AS YOU HEAD SOUTH down the steep curves of I-25 into New Mexico, the Raton Pass Motor Inn’s cheery turquoise siding and red-trimmed windows mark the first sign of humanity in the state. It’s both on the fringe of town and on the edge of a wilderness.

The 1950s motel sits just far enough back from the highway to see cars flicker by without hearing much of the road noise. It’s also just close enough that Brandy Dietz, who bought the hotel with her husband, Michael Brown, in late 2020, can keep an eye on the road to gauge the pulse for how many travelers might be stopping in.

Buying the motel in the offseason let them learn its rhythms at a slower pace. But by the summer, the couple was seeing record-breaking business, and traffic—of all types—hasn’t slowed much since. “Just last week, I took a video of 15 elk that were crossing through our little glamping garden,” Dietz says. “Amazing things happen here all the time, and the sunsets and the sunrises are so beautiful, it’s really overwhelming.”

Vintage flair is everywhere you look.

It’s easy to get a little stuck in the lobby while checking in. The space invites you to settle in, enjoy coffee and conversation, and linger with vintage home goods and music by the likes of Jerry Lee Lewis, Elvis Presley, and Ray Charles. That means perusing two 1950s refrigerators that, yes, still work, a TV manufactured in Ratón, and a radio as big as one of the comfortable leather chairs. A Firmline exercise machine from the 1950s—step onto it like a treadmill, sling on its big canvas belt, and it shakes your whole body—“gets a lot of attention,” Dietz says. But the Schwinn Varsity 10-speed propped next to it seems to be everyone’s favorite. “They’re like, ‘Oh my God, that’s my old bicycle,’ ” Dietz says.

That’s the sentiment around much of the antique collection—little pieces of previous lifetimes flitting back in to trigger old memories. People frequently drop off additions to the collection, like a doughnut maker, a typewriter older than the motel, and a vintage Italian fan. “Things just kind of come to us now,” she says.

People are that way too. The Raton Pass Motor Inn, for northbound travelers, is the last stop before crossing into Colorado and strides a midpoint for snowbirds traveling from Arizona to the Midwest or northern Rockies, and for Texans and Arizonans headed to vacation in Colorado. Once they stumble in, some make it a regular stop. For a married couple from Texas, for example, the motor inn became so beloved, they began using it for family reunions and talked about moving to town. After the husband passed, the wife came back, stayed at the motel, and spread some of his ashes at Goat Hill, a tawny bluff that juts into the edge of town.

Pull up a chair at the Raton Pass Motor Inn lounge. Photograph by Jen Judge.

Southwestern and midcentury themes combine in rooms with individual tailoring, like the “starlet boudoir” with its pinups. Retro movie posters, steer horns, and wagon wheels lean into an Old West vibe.

Dietz and Brown came first as guests, charmed by the appeal of a motel with a quilt on every bed. They haven’t undertaken renovations as much as they’ve worked on updates that freshen the look without changing the feel: a new coat of paint, new carpet, new bathroom fixtures, new memory-foam mattresses. They’ve also learned to live with some of the quirks, like the windows: a double-paned design with louvered blinds between the glass. The system was created by a local in the middle of the last century, with hopes it would take off nationwide. It didn’t, so their setup marks a rare preservation, Dietz says. But that also means there’s no one left alive who can maintain them.

The couple moved to make a change from their high-stress lives in Dallas. But those experiences help them provide good customer service, however harried the guest, Dietz jokes. Maybe the biggest change has been for repeat guests who now see Dietz and Brown at the front desk whenever they roll into town, and from whatever direction.

Read more: While Route 66 may hold the largest number of retro motor lodges, they can be found elsewhere throughout the state.

Year built: 1956.
Renovation: Nothing major, just updates.
Don’t miss: Just outside Room 10, a red-painted keystone commemorates the Marchiondo family, who built the motel and still live in Ratón.
Neon: None.

308 Canyon Drive, Raton; 575-445-3641,


The Raton Museum has preserved and shared the town’s history of pioneers, miners, ranchers, and travelers on the Old Santa Fe Trail since it was established in 1939. Exhibitions have also featured the work of current local artists and events with authors of local histories talking about the state’s lesser-known features. Stop in to peruse the latest or pick up a brochure for a self-guided tour of the historic downtown.