Electric hued neon signs still glow along the old Route 66 through Albuquerque.
Along what is now Central Avenue, together with vintage signs, you’ll see new versions maintaining the aesthetic tradition of Route 66.
The Highway made famous by story and song, continues to guide visitors through Albuquerque, as it winds down from the volcanoes on the city’s far west side past the ABQ BioPark Botanic Garden, Zoo and Aquarium, through historic Old Town and the Downtown business district, before continuing eastward through the University of New Mexico and the City’s trendy Nob Hill neighborhood.
The stretch of Route 66 that travels east out of Albuquerque and heads to the small town of Tijeras is desolate at best. Besides a handful of gas stations and a grid of power lines, there’s not much to see. But one quarter-mile stretch is music to the ears!
Most rumble strips alert drivers they’ve strayed too close to the edge of the road with a loud, grating vibration akin to chalk on a blackboard, but the grooved lines of this sleepy stretch of Route 66 near Tijeras, New Mexico have a different trick up their sleeve: They sing.
If drivers cross the rumble strip on this stretch of Route 66 at just the right speed it plays “America the Beautiful.” On this quarter-mile section of the highway, the rumble strips have been engineered to sound like the song.
But they won’t sing for anyone with a lead foot. Drivers have to be going exactly 45 miles per hour (the speed limit) to hear the vibrations in action.
The “Musical Highway” was installed in 2014. Created by the New Mexico Department of Transportation in partnership with the National Geographic Channel the idea to make a roadway that sings had a twofold purpose: to encourage drivers to stay the speed limit and to bring a little excitement to this otherwise monotonous stretch of highway.
Enlisting the help of San Bar Construction Corp., a New Mexico-based company that designs and constructs traffic control devices and signs, NMDOT created a length of roadway between mile markers four and five that plays music whenever a vehicle drives over it.
Getting the rumble strips to serenade drivers required quite a bit of engineering. The individual strips had to be placed at the precise distance from one another to produce the notes they needed to sing their now-signature song.
Because Route 66 is such an iconic highway, NMDOT thought it would be cool to do something for its historical and travel value. Albuquerque has several classic car clubs that date back to when Route 66 was in its heyday that still like to cruise the roadway, but these days, souped up Mustangs aren’t the only vehicles getting their kicks on Route 66!
At one time, the historic roadway was one of the main arteries linking Chicago to Los Angeles, serving as a lifeline for farmers and ranchers fleeing the drought-ridden region in search of work during the Dust Bowl.
After World War II, automobile ownership grew and Route 66 did too, becoming a beacon of road tripping freedom for cross-country travelers.
Over the years, driving along the more than 2,400-mile “Mother Road” has remained a bucket-list item for travelers from all over the world, and the Musical Highway is just one more reason for drivers to keep this historic roadway on their GPS.
Most people love the rumbling roadside concert. Some drivers even make a U-turn for a second listen if they missed it on their first pass by traveling a bit too fast or slow. However, some say the song has gotten a bit out of tune in the years since the rumble strips were installed. (Are you listening NMDOT?)
West of Albuquerque I-40 exit 170, then drive east about 3.5 miles on Hwy 333/Route 66. Look for the Musical Road signs between mileposts 4 and 5, shortly after Route 66 crosses to the south side of I-40. The road is only musical driving eastbound. But remember, there’s a catch—the tune only works when cars are traveling at exactly 45 mph.
The only other musical road in the U.S. can be found in Lancaster, California, where a snippet of the “William Tell Overture” plays for drivers going 55 mph. The attraction was originally installed near a residential area, but residents complained so much that the grooves were paved over only two weeks after they were installed.
Three other (known), roads that sing are in Denmark, Japan and South Korea, but as the old song goes:
If you ever plan to motor west
Travel my way, take the highway that is best
Get your kicks on Route sixty six
Lyric by Nelson Riddle
For more about Route 66 in New Mexico, please visit the site linked below.
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