By Ryn Gargulinski: Quay County Sun
Its sign is a screaming neon blue. People passing through have gotten tattoos of the little bird on their ankles. It’s most likely the most photographed motel in Tucumcari. And now it’s got new owners.
Route 66’s infamous Blue Swallow Motel – that’s been featured on Web sites, field trips and in books published as far away as the Czech Republic – will be changing hands in early March.
Current owners Dale and Hilda Bakke, who bought the motel in 1998, are passing it along so they are free to travel to Minnesota to care for an ailing family member.
New owners Bill Kinder and Terri Johnson, a retired couple from Oscala, Fla., found the motel listed for sale online.
“We’ve been thinking about buying a motel for about 10 years,” Johnson said, “and Bill kept going back to this one, going back to this one.”
So now they’ll be living in this one, she said, adding they’re ready for their new adventure.
And what an adventure it will be, said Hilda Bakke, adding the Bakkes’ eight years at the motel have seen a lot of different things – like renovation.
“When we first bought the place it was rough,” Dale Bakke said, adding he had to pretty much rip out and redo the basics in every room while his wife got the pleasure of redecorating them.
“It was like having a 12-bedroom house,” Hilda Bakke said.
The need to renovate was not a shock, however, as the hotel was originally built in 1939. Although it gained state historical status in the 1980s, the Bakkes said it was in need of some tender loving care when they claimed it as their own.
As it worked out, their revamping of the rooms and lobby has led to a long and steady stream of visitors – save for the seven months last year they had to close down to travel to Minnestota.
Some notables guests have included crews from Pixar Studios; Dennis Kinch, a man walking to increase pain awareness for the National Pain Foundation, and a bicycle tour, complete with riding legend Lon Haldeman, who are scheduled again in April with enough cyclists to fill the entire Blue Swallow plus spill into others.
Hilda Bakke said Japanese tourists also seem to like the place, as do others, like car-club members, who are traveling the whole of Route 66.
“We’ve had groups from places like Germany who rent motorcycles in Chicago to ride to California,” Dale Bakke said.
He said they had a man from France not too long ago who was rollerblading the length of Route 66; one of his worn-out rollerblade wheels now hangs in the motel lobby.
They’ve also seen entire field trips, once from a class in California and regularly from history students from the University of New Mexico.
“It’s kind of bittersweet,” Dale Bakke said of leaving the Blue Swallow’s nest. “We do like it here; we love New Mexico. This is a good town to live in, we like the smaller town and the people here.”
New owner Johnson said she and Kinder are sure to feel the same, especially since they’ve lived in New Mexico before and prefer small towns.
“There’s enough people, but not too many, like in Amarillo or Albuquerque,” she said.
“Bill likes all that nostalgic stuff,” Johnson said of one of the reasons they were drawn to the Blue Swallow.
“This place has got a lot of heart,” she said, “a lot of character.”