Mike and Debbie Pogue operate the family-run Sunset Motel in Moriarty. Photographs by Mary Robnett.
THE SUNSET MOTEL, IN MORIARTY, lays claim to the title of New Mexico’s only Route 66 hotel still owned by the original family. Mike Pogue was there even before the motel’s 1959 beginning. As a grade-schooler, he spent evenings laying bricks for the 18-room motor court with his brother and dad. After Bill Pogue died of cancer in 1972, his wife, Elaine, ran the business alone. Eventually Mike purchased it from his mother, hired managers to run it while building a career, and helped the Sunset Motel survive when many stops along the Mother Road failed. With original wood paneling, exposed block, and recovered and restored midcentury modern furniture, the once-again hip motel appeals to a new wave of Route 66ers.
When my brother and I came home from school, my dad would tell us to go sweep the motel’s sidewalk.
In the early days, we didn’t have air-conditioning. People would come sit outside in the evenings to cool off. What Dad was really saying was “Go meet the world. They’re all sitting outside in Moriarty.”
When I graduated from the University of New Mexico, I wanted to go to New York. I took a job with Price Waterhouse accounting firm.
The motel was for sale for a couple of years. A local banker called me up and said I had a responsibility to my family to take over the business. I told him if he’d loan me the money, I’d buy the hotel. He did, so I did.
I called up my mom and told her we got full asking price for the motel.
The motel lost money for 20 years. Independent hotels didn’t fare necessarily well in the mid- to late 1970s. People wanted indoor courtyards and a swimming pool. There were oil embargoes, and gas stations were closed on Sundays. People weren’t road tripping. A lot of the roadside motels closed during that time.
There were times we charged $16 a night for a room and were glad to get it. I was a partner at a Wall Street firm in New York by then, so I was able to do that.
It all changed with the internet. It allowed people to find us on their own by looking at places like Expedia, Booking.com, and Google. It let people read the reviews we’d earned.
After we ran out of kids to raise in Northern California, where we were living and working, we decided to come back. We moved back to Moriarty in 2010 to take over daily operations.
I was raised in the hospitality business. We try to treat everyone as family.
Our neon is not original. We took the sign down in the eighties, and it was stolen. I found a picture of the original hanging on the wall of a guitar shop in Austin. Maybe we’ll get it back one of these days.
My wife, Debbie, designed our new neon sign. She’s had a successful career as an illustrator.
Since we moved back, I’ve been called away frequently to continue my work with my network integration company in Sausalito, California. I basically turned to Debbie and said, “Here’s the keys. Good luck.”
By golly, she did it. She really enjoys managing the hotel.
Route 66 takes travelers back to a time in America when the world was on the move.
It appeals to a new generation. College kids can afford it. They share the cost of gas, camp out half the time, and split a room every few days. And they get to see the country.
I’ve had a wonderful career. I’m selling off the company I built in California to the employees. I teach yoga at Bhava Yoga Studio, in Albuquerque. And I get to sit at the hotel’s front desk and meet new friends.
SEE FOR YOURSELF
Check out the Sunset Motel and book your stay.