Its first formal name, Douglas, was used only for a short time and after it grew into a permanent settlement, it was renamed Tucumcari in 1908. The name was taken from Tucumcari Mountain, which is situated near the community. Where the mountain got its name is uncertain, but it may have come from the Comanche word “tukamukaru”, which means to lie in wait for someone or something to approach. A 1777 burial record mentions a Comanche woman and her child captured in a battle at Cuchuncari, which is believed to be an early version of the name Tucumcari.
Legend has it that Apache Chief Wautonomah was near death and was troubled by the question of who would succeed him as ruler of the tribe. In a classic portrait of love and competition, his two finest braves, Tonopah and Tocom, Chief Wautonomah beckened Tonopah and Tocom to his side and announced, “Soon I must die and one of you must succeed me as chief. Tonight you must take your long knives and meet in combat to settle the matter between you. He who survives shall be the Chief and have my daughter Kari for his wife.” Not only were these two braves rivals and sworn enemies of one another, but were both vying for the hand of Kari, Chief Wantonomah’s daughter. Kari knew her heart belonged to Tocom and as ordered, the two braves met, with knives outstretched, in mortal combat. Unknown to either brave was that Kari was hiding nearby. When Tonopah’s knife found the heart of Tocom, the young squaw rushed from her hiding place and used a knife to take Tonopah’s life as well as her own. When Chief Wautonomah was shown this tragic scene, heartbreak overwhelmed him and he buried his daughter’s knife deep into his own heart, crying out in agony, “Tocom-Kari”! With a slight variation in spelling, the Chief’s dying words live on today as Tucumcari, and the mountain symbolizes the story. Some credit this folk tale to Geronimo. Others, believing the claims to be apocryphal, purport the tale variously to have been concocted by anyone from a 1907 Methodist minister to a group of local businessmen seated together at the old Elk Drugstore each embellishing their own rendition of the story.
Tucumcari has been a popular stop for cross-country travelers on Interstate 40 (formerly U.S. Route 66 in the area). It is the largest city on the highway between Amarillo, Texas and Albuquerque, New Mexico. Route 66 runs through the heart of Tucumcari via Route 66 Boulevard, which was previously known as Tucumcari Boulevard from 1970 to 2003 and as Gaynell Avenue before that time. Numerous businesses, including gasoline service stations, restaurants and motels, were constructed to accommodate tourists as they traveled through on Route 66. A large number of the vintage motels and restaurants built in the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s are still in business despite intense competition from newer chain motels and restaurants in the vicinity of Interstate 40, which passes through the city’s outskirts on the south.
Tom Joad, played by Henry Fonda, watches a freight train steam over the Pecos River railroad bridge, into the sunset. It was also one of shooting scenes for Bobbie Jo and the Outlaw starring Lynda Carter in the title role. Santa Rosa has many natural lakes, a seeming anomaly in the dry Desert climate surrounding it. These are sinkholes that form in the limestone bedrock of the area and fill with water, and thus the lakes are connected by a network of underground, water-filled tunnels. The most famous of these is Blue Hole, a popular spot for diving, where cool 61°F or 16°C water forms a lake over 81 feet or 25 meters deep.
In the Pre-1937 alignment of Route 66 the highway went northwards outside of Santa Rosa and went towards Santa Fe via the road to Romeroville. This route affords far better scenery than the route that continued westward past Clines Corner to Tijeras. The road between the highway turnoff to Romeroville and Romeroville itself is an axceptional road lined with old Mexican ranches with salt cedar branch fences and adobe ranch houses. The highway from Romeroville heads into the mountainous area of Glorieta and Canoncita. Glorieta is in Santa Fe County, New Mexico and was the site of two important battles in New Mexico history – the Battle of Santa Fe and the Battle of Glorieta Pass. In Canoncito is a historic church building 13 miles southeast of Santa Fe, north of the I-25 frontage road named the Nuestra Senora de Luz Church and Cemetery. It was built in 1880 and added to the National Register in 1995.
In August of 1934 Georgia O’Keefe, the renowned American artist visited Ghost Ranch, north of Abiquiu near Santa Fe, for the first time and decided immediately to live there. But it was not until 194o that she purchased a house on the Ghost Ranch property. The varicolored cliffs of Ghost Ranch inspired some of her most famous landscapes.
In 1977, O’Keeffe wrote: “the cliffs over there are almost painted for you, you think — until you try to paint them.”