Off the Path – El Rancho de los Golondrinas
During the early years of the federal highway system, the realignment of highways was commonplace as engineers sought to create safer and more efficient roadways. Many re-alignments tended to be minor; a few involved a major re-routing of a highway. Such was the case with Route 66 as it passed through New Mexico. Approximately 507 miles long in 1926, the alignment of Route 66 in the state was reduced to 399 miles by 1937. The longest sections of the initial alignment created a large S curve as the road stretched across the middle of the state. West of Santa Rosa it turned north, crossing nearly 20 miles of empty rolling plains before crossing the Pecos River near the 19th century Hispanic communities around Dilia.
Route 66 continued north an additional 25 miles passing through a series of small ranching settlements before intersecting with I-25 at Romeroville southwest of Las Vegas. Aligning with I-25, Route 66 followed the corridor of the old Santa Fe Trail and its successor, the Santa Fe Railroad, and passed through Pecos River Valley and the villages of Tecolote, Bernal, San Jose, Rowe, and Pecos. The highway then climbed Glorieta Pass and descended the narrow defile at Cañoncito, where it diverged from the railroad alignment to veer toward Santa Fe.
Route 66 entered the state capital along College Street (now Old Santa Fe Trail), then turned west on Water Street at the rear of the La Fonda Hotel. It exited downtown Santa Fe along Galisteo Street and turned south upon connecting with Cerrillos Street. Climbing the gentle north slope of La Bajada Mesa, the highway descended the mesa’s sharp south escarpment along a series of hairpin turns before arriving at the village of La Bajada.
Once again aligning with the railroad just north of Domingo Station, Route 66 roughly paralleled the tracks to the east as it meandered through the Sandia Mountains before arriving at Bernalillo. There, it closely paralleled the railroad and entered Albuquerque along Fourth Street.
From this point, the highway crossed the Rio Grande three times; first at the Barelas Bridge, then at Isleta Pueblo, and ultimately at Los Lunas. Heading west, Route 66 paralleled the railroad as it climbed the western escarpment of the Rio Grande Valley and curved northwest toward Correo and the Laguna Pueblo. There, it resumed its westward course crossing the Continental Divide and then paralleling the railroad as it descended the valley of the Puerco River toward Gallup, New Mexico and the Arizona border.
While the corridor along which this Route 66 alignment passed for 11 years is readily traceable along Interstate 25 and federal and state highways, few sections of the historic roadway remain, especially in rural areas. Given the Bureau of Public Road’s policy of “staged construction,” in which various sections of roads within the federal highway system were gradually upgraded rather than a single highway being completed end to end, some of the pre-1937 sections of Route 66 were never improved beyond receiving an initial gravel surface. The road from west of Santa Rosa to Romeroville as well as much of the road west to Santa Fe, for example, was never a hard surfaced road during its tenure as Route 66. Nor was the road at La Bajada ever a hard surface road until it was realigned three miles to the east in 1932, where it approximated the current alignment of Interstate 25.
Although Route 66 south of Albuquerque to Los Lunas was paved by 1926, it was realigned along the west bank of the Rio Grande five years later to remove the two additional crossings of the river below the Barelas Bridge. Thus, while a review of records for most of these road sections suggests that it is possible to trace many of the approximate pre-1937 alignments of Route 66, most of the current roads do not represent the historic dirt and gravel highway. The most intact sections with the highest degree of alignment integrity are the those that pass through the village of Pecos, which was never hard-surfaced during its tenure as Route 66, the roadway at the La Bajada escarpment, and the section extending from near Algodones south across the Sandia Reservation to North Fourth Street. Short road sections, some now on private lands, may also offer examples of the historic roadway.
In contrast, urban road sections traversed by Route 66, such as College, Water and Galisteo Streets in Santa Fe and Fourth Street and Isleta Boulevard in Albuquerque, were paved during their period of service to the highway. Over the more than seven decades since Route 66 was realigned to other roadways, these streets have remained largely unaltered, their current surfaces and curbing indicative of standard improvements characteristic of all urban streets. While their commercial roadsides have undergone substantial development, some of the buildings lining these streets and associated with automobile tourism prior to 1937 remain. In Santa Fe, many of the building histories indicate that all of the remaining buildings associated with automobile tourism have undergone substantial alterations. In Albuquerque, three early tourist courts, two gas stations, and a cafe remain. The gas stations and cafe are listed as contributing resources within the Barelas-South Fourth Street Historic District. Additionally, the “Mushroom Kiosk” on Isleta Boulevard is listed in the State Register of Cultural Properties.
Precursors to the pre-1937 alignments of Route 66 in New Mexico were the Texas-New Mexico Mountain Highway and an arm of the multi-branched Ozark Trail extending from the Texas border at Glenrio to Santa Rosa and then northwest to Las Vegas. Similarly, the National Old Trails Highway, which was an alignment included in the Ocean-to-Ocean Highway, followed the Santa Fe Trail into the northwest corner of the state at Raton, extended to Santa Fe, then stretched south to Los Lunas and west to Gallup.