Along with the usual Route 66 range of funky motels and rusty neon signs, the former mining boomtown of Grants (pop. 9,182) has the unique attraction of the New Mexico Mining Museum (505/287-4802 or 800/748-2142, closed Sun., $3), right downtown on old Route 66 (Santa Fe Avenue) at the corner of Iron Avenue. Most of the exhibits trace the short history of local uranium mining, which began in 1950 when a local Navajo rancher, Paddy Martinez, discovered an odd yellow rock that turned out to be high-grade uranium ore. Mines around Grants once produced half the ore mined in the United States, but production has ceased (pending renewed interest in nuclear power). From the main gallery, ride the elevator down (only one floor, but it feels like 900 feet) to the highlight of the mining museum: a credible re-creation of a uranium mine, complete with an underground lunch room emblazoned with all manner of warning signs.
The landmark Uranium Café, with its atomic neon sign across Route 66 from the mining museum, has been going in and out of business for years. The latest contestant, Badlands Burgers (519 W. Santa Fe Ave., 505/287-5557), has earned a nationwide reputation for classic roadside grub—and a New Mexico State Fair Gold Medal for its green chile cheeseburgers!