The I-40 freeway has bisected the town of Santa Rosa (pop. 2,750) and cut its old Route 66 frontage in two, but for over 65 years, travelers crossing New Mexico along Route 66 and I-40 made a point of stopping here for a meal at Club Cafe, “The Original Route 66 Restaurant Since 1935”. Thanks to signs lining the road for miles in both directions, emblazoned with the smiling face of the “Fat Man,” the Club Cafe was nationally famous for its always-fresh food until it closed in 1992.
Just off the freeway, east of downtown on Route 66 and marked by a hard-to-miss bright yellow hot rod perched atop a 30-foot pole, the Route 66 Auto Museum (2866 Historic Route 66, 575/472-1966, $5) has a wide-ranging exhibit on “anything to do with wheels,” highlighted by some tricked-out old Fords and Chevys and a totally cherry 1957 T-Bird convertible.
Santa Rosa’s other main attraction is unique: the Blue Hole, an 80-foot-wide, 80-foot-deep artesian well filled with water so crystal-clear that it draws scuba divers from all over the western states to practice their underwater techniques here. The water of the Blue Hole, at around 61°F, is too cold for casual swimming, but in the summer heat it’s a great place to cool your heels. The Blue Hole is well signed at the end of Blue Hole Road, a half mile south of old Route 66; for purists, Blue Hole Road is old, old Route 66, since it formed the early (pre-1937) alignment of the Mother Road across Santa Rosa, the rest of which is used as a runway at the city’s airport (no cars allowed!). East of here, running along the south side of I-40, one of the oldest stretches of Route 66 is only partly paved and best done in a 4WD or on a mountain bike. Here you get an indelible sense of what travel was like in the very early days, when less than half of the route’s 2,400-odd miles were paved.