Route 66 from Santa Fe thru Albuquerque to Gallup, NM

One of our favorite segments of the Mother Road is from Santa Fe through Albuquerque and westward to Gallup, New Mexico.

Santa Fe was one of the larger cities on Route 66 during its earlier alignments. The Mother Road passed through downtown near the historic LaFonda on the Plaza Hotel.

Santa Fe remained on the original Route 66 until 1938 when the road was rerouted on a more direct route to Albuquerque from the Santa Rosa area.

Map of Route 66 from Santa Fe thru Albuquerque to Gallup, New Mexico
Map of Route 66 from Santa Fe thru Albuquerque to Gallup, New Mexico


Nighttime view of Santa Fe and Old Route 66 looking west from La Fonda on the Plaza

Nightime view of Santa Fe looking west from La Fonda on the Plaza


Leaving Santa Fe Southbound on Route 66

In Santa Fe, Route 66 traveled along the Old Santa Fe Trail, passing the San Miguel Mission and Loretto Chapel and across the Santa Fe River to the historic LaFonda on the Plaza Hotel.

Aerial view of present-day La Bajada switchbacks on old Route 66Aerial view of present-day La Bajada switchbacks on old Route 66

From there it turned west on Water Street, and then left onto Galisteo Street and Cerrillos Road southward towards Albuquerque as shown in the map above.

The old route then passed the School for the Deaf and lodging properties like the El Rey Inn. Outside of town Route 66 followed the course of the Camino Real.

Leaving Santa Fe, Route 66 was relatively flat, as it traversed the La Bajada Mesa.

Route 66 Down La Bajada Hill

About 15 miles to the south, Route 66 made the steep, 500-foot descent down the La Bajada precipice in only two miles via a series of  26 switchbacks with a 28% grade.

Remnants of the swtichbacks and their scar on the earth can still be seen by hikers and those in high-clearance, 4-wheel drive vehicles, and from satellite photos like the one shown to the right.

In 1932 Route 66 was moved about three miles to the east near the current route of Interstate 25.

Read more about La Bajada Hill and El Camino Real at the National Park Service website.

Switchbacks on Route 66 at La Bajada Hill between Santa Fe and Albuquerque seen in vintage postcards
View from the top looking south (left) and from the bottom looking north (right)
View of the switchbacks on Route 66 between Santa Fe and Albuquerque at the top of La Bajada Hill View of the switchbacks on Route 66 between Santa Fe and Albuquerque at the bottom of La Bajada Hill

 

The "Big Cut" on Route 66

South of La Bajada between Santa Fe and Albuquerque was the "Big Cut". Located near the present-day San Felipe Pueblo, this was an engineering marvel when it was completed in 1909 as part of New Mexico's Route 1. Route 66 passed through the notch from 1926 to 1931.

It consisted of a 75-foot long, 60-foot deep cut in Gravel Hill in the foothills of the Sandia Mountains made by hard working constuction workers with dynamite, picks and shovels. The 18-foot wide roadway was no longer used when Route 66 was realigned in 1931.

Remnants of the cut can still be seen from southbound I-25 at Exit 252 in back of the casinos on the east side of the interstate.

The Big Cut as seen in this early 1900s vintage postcard
The "Big Cut" on Route 66 between Santa Fe and Albuquerque, New Mexico

Night view of neon on Central Avenue in AlbuquerqueNight view of neon on Central Avenue in Albuquerque

Visiting Albuquerque, New Mexico

The first route alignment of 1926-1937 ran north-south through Albuquerque.

Dozens of motels, cafes, gift shops and restaurants spring up along the route.

Today, the fastest route between Santa Fe and Albuquerque is I-25, a distance of about 65 miles. An alternate route is on the Turquoise Trail, Highway 14, through the quaint villages of Cerillos and Madrid.

Some of these vintage motels remain, and historic neon signs still glow on old Route 66 through Albuquerque, now Central Avenue.

 

Central Avenue in Albuquerque New Mexico

Tourism is a big industry in Albuquerque, hosting events such as the International Balloon Fiesta.

It offers a variety of things to do such as the Sandia Peak Tramway, Indian Pueblo Cultural Center, National Museum of Nuclear History, San Felipe de Neri Church and Albuquerque Old Town.

The original length of Route 66 in New Mexico in 1926 was about 507 miles. Funding for a straighter, shorter route was approved in 1931.

With realignments and road improvements, the distance of Route 66 in New Mexico was reduced to 399 miles by 1937. The longest sections of the 1926 alignment created a large "S Curve" as it headed north to Santa Fe through Tecolate, Bernai, San Jose, Pecos and Glorieta Pass, and then back south to Albuquerque, as shown in the map below.

The 1926 alignment came into Albuquerque from the north on Highway 313, and ran through downtown along 4th Street. Today the Barelas-South Fourth Street Historic District just south of downtown is a popular attraction, with shops, restaurants and other businesses.

Route 66 then continued south to Los Lunas, where it turned west to Laguna.

This aligment was replaced in 1937 with a more direct westward route from Albuquerque to Laguna, and beyond to Gallup, following the current route of I-40 in many locales. Route 66 passed through downtown Albuquerque, running west-to-east on Central Avenue.

