Interstate 40 crosses the center of New Mexico from east to west, passing through the state's largest city, Albuquerque, as well as the smaller communities of Gallup, Santa Rosa and Tucumcari. New Mexico is a sparsely populated state, so much of what there is to see off Interstate 40 is scenic desert and mountain vistas. History buffs should take note that the New Mexico segment of Interstate 40 parallels in large part the famous U.S. Route 66, otherwise known as the Mother Road. In fact, significant tracts of the older road were incorporated into the path of the interstate when it was built.
Tucumcari Route 66 Monument
The small town of Tucumcari, located in the northeastern part of New Mexico, still retains a lot of the old-fashioned charm it acquired when it was one of the preeminent stops on old Route 66. Several motels from the 1950s including the iconic Blue Swallow, still exist, their neon signs beckoning to cross-country travelers in the night. The town's sculptural monument to Route 66 is of a more recent vintage, having been erected on the west side of town in 1997. But its chrome finish, swooping design and, yes, tail fins cheekily evoke the heyday of the road that put Tucumcari on the map.
Fort Sumner and Billy the Kid
Fort Sumner is arguably best known as the place where Billy the Kid was killed and laid to rest in 1881. You'll find the Billy the Kid Museum downtown, complete with a replica of the Kid's grave site. You'll also find the second "real" grave site out behind the nearby Old Fort Sumner Museum. As it happens, Billy the Kid may not be resting there either since the grave's original marker was washed away in floods around the turn of the century; the current site is an approximation. To reach the town of Fort Sumner from Santa Rosa, you'll need to take a detour by heading south on US-84 for approximately 35 miles.
Albuquerque, located near the center of the state, is the largest city in New Mexico. In the heart of the city you'll find the historic district known as Old Town. This neighborhood consists of several vintage adobe buildings surrounding a plaza filled with galleries, small shops and buskers entertaining visitors. Elsewhere within the city limits you'll find several science museums worthy of a visit, including the National Museum of Nuclear Science and History, which chronicles the events and discoveries of the Atomic Age, many of which happened at nearby military sites. Dinosaur fans should check out the New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science, featuring a stellar collection of Tyrannosaurus Rex bones found throughout the state. Just west of the city proper is the Petroglyph National Monument, where ancient Native Americans carved hundreds of symbols into the surrounding rock cliffs.
Acoma Pueblo and Sky City
To the west of Albuquerque, Interstate 40 passes through the Acoma Indian Reservation. Off Exit 102, past the town of Acomita, you'll find signs pointing to the Sky City Cultural Center. The center offers guided tours of the ancient Acoma Pueblo and hosts cultural events throughout the year. The pueblo itself, one of the longest continuously occupied sites in North America, is situated atop a lofty mesa that affords dramatic views of the surrounding landscape. There is also a museum on site that provides comprehensive information on Acoma culture, history and traditions. Acoma pottery is colorful and collectible, and can be purchased at the museum's gift shop.
The Ice Caves
The Ice Caves, formed by ancient lava flows, are located near the town of Grants, a short drive off Interstate 40 on Highway 53. The caves' glittering blue-green ice, which has been accumulating slowly for thousands of years, stays frozen year-round due to a unique convergence of geophysical factors. The caves are accessible via a short, easy hike. While at the caves, you can also take a quick hike to the now dormant Bandera Volcano to observe where lava flowed over 10,000 years ago, reshaping the landscape in the process. The privately-owned site straddles the Continental Divide and is also home to the state's oldest Douglas fir tree.