Hardly a popular New Mexico destination, Tucumcari is still well known, and it certainly has it’s charm and claims to fame. It sits right on US Rt. 66, and now Interstate 40, so anyone traveling through New Mexico has seen the sign, said it out loud and had a chuckle at this strange name. Where does the unusual name come from? I found out. What is harder to determine is most of what is pictured on the postcard.
Tucumcari is in the eastern part on NM in Quay County, an area once called Llano Estacado. It was born out of a Rock Island Railroad construction camp in 1901. The camp residents comprised of the usual suspects of western camp towns – gamblers, working girls, merchants and railroad gangs with no where else to spend their paychecks. In fact, the whole town of Liberty three miles north of the camp, (that was then called Six Shooter Siding), just packed up and moved down there because that’s where the paychecks were.
The town incorporated in 1903 and borrowed a more respectable name from a nearby mountain, (seen on the postcard). The Comanche word for this mountain is tukamukaru, which means to lie in wait for something/someone to approach. It isn’t really a mountain, but a cerro, which is Spanish for bigger than a hill but smaller than a mountain. There is another less believable legend about two ill fated Indian lovers, Tocom, and Keri, but I certainly see a manipulation going on with this one, so in my true Jersey girl annoyance I say…fagetaboudit! The truth is something in between I suppose, and so is Tucumcari. Between Amarillo and Albuquerque.
I can see a yucca plant flower on the postcard. That is the New Mexico State Flower. I am pretty sure at least one of these buildings is the Historic Train Station, and another building is the Quay County Courthouse, but an older version of what is there today. The rest are a mystery that can be explained at the Tucumcari Historical Museum.
Tucumcari’s Claims to Fame?
Many truckers and any fans of the band, Little Feat, know of Tucumcari from Lowell George’s well loved and most popular song, “Willin”. The chorus goes…
I’ve been from Tuscon to Tucumcari
Tehachapi to Tonapah
Driven every kind of rig that’s ever been made
Driven the back roads so I wouldn’t get weighed
And if you give me weed, whites, and wine
and you show me a sign
I’ll be willin’, to be movin’
A little know fact about Tucumcari that I’m “willin” to let you in on is that it has awesome water. I have a friend and guest, Charlie Sandoval, who happens to be the Water Jefe in Tucumcari, and his water has won awards for tasting so good! A couple of years ago Charlie and his water were off to Washington DC for the national awards, having already won regionally, but it was never put to the test. He had to ship the “liquid” because he couldn’t take it on the plane with him and the US Postal Service lost the package for a while. It never got there in time, even though it was shipped overnight. I smell a conspiracy here. Sorry Charlie! It’s ok – we know how good it is!
And then there is the USS Tucumcari. Say what? Yes…this is true and there is such a thing, or was. This hydrofoil gunboat was contracted by the Navy and built by Boeing as one of two prototypes used to evaluate the latest hydrofoil technology. It became the technological basis for Pegasus-class patrol boats and jet foil ferries. It was built in 1966, commissioned in 1968, and decommissioned in the mid 1970s. Pretty cool, huh?
Next time you find yourself driving east or west on Rt. 66 or Interstate 40, be sure to stop in Tucumcari instead of buzzing right through. On second thought… plan on it and make Tucumcari your destination. They have a wide range of lodging – hotels, b&bs and motels and good eats too. Ute and Conchas Lake State Parks are both nearby, and there are two museums as well. The Mesaland Dinosaur Museum has the worlds largest collection of actual size bronzed dinosaur skeletons, and the afore mentioned Tucumcari Historical Museum offers a view into the past of Eastern New Mexico. Because of its location on Rt. 66 there is, of course, lots of Rt 66 NEON, so stay past dark for sure! Also – don’t forget the photo ops at the historic Tucumcari Railroad Station. It all started with the railroad.
I know the best things to do in Albuquerque!
Sarah Dolk, Adobe Nido Bed & Breakfast
Expert on Destination Albuquerque and Central New Mexico!