Quay County Sun - Serving the High Plains

By Steve Hansen

Department of Tourism officials make visit to town

The group toured businesses, rec areas and took trip to Ute Lake.


January 10, 2018

Steve Hansen

Daniel Zamora, president of the Tucumcari Disc Golf Association, talks about disc golfing with Tucumcari Mayor Pro Tem Robert Lumpkin and David Griscom, tourism development director for the New Mexico Department of Tourism, while New Mexico State Sen. Pat Woods looks on.

While New Mexico Department of Tourism officials marveled at the passion they saw in the owners of businesses and volunteer leaders they met Monday as they toured Tucumcari and Quay County, Tucumcari officials who hosted them countered that local residents complain there's nothing going on in Quay County.

The tourism department officials got a day-long tour of Tucumcari and Quay County, hosted by city officials and other community leaders.

Tucumcari City Manager Jared Langenegger drove the entourage around the city with a side trip to Ute Lake State Park in a city-owned van.

Langenegger joined Tucumcari Mayor Ruth Ann Litchfield, Mayor Pro Tem Robert Lumpkin, Tucumcari Main Street Director Gail Houser, Greater Tucumcari Economic Development Corporation Director Pat Vanderpool; Chamber of Commerce Director Gail Sanders and New Mexico State Sen. Pat Woods in hosting a day of whirlwind visits to businesses, institutions, and recreational areas for three tourism department officials.

The visitors included Audrey Herrera-Castillo, deputy cabinet secretary of the tourism department; Aimee Awonohopay, the department's public and industry relations director; and David Griscom, the department's tourism development director.

All three commented on the energy and enthusiasm of the entrepreneurs, volunteers and officials who introduced Tucumcari businesses, museums and outdoor facilities to the visiting state.

"I was surprised at the passion everyone showed for what they were doing," Harrera-Castillo said.

Griscom added, "We need to find a way to bundle that into a package that brings in tourists."

Langenegger conducted a tour of the Tucumcari Convention Center, pointing out its choice of meeting facilities, its kitchen and other amenities, as well as the vintage cars assembled at the Route 66 Museum in the Convention Center.

The group traveled to Tucumcari's new disc golf course at Five-Mile Park, which Daniel Zamora, president of the Tucumcari Disc Golf Association, described as a "city park on steroids."

Langenegger said the course provides a "healthy activity" for residents and visitors that is low-cost and low maintenance

Zamora played one hole of disc golf on the rustic course with Griscom and Mayor Pro Tem Lumpkin. Zamora told them about the golf course hosting its first state professional disc golf tournament last year and plans for more competition.

After lunch, the group traveled to Logan, where Ute Lake State Park officials explained that tourism rises as water levels rise, and that lake visitation soared in September when the the Ute Lake Dam overflowed, sending water cascading down spillways into the Canadian River.

The group then returned to Tucumcari to tour the Tucumcari Railroad Museum in the Rail Depot in downtown Tucumcari.

The tour guide was Mike Lucero, one of the museum's chief organizers. Lucero talked about the key role of railroads in Tucumcari's history, and how the community contributed old rail equipment, artifacts and hundreds of old photos from days when Tucumcari was a rail hub.

The group then walked to La Tiendita, an antique and furniture store nearby on Main Street, where owner Carlos Romero talked about the history of the former First National Bank building that now houses the store.

The building was constructed in 1902, Romero said, and still contains a vault and a massive old "cannonball" safe that rotates to conceal the combination locks.

Romero also talked about a rumored tunnel between the bank building and the old Sands Dorsey building nearby that may have been used in connection with a speak-easy during the Prohibition era of the 1920s.

Romero has never found the tunnel, he said, but friends have recounted memories of their experiences there.

From La Tiendita, the group walked over to the Odeon Theater, which may be oldest continuously operating movie theater in the state, according to Christy Dominguez, the current owner.

The theater was built in the 1930s, she said, and has never stopped showing movies.

Dominguez explained how she and co-owner Robert Lopez bought the theater in 2012 and modernized it, replacing its film projector with digital equipment, installing a new sound system, remodeling rest rooms and installing new seats, some of which, she said, were re-upholstered school bus seats.

The group then traveled to The Gallery, Etc. across the street to view the work of local artists on display there.

From there, the group went to the Doll House, the new bread-and-breakfast in a restored Vicotrian mansion that has been a Tucumcari landmark since it was built in the early 1900s.

Debra Whittington, the current owner, dressed in an outfit from 1908, talked about remodeling and restoration efforts that keep the house's appearance polished while turning back the clock.

From there, the group traveled to the Tucumcari Historic Museum, where Mike Lucero, who had guided the Railroad Museum tour, told them about the museum building's history, starting with its days as an elementary school, and described the contents of the museum's rooms.

The group then separated to visit the rooms to view artifacts that include old musical instruments, ranch equipment, and military artifacts, as well as old liquor bottles that were recovered from the site of Fort Bascom, a military outpost used in the 1860s and 1870s.

The last component of the tour was an after-dark viewing of Tucumcari's neon signs, which are a hallmark of its Route 66 nostalgia that attracts hundreds of tourists each year.

Mayor Litchfield and Gail Sanders, the Chamber of Commerce director, remarked often that people say there is little to do in Tucumcari and Quay County, when the day's touring showed otherwise.

Herrera-Castillo said city officials invited the tourism department officials to tour the city, but that department officials try to make such visits as often as once a month.

The visits, she said, "deepen our relationships with stakeholders in the communities we serve," as well as their own appreciation for the state's attractions for tourists.

In addition, she said, department officials use the visits to reinforce use of the department's "New Mexico True" branding in promoting local attractions.

Awonohopay said millennials, who became adults around the turn of the 21st century, are interested in "exploring deeper," going beyond designated tourist destinations, when they vacation.

That is a major part of the message of the tourism department's "New Mexico True" marketing campaign, she said.

Langenegger said tourism department insight would be very welcome as the city seeks to develop a branding and marketing strategy with professional help from independent marketing firm.

Langenegger said the city's strategy would incorporate "New Mexico True" branding.


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