Everyone loves listening to good tunes on a road trip — but has the road itself ever sung to you?! If not, you might want to head to Albuquerque, New Mexico and take a ride on the musical highway…before it disappears!
When traveling near Albuquerque in New Mexico, you’ll find a section of Route 66 alongside hwy 40 called the Musical Highway, if you know where to look! It’s so-named because the rumble strips in the road were placed just right so they vibrate to sound like the song America the Beautiful.
The creators achieved this with clever engineering — when a single groove is driven across, it causes a vibration, and if you calculate correctly, you can produce specific notes. And when you place individual strips a precise distance apart, you can create songs!
To get the right tune, you have to be going 45 miles per hour. In fact, the musical highway was originally made in 2014, through a partnership between the New Mexico Department of Transportation and the National Geographic channel, to encourage drivers to slow down and not break the speed limit. Such a cool idea — why don’t we have more of these??
Our visit to Albuquerque’s Musical Highway
In April 2020, we were headed from Arizona to Colorado to attend my sister’s wedding. This was during the early days of the Covid pandemic, and she was on the fence about whether or not they could continue with their plans. She ended up having to officially cancel at the last minute, when we were about halfway there!
We found ourselves spending the night in Santa Fe, New Mexico while we decided what to do next — continue on to Colorado anyway or turn around and head back to Arizona. Eventually, we decided on the latter and turned around.
BUT, since we were nearby, we seized the opportunity to take a quick detour to the small town of Tijeras, New Mexico, just outside Albuquerque, to take a ride on the musical highway!
And I’m so glad we did. Thanks to instructions from Atlas Obscura (and no thanks to the fact that the roadside signs marking the Musical Highway have been removed), we were able to find the right spot. Read on for exact instructions!
On our way there, I played a YouTube video of America the Beautiful, to remind the kids of the song, so they knew what to listen for. Then, when we got close to the spot, I thought my video had accidentally started up again. But nope, it was the rumble strips! Sounding just like the song, clear as day!
Yep, we kind of accidentally found the right spot! We turned around and tried again, on purpose this time, and we caught parts of the tune as we did our best to drive straight on the rumble strips.
But the third time was the charm, and I was able to get this video of the song as we drove the Musical Highway! The song starts at 0:12. You’ll hear the chorus:
God shed his grace on thee
And crown thy good with brotherhood
From sea to shining sea
Can you still drive Albuquerque’s Musical Highway?
If you want to visit and have this special experience, you should try to go as soon as possible. Unfortunately, the series of rumble strips that play the tune aren’t being maintained, and there’s no guarantee that they’ll be around for much longer. Plus, the grooves that create the vibrations have slowly worn down, making the song a bit out of tune.
When we went in March 2020, the signs that marked the Musical Highway had been taken down, which was a big disappointment to us. You can still see what the signs looked like in the Atlas Obscura article.
But the good news is that you CAN still drive the Musical Highway and hear the song. You just have to know where to drive.
Where is Albuquerque’s Musical Highway?
The Musical Highway lasts one quarter-mile stretch of historic Route 66 near Albuquerque and plays the chorus to America the Beautiful.
Here are directions for how to get to the Musical Highway, from Albuquