The Romantic Gringo

Friday, December 23, 2011

Holbrook, Arizona

For over a decade, R.G. has yearned to stay in the Wigwam Motel of Holbrook, AZ. Coincidentally, R.G.'s great aunt moved to Arizona in the '40s, around the time the Wigwam Motel first opened its wigwam doors. R.G., however, caught wind of the place after it reopened in the '90s. It's taken until now for her to be able to manage a visit, but the experience surpassed her buildup, which is saying something.

The Wigwam Motel is amazing. It's super cute from the outside, super cute from the inside, and, what you wouldn't expect, just plain lovely. The mattresses are heavenly and the towels are huge and fluffy. It was so nice in there that R.G. and her brother found it hard to motivate themselves to leave and saunter to The Empty Pockets Saloon, which was an obvious misstep. R.G. is pretty sure Empty Pockets would have been the creme a la creme. A train runs behind the wigwams, but amazingly you cannot hear it from inside. The only downside to the place that R.G. can detect is the overly aggressive shower spray. Too hard, that shower spray!

Holbrook is cute, by the way. Besides Empty Pockets, there's Joe and Aggie's Cafe, which is adorable with very charming owners/staff. The friendly teenager who manages the liquor store spoke of belligerent local youth, but R.G. and brother didn't see any troublemakers for themselves. (There was some concern because C.G.'s traveling attire is shiny and pink, which they suspected might rile a ne'er-do-well with strict ideas about gender roles.) It looked pretty peaceful, but then again it was quite cold out.

If it's serious eating you're after, drive 30 minutes west to The Turquoise Room of the magnificent La Posada Art Gallery/Hotel in Winslow. Not cheap, but local-sourced and masterfully cooked. 303 E 2nd St Winslow, Arizona 86047, (928) 289-4366,

Wigwam Motel, 811 W. Hopi Dr., Holbrook, AZ 86025, Hopi exit off I-40, (928) 524-3048, $60 for a double. TV, no internet or coffee maker in room. Dog $5 extra.

Tucumcari, New Mexico

R.G., her brother, C.G., and her brother's dog, E.G., are making an automotive pilgrimage from Detroit to Carefree, AZ for the holidays, and Tucumcari was, as you may intuit, an important motel stop. The old strip of Tucumcari that runs along Rte. 66 has many adorable '50s motel exteriors. It looks like the old section of Vegas or Reno, without the depressive gambling. A part of R.G. wants to go back and try out a bunch of them. The Buckaroo, however, did not disappoint: it was cheap, clean, un-renovated, and un-updated (which is to say dated, as R.G. commends). Well, the mattresses have been updated, which R.G. appreciates, but the rest of the decor gives the proper time capsule vibe. Fake wood paneling, padded headboards, vintage furniture. The owners are sweet and sensible. It's just good there.

The only complaint to be had was that R.G. and brother found the area nightlife a tad lacking. They went to the only establishment that appeared to be open, the promisingly named Lizard Lounge, and found an empty bar. They patronized it, and the bartender was nice, but it wasn't much. Tucumcari food looked scarce too, but that might be because the Buckaroo is quite far down the strip.

In any case, don't risk it. Instead, stop 20 miles before Tucumcari at the Dhillion truck gas station off the Logan exit. Don't be intimidated by the frankly unnerving exterior. The samosas they make inside are transcendent.

Buckaroo Motel, 1315 W Tucumcari Blvd, Tucumcari, NM 88401, first exit off I-40, (575) 461-1650, $30 for a double. Dog $5. TV, no internet, no coffeemaker.