Route 66 alignment in central New Mexico in 1926 and post-1937
Map of U.S. Route 66 alignment in central New Mexico in 1926 and post-1937

Anderson-Abruzzo International Balloon Museum in Albuquerque
Anderson-Abruzzo International Balloon Museum in Albuquerque


 

San Felipe de Neri Church in Albuquerque, New Mexico
San Felipe de Neri Church in Albuquerque, New Mexico


Vintage Views along the way in Albuquerque

De Anza Motor Lodge, 4301 Central Avenue East, Albuquerque, New Mexico, on U.S. Highway 66
De Anza Motor Lodge, 4301 Central Avenue East, Albuquerque, New Mexico, on U.S. Highway 66


Texas Ann Court, 2305 W. Central, Albuquerque, New Mexico, on U.S. Highway 66
Texas Ann Court, 2305 W. Central, Albuquerque, New Mexico, on U.S. Highway 66


Maisel's Indian Trading Post, 400 W. Central, Albuquerque, New Mexico, on U.S. Highway 66
Maisel's Indian Trading Post, 400 W. Central, Albuquerque, New Mexico, on U.S. Highway 66


Santa Fe passenger train at the Albuquerque railroad station
Santa Fe passenger train at the Albuquerque railroad station


Grants, New Mexico

The Route 66 arch in Grants, New Mexico ... be sure to stop for a selfie!The Route 66 arch in Grants, New Mexico ... be sure to stop for a selfie!

The City of Grants is located in Cibola County, roughly half-way between present -day Albuquerque and Gallup on Interstate 40.

Grants offers visitors a wealth of historical and recreational activities, despite being only two exits long.

A popular attraction today is the neon Route 66 Arch, completed in 2016 and located off Exits 81 and 85. You park under the arch, and take "selfies" ... don't miss it!

Several other attractions are located in the city, such as the New Mexico Mining Museum and the Route 66 Vintage Museum & Double Six Gallery. Nearby is the La Ventana Arch in the El Malpais National Conservation Area.

The city sits at an elevation of 6,460', and is home to more than 9,000 residents.


Franciscan Lodge, Grants, New Mexico ... Your Home on the Road ... None Finer on 66
Vintage view of the Franciscan Lodge, Grants, New Mexico ... Your Home on the Road


Continental Divide, New Mexico

Thoreau is located on old Route 66 and present-day Interstate 40 between Grants and Gallup. Just west of Thoreau, at Exit 47, is Continental Divide, at elevation 7,275 feet above sea level.

Seen here is the the "Ya-Tah-Hey" gift shop, during a trip on this segment of Route 66 circa 2009.

Gift shop at Continental Divide, New Mexico, on Route 66 near Thoreau, NM

 

Visiting Gallup, New Mexico

Welcome to the City of Gallup, New Mexico ... "Most Patriotic Small Town in America"Welcome to the City of Gallup, New Mexico ... "Most Patriotic Small Town in America"

Gallup is the largest city between Albuquerque and Flagstaff, and has a population of about 22,000 residents.

The city sits at an elevation of 6,512', and is known as the "most patriotic small town in America".

It is located about 140 miles west of Albuquerque, and 185 miles east of Flagstaff, and only 23 miles from the Arizona-New Mexico border.

The city is located in the middle of the Navajo Reservation.

 

The city was founded in 1881 as a railhead for the Atlantic and Pacific Railroad, and named after David Gallup, a paymaster for the railroad.

Hotel El Rancho Hotel & Motel in Gallup, New MexicoEl Rancho Hotel & Motel in Gallup, New Mexico ... "Home of the Movie Stars"

The railroad today remains an important industry in the city.

Because of the nearby rugged terrain, it was a popular location in the 1940s and 1950s for Hollywood Westerns and has hosted many well-known movie stars such as John Wayne, Katharine Hepburn, Humphrey Bogart, Ronald Reagan and Kirk Douglas.

Restaurants such as the famous El Rancho reflect the western and Indian influences on the town. Today’s visitors can partake in a meal at the El Rancho or enjoy an overnight stay and tour the memorabilia-lined grand lobby.

Gallup has over 30 hotels and over 90 restaurants and is a popular stopover point for those traveling Historic Route 66.

Area attractions include the Manuelito Visitor Center, the Navajo Code Talker Museum, the Gallup Cultural Center in the historic Santa Fe Railway depot, Red Rock Park & Museum, Bill Malone Trading Company and much more.

Shopping is also a big local attraction, with 110 trading posts, shops and galleries in Gallup, making the town the undisputed Southwestern center for authentic Native American art.

Retail stores in downtown Gallup, New Mexico
Retail stores in downtown Gallup, New Mexico

Hotel El Rancho in Gallup, New Mexico
"Charm of Yesterday, Convenience of Tomorrow"
Hotel El Rancho Hotel & Motel in Gallup, New Mexico

Vintage Views of U.S. Route 66 in Gallup

We have included below a sampling of our collection of vintage travel postcards dealing with Gallup and Route 66. These portray the historic road in its prime and help us to visualize "yesterday" as we drive Route 66 today.

Downtown Gallup, New Mexico, circa 1958
Downtown Gallup, New Mexico, circa 1958


Dine and dance at Pete's Cafe, Gallup, New Mexico

Dine and dance at Pete's Cafe, Gallup, New Mexico

Hotel El Rancho, the World's Largest Ranch House, Gallup, New Mexico
Hotel El Rancho, the World's Largest Ranch House, Gallup, New Mexico


Lodging Options Along Route 66

Hotels in Santa Fe, New Mexico

Hotels in Albuquerque, New Mexico

Gallup, New Mexico

Click to review hotels and restaurants, read reviews and make reservations at TripAdvisor

Driving West
on the Next Route 66 Segment?

Holbrook thru Winslow to Flagstaff

Route 66 Road Trip westbound from Holbrook thru Winslow to Flagstaff, Arizona

Travel Guides for Other Segments of Route 66

Planning a Road Trip on Route 66? Here are trip planners for the major segments ...

Historic U.S. Route 66 ... An Introduction to the The Mother Road
Route 66 in Missouri Route 66 in Texas Route 66 Across Arizona Route 66 Across New Mexico
Route 66 Road Trips Across Oklahoma Route 66 Road Trips in Illinois Route 66 Across California Route 66 in Kansas