north of Thoreau is the southern jumping off point to the Chaco Culture National Historical Park. Chaco Canyon is one of the key sites of the prehistoric culture in the Four Corners region.

Continental Divide

Indian Trading Post at the Continental Divide, New Mexico

Indian Trading Post at the Continental Divide, New Mexico

Another five miles west of Thoreau brings travelers to the Continental Divide. In typical Route 66 fashion there are a number of trading posts here to take advantage of the many people who stop along the route. In the early days of the Mother Road, the site included the Great Divide Trading Company, the Continental Trading Post and Top O’ The World Hotel and Café.

If you are traveling the original road, you will need to rejoin I-40 at exit 47 as the old road dead-ends just beyond the Continental Divide. However, continuing down this short stretch provides photo ops including the old Top O’ The World Hotel and Café and the facing signs of an old Whiting Brothers Station.

Fort Wingate

From the Continental Divide, travelers will continue on I-40 to the small village of Iyanbito to the north of I-40 and continue westward to the historic Fort Wingate Military Reservation on south side of I-40. Originally established as a trading post in 1860, a full fledged fort was added in 1862. Garrisoning soldiers during the Civil War, it later functioned in the capacity of military surveys, escort functions, and patrols against raiding Indians. Among the soldiers associated with the fort were Christopher “Kit” Carson, John “Black Jack” Pershing, Douglas MacArthur, who lived there as an infant, and several Navajo Code Talkers.

Code Talkers at Fort Wingate, New Mexico

Code Talkers at Fort Wingate, New Mexico

In 1914 the fort housed Mexican Federalist troops and their families who had fled the Pancho Villa uprising. The Army renamed the deactivated fort “Fort Wingate General Ordnance Depot” in 1918.

Today, Fort Wingate is still an active base sometimes involved as a rocket launching testing site. The original trading post was sold to a private individual and continued to operate until the 1990s. The town of Fort Wingate grew up around the fort and trading post and exists today.

From here, you have reached the outskirts of Gallup, the Indian Center of the Southwest.

 

© Kathy Weiser/Legends of America, updated October, 2017.

Sources:

Family Search Wiki

Hinkley, Jim, Route 66 Encyclopedia, Voyageur Press, 2012

National Park Service

Never Quite Lost

The Route 66

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