THE BRIGHT NEON LIGHTS. The friendly, personable service. The individually unique rooms with authentic 1940s and 1950s decor. The Blue Swallow Motel, which was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1993, has left a lasting impression on Route 66 travelers for more than 80 years. In fact, it even served as inspiration for the animated Disney film Cars. (Check out the credits at the end of the movie.)

Something struck a chord with current owners Robert and Dawn Federico, too. The couple had wanted to stay at the motel when passing through Tucumcari on a road trip many years ago. With no vacancies that night, they stayed elsewhere, then returned home to Chicago and their demanding corporate jobs.

Then the Covid-19 pandemic forced them to stay home. With the extra time in their schedules and the lack of work-related travel, they reminisced about past personal trips and remembered their time in Tucumcari. As they daydreamed about returning to the Blue Swallow, the couple reassessed what was important to them and how they wanted to spend the rest of their lives.

“We realized that with our jobs, we’d normally be spending about five months apart. We would [work] believing it would give us the stability to spend more time together. It was a Catch-22,” says Robert, who worked as a global trade-show organizer. “When you slow down and step away from the race, you see it—what’s working, what’s not, what’s important. And I was becoming a miserable curmudgeon.”

Lounge by the adjoining garage at the Blue Swallow Motel. Photograph by Gabriella Marks.

Dawn, who worked as a medical-project-management consultant, looked up the Blue Swallow Motel on a whim in early 2020 and discovered it was for sale. The couple entertained the idea of purchasing it, but they assumed someone had already bought it. They reached out to previous owner Kevin Mueller to wish him good luck and to say they hoped to visit again soon. “Kevin wrote back in 20 minutes,” Robert says. “Everything just worked out.”

These days, Dawn primarily covers the administrative duties of the motel, while Robert interacts with guests and employees. They’ve updated the property with faster Wi-Fi, 32-inch flat-screen TVs, and three electric-car charging stations, along with plentiful parking to accommodate trailers and RVs. Still, they work to preserve the 12-room motel’s authenticity and provide guests with that same unique experience they sought on their first trip to Tucumcari. Each room showcases midcentury art, furniture, and even bathroom fixtures. Miniature neon blue swallows cast a cozy glow onto room entrances and adjoining garages.

The main sign, which features a large blue swallow, was updated in the 1950s and again in 2007. However, a hailstorm in May 2023 damaged nearly 90 percent of it. “It’s extremely important to us to always have every piece of neon glowing at the Blue Swallow Motel,” says Dawn, who notes that the neon and hardware replacement has been the largest restoration in its history. “It’s a joy to keep it glowing.”

It’s important to guests as well—no matter where they’re from. “We’ve had folks from at least a hundred different countries stay here since we started,” says Robert. “I make really good coffee now because of a visitor from Turkey.”

On the day I visited, Stephan and Arisa, of Los Angeles, were shopping for souvenirs before checking out and getting back on the road. They were taking their time driving to Austin, Texas, exploring Route 66. “This experience, this drive, has been on our bucket list a long time,” Stephan says. “Seeing the main strip with all of these beautiful motels and the neon that’s lasted the test of time—it’s just awesome. It’s really cool to see Tucumcari still here.”

Read more: Experience the timeless charm of El Rey Court, a historic motor inn turned trendy hotel on Route 66.

Year built: 1939, opened in 1942 after delays related to World War II.
Renovation: First in the late 1990s, substantially in 2017, and now, Dawn Federico says, restoration is a yearly occurrence during the offseason.
Don’t miss: The original 1939 Bakelite Bell rotary-dial phones in every room.
Neon: The main sign was updated in the 1950s and again in 2007. It is currently under renovation after storm damage in May 2023.

815 E. US 66, Tucumcari; 575-461-9849,


Take a break from I-40 and head to Kix on 66, a family-run diner with New Mexico flavor that offers a plentiful menu for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. On a busy Saturday morning, the service was welcoming and fast, with travelers and locals in equal measure filling up seats at the long, clean counter and cozy booths. Colorful glass lamps, Route 66 memorabilia, and signs that say things like “Life Is a Beautiful Ride” hang overhead. For the road: Head down a few blocks to Goodies Go Last Bakery for some extra caffeine and deliciously sweet or savory baked goods.