Those of you who follow our Motel Monday series here on our Stuckey’s Pecan Blog may have noticed that many of our recent posts have been focused on motels of Tucumcari, New Mexico, and there’s good reason for that.

For decades, Tucumcari has been a popular stop for taking a cross-country road trip along old Route 66. In fact, some of you may remember seeing the popular billboards that once sat on the Route 66 roadside for hundreds of miles with the slogans “Tucumcari Tonite” and “2000 motel rooms”.

What’s more, some of you may even remember the number of rooms unfortunately being reduced to 1200 after the construction of I-40 in New Mexico started in 1960. As is the case with many roadside motels that once sat along the famous Mother Road, when the interstate passed by Tucumcari, family vacationers and roadtrippers passed by, too, causing many motels in the New Mexican city to be shuttered up and abandoned.

Still, in spite of competition from the I-40 motel chains some Tucumcari motels like the Blue Swallow Motel and the Roadrunner Lodge Motel managed to hang on and have been lovingly restored to their former glory. The Motel Safari, the subject of today’s Motel Monday, is another one.

The Motel Safari

Built and designed by Chester Dohrer in 1959, the motel featured (and still does feature) the mid-century modern “Googie” design – a kind of futurist architecture that took car culture, jets, the Atomic Age, and the Space Age as its muses that’s found in the design of many motels, restaurants, and gas stations (and even their roadside signs) of the times.

The Motel Sahara was originally a Best Western motel with its roadside sign sporting the Best Western Crown as seen in the postcard, circa 1960. Public Domain.

According to a postcard from around 1962, the motel had “23 lovely, well-furnished units” and amenities included “TV, tubs/showers, in-room phones, refrigerated air conditioners,” and was fully “carpeted”.

Ronald and Arlene Fry bought the motel from Dohrer when they moved to Tucumcari from Wisconsin in 1970 and ran the hotel for 14 years, raising five kids all the while. The couple sold the motel when they retired in 1984 and it changed hands many times over the years after that. Unfortunately, during all of these changes, the motel also fell into disrepair due to neglect and bad management.

That all changed in 2007, however, when Richard and Gail Talley purchased the property and began painstakingly renovating and restoring the motel.

Retro Renovation Inside…

Richard and Gail brought their hotel management know-how and design skills together to bring the hotel back to its original design element while also including all the modern amenities that today’s travelers have come to expect.

Interior rooms include classic mid-century modern furniture that was custom built for the hotel back in 1959 alongside newer pieces of furniture that are complimentary to the original. The walls of each standard room display artwork inspired by original photos from the halcyon days of Tucumcari’s Route 66, along with old linen postcard prints of gone-but-not-forgotten local motels.

The interior of the lobby today, complete with an almost life-sized retro humpback. Photo: Stephanie Stuckey/Stuckey’s Corp.

You’ll also find two luxuriously retro specialty suites here at the Motel Safari. First, there’s the Rockabilly Suite which pays tribute to Wanda Jackson – not only the Queen of Rockabilly, but also the special suite’s first guest. Inside you’ll find all sorts of memorabilia from Lee Rocker, Wayne Hancock, Jonathan Richman, Jess McEntire, Deke Dickerson, Lance Lipinsky, Heidi Swedberg and other world-famous rockabilly musicians who have spent a night or two in the Motel Safari’s Rockabilly Suite.

For those who like a little less country and a little more western, there’s the Rawhide Suite. After a hard day of “rollin’, rollin’, rollin’”, you can rest your head in this western-themed suite inspired by the classic television series Rawhide.  Starring Eric Fleming and a young Clint Eastwood (before his westerns had spaghetti in them), the series was filmed near Tucumcari.

At the same time, 21st century travelers will appreciate the fact that the Talley’s integrated top-of-the-line modern amenities like free and speedy fiber-optic WIFI, 40″ LED HDTVs with all the premium channels, plush Sealy Posturepedic pillow-top mattresses, Frigidaire remote-controlled air conditioning Speakman Anystream shower heads, Keurig in-room coffee makers and Route 66 Radio – your favorite 50s and 60s classics broadcast on their own Tivoli radios in each room. You’ll also find a Guest Services Room with plenty of awesome extras, like an ice machine, a community fridge and microwave, and free laundry facilities.

The outside will take you back to the heyday of Route 66. Photo: Stephanie Stuckey/Stuckey’s Corp.

… and Out

Of course, the Talley’s spent just as much time and care on the exterior as they did on the interior of this classic roadside motel. Mid-century modern colors accentuate the motel’s Googie design complete with Space Age boomerangs that highlight unit doors and the accommodation’s porte-cochère.

What’s more, Tucumcari is well known today for its murals which carries over to the exterior décor of the Motel Sahara as well. Here you’ll find Elvis Presley exiting his 1959 Cadillac suitcase in hand and ready to check in for the night and of course, the famous billboard beckoning travelers to make it “Tucumcari Tonite!” – all courtesy of local artists Doug and Sharon Quarles.

Who didn’t like a nice Hawaiian Punch back in the day? Photo: Stephanie Stuckey/Stuckey’s Corp.

Oh, and we can’t forget that glorious Googie sign out front. When it first opened in 1959, the sign was topped off with a Best Western crown; however, that was replaced in 1962 by Clyde the Camel which gives the place a bit more personality. Clyde and his rider are a tribute to Edward Fitzgerald Beale’s Camel Expedition which came through New Mexico, Arizona and California in 1857. They were looking for the best route to become part of a national road system, and Route 66 would even end up following some of the trail Beale’s Expedition blazed.

Make It a “Tucumcari Tonite” Night

That gorgeous Googie-inspired Motel Safari sign at night. Photo: Stephanie Stuckey/Stuckey’s Corp.

In 2017, after ten years of owning the Motel Safari, Richard and Gail Talley decided to retire. They sold the place that summer to current owner Larry Smith – a former Tennessean who always dreamed of owning and operating a Route 66 motel.  Larry continues to add to the retro feel of the place including adding two new guest rooms, a custom fire pit on the patio, and even an almost life-sized vintage camel in the lobby.

If you’re thinking about making it a “Tucumcari Tonite” night on your next Route 66 road trip, make reservations by visiting the Motel Safari website or by emailing info@themotelsafari.com. You can also do it the old-fashioned way by simply calling +1 (575) 461-1048.

By the way, Larry’s got a lot of other big plans lined up, too. If you’re lucky, maybe you’ll even get the chance to witness the relighting of Clyde the Camel atop the motel Safari sign and see him light up the whole Mother Road.

Speaking of mothers, some of you still have time to get your mom that special something from Stuckey’s for Mother’s Day next Sunday.  Say “Thanks for all the road trips you took us on, Mom” by getting her the Stuckey’s Mother’s Day Gift Box. Each Mother’s Day Gift Box includes:

                4 – 2 oz. Pecan Log Rolls,

                4 – 1.7 oz. Pecan Divinity,

                4 – 1.5 oz. Pecan Pralines,

                1 – 8 oz. Hunkey Dorey,

                1 – 4 oz. Sea Salt Pecans,

                1 – 4 oz. Kettle Glazed Pecans, and

                1 – Candy Shoppe Coffee Mug

But time’s a-tickin’ and if you live west of the Rockies, we’re sorry you missed your chance to get the Mother’s Day gift box by Mothers Day.

However, if you live east of the Rockies, your last chance to order is today Monday, May 2.

If you live in the wonderful State of Georgia, your last chance to order and receive your gift box by Mother’s Day is by this Wednesday, May 4 at noon sharp!

So hurry and order yours now only from stuckeys.com!

Stuckey’s – We’re Making Road Trips Fun Again!