Tucumcari, New Mexico – The Blue Swallow Motel

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I managed to skip posting for the entire month of July. Some may have fretted over my passing, but I’ve simply been in too fine a mood to complain about anything. July found Gracie and I to be wandering Gypsies. A work trip to Dallas was followed in a week by Waterloo, Illinois to visit kids and to report to supporters about my new work as a Media Arts Specialist for Pioneer Bible Translators.

Both voyages were long road trips. We bought a couple of books from Audible.com to ease the road tedium. Conversations take you only so far. A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller, Jr. was an excellent listen. I read it many years ago. We followed that with The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat by neurologist Oliver Sacks. This audo book required a bit more attention, so I had to concentrate on my driving. Grace got a great deal from it, since it was right up her alley.

I couldn’t talk about our road trips to Dallas without mentioning Tucumcari, New Mexico and especially the Blue Swallow Motel. Tucumcari, whose residents number only about five thousand, is what I would call a “wide spot in the road.” Its existence seems mostly attributed to attention to the convenience of travelers. There probably would not be a Tucumcari were it not for the railroad. Here is how Tucumcari came to be, according to Wikipedia:

In 1901, the Chicago, Rock Island and Pacific Railroad built a construction camp in the western portion of modern-day Quay County. Owing to numerous gunfights, the camp became known as Six Shooter Siding. After it grew into a permanent settlement, it was renamed Tucumcari in 1908. The name was taken from Tucumcari Mountain, which is situated near the community.

Yes, the railroad was the famous Rock Island Line of folk music fame. While I’m on the subject, have a listen to a recording of the song by a group from the Italian rockabilly scene, Wheels Fargo and the Nightengale.

But, I digress. Getting back to Tucumcari, a long road trip and where to lay your head, brings up the subject of The Blue Swallow Motel. This goes on my list of amusing funky places to sleep. Built in 1939 when the idea of “motor hotel” meant that you had to have your own personal garage for the family buggy (more later), it has probably fallen on hard times more than once, but has recently been revived but not unduly modified by nice owners Nancy and Kevin to maintain the flavor of the place without excessively destroying the patina of ageless Route 66 cool.

I can’t imagine any better way to express my tribute to The Blue Swallow Motel than this shot, of which I’m rather proud, of the grand automobile entryway done in the style of the Photorealists. Yeah, I know it’s not a painting. I’m not that talented. I’m just a copycat.

If you are ever in Tucumcari and seeking culture you should consider The Blue Swallow. Frankly, it’s not a place you might want to stay for a week if you are accompanied by a lady who takes her beauty shop science seriously. Gracie was certainly amused by the ambiance, but complained that the bathroom had little in the way of “chick space.” This is not your star spangled Hilton. It is, however, immaculately clean and charmingly adorned with furnishings of the period. What it lacks in accoutrements is more than made up for by American Road Trip style.

As are many structures in Tucumcari, The Blue Swallow’s flat spaces are splashed with folksy Americana.

Everywhere you look are scenes familiar to anyone over the age of sixty. The place appeals to the jaded road warrior.

If your car is not much bigger than that of a pre-war chariot you can make use of your personal carriage house, the walls of which are illustrated with more adorable American kitsch.

If you are ever in Tucumcari, at least have a look at the Blue Swallow Motel. I imagine that there is nothing else like it left.

Well, except for the Petrified Wood Station in Decatur, Texas. It dates from the same general era, having received its raggedy coat of rather poor quality petrified wood in 1935. It doesn’t sell gas any more. The owner uses it as his private office.

On our way to Phoenix while the Gladiator Fire was at its peak I got this shot.

We were a long way from the Highway, so I needed all 300mm of lens. The air was very smoky. I had to massage the shot severely with some nice oily Photoshop.

I love wind machines. Parts of the Southwest are littered with them. We see hundreds on our trips from Sedona to Dallas. You can tell when you’re getting close to a big wind farm because the trees are permanently bent in one direction – the prevailing wind. In this shot, the wind was blowing strongly. It amused me that these two wind turbines were turning in nearly exact synchronization.

And now a picture of a squirrel, for no reason whatsoever.

We have one exactly like this living in our big walnut tree beside the garage. I haven’t managed to get a shot of her yet, so this will have to do. This squirrel lives at Montezuma’s Castle, which I hope to cover in a future post. Our squirrel is madly collecting walnuts and burying them in the most unlikely locations.

Also, just because I can, I’ll show you Datura or Angel’s Trumpet, a psychotropic plant that will put you into medical care if you try to get high by eating it. It’s a member of the family Solanaceae, many species of which are toxic and some of which are tasty, including tomatoes, peppers, potatoes and eggplant.

I suppose it is called the Angel’s Trumpet because that is what you may hear if you eat it.

While we’re at it we may as well see a House Finch (a few of which I hear tweeting now through the open patio door) sitting on a still folded blossom of a Saguaro cactus.

The House Finch (Haemorhous mexicanus) is by far the most common bird around our feeder. What they lack in spectacular colors they make up for in numbers.

Finally, a bee feeding frenzy. When the Prickly Pear cacti are blooming the bees get busy.

I count three inside the blossom and one waiting impatiently to dive in.

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8 Responses to “Tucumcari, New Mexico – The Blue Swallow Motel”

  1. Lisa Says:

    Thanks for sharing! Great shots!

  2. Ali Says:

    Hi Jan, Enjoyed your post alot.
    Can’t help wondering what Johnny might have thought of “Wheels Fargo”…ha ha (pretty wacky huh!)
    Motor Hotel looks like alot of fun!
    The wind blades reminded me of some trivia which I had filed away in the grey matter….it came from the PNG Balsa Co manager in Kokopo who told me that a large proportion of PNG Balsa goes into the making of the blades for wind turbines all over the world….
    Keep writing, love your work!

  3. Peter Lyne Says:

    I like the first pic Jan. Looks like a 1951 Pontiac Chiefton. Built in the glory days of Detroit. Reminds me of my 1958 Ford Star Model Customline. Wish I still had it.

  4. pvaldes Says:

    (aawwwww) supercute serial killer squirrel with its little shovel…. XDDD

    And the innocently lethal Datura…

    And the spiny cacti

    The first photo is fantastic also

    And you have survived at the desert with the most feared danger of the entire world, a pissed woman looking for an acceptable bathroom…

    congratulations, you can call yourself Mr Danger now… ;-)

  5. MadDog Says:

    Thank you, Lisa.

  6. MadDog Says:

    Ali, Wheels Fargo appeals to my sense of whimsy. Except for the lack of “chick space” we enjoyed the Blue Swallow.

  7. MadDog Says:

    I think you’re right, Peter, though I didn’t examine the car closely. I do vaguely remember the Chieftons for their nicely lit Native American chief head on the hood ornament. Those were the days when Detroit more or less ruled the automobile market. I’ve owed a lot of Detroit iron in my days, including a 64 1/2 Ford Mustang hardtop (in the much favored turquoise green), a ’69 Mustang Mach I fastback (burgundy), two Chevettes (miserably little cars that would not die), a spanking new ’76 Corvette Stingray (red with white leather interior) and a Dodge van. This counts only the Detroit machines. That’s a lot of cars to use up, but it’s been a long life.

  8. MadDog Says:

    Thanks, Pvaldes. I think you covered it well. My woman calmed down the next night at a motel with adequate beauty shop science facilities.