Capturing the Hidden Legacies of Route 66 in New Mexico

Centennial Documentation Projects and Programs Honoring the Mother Road, Its People, and Stories

  • Audra Bellmore University of New Mexico
  • Donatella Davanzo National Park Service grant project consultant
Keywords: Architecture, historic preservation, New Mexico, Route 66, diversity, visual anthropology


From southern Chicago to the Santa Monica Pier, the historic U.S. highway Route 66 captures the imagination of travelers and dreamers. The “Mother Road” as it was nicknamed during its heyday (1926-1985), represents an upbeat spirit through its colorful streetscapes highlighting neon signs, diners, drive-ins, courtyard motels, and whimsical road art. Revealing the full story of Route 66 as a symbol of America itself, however, is richer and more varied than even its vibrant material culture might suggest. The road and the people who lived, worked, played, and traveled on it – and continue to do so – tell a profound story.  

Ahead of the centennial of Route 66 in 2026, several regional and national initiatives have developed to expand the highway’s narrative. The array of endeavors, many originating in New Mexico where the National Park Service’s Route 66 Corridor Preservation Program is headquartered, are bringing renewed life to the old road. Through hands-on preservation programs, research collaboratives, photographic surveys, and digital story-mapping tools based in public agencies, universities, libraries, archives, and museums, projects are harnessing the story-telling possibilities of the road as a cultural landscape of grand and complicated significance. Leveraging the momentum of the upcoming 100th anniversary, the Route 66 Corridor Preservation Program, Research Route 66, Hispanic Legacies of Route 66 in New Mexico, the Albuquerque Route 66 Photographic Survey, Route 66 Connected, and the Hidden Legacies of Route 66 in New Mexico are working together with a shared vision for the future of a historic byway.   

Author Biographies

Audra Bellmore, University of New Mexico

Dr. Audra Bellmore is the University of New Mexico’s (UNM) faculty representative on the National Park Service initiative, Research Route 66 since 2013. She is the principal investigator and primary writer for the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s Hidden Legacies of Route 66 project. She is an Associate Professor/Curator of the John Gaw Meem Archives of Southwestern Architecture at UNM. 

Donatella Davanzo, National Park Service grant project consultant

Dr. Donatella Davanzo, Italian American cultural anthropologist, is a scholarly photo ethnographer and instructor of visual anthropology. Her documentary work primarily focuses on the Southwest area by surveying Native American sites, the acequia communities, and historic properties along Route 66 to preserve their contemporary cultural, social, and iconographic aspects and traditions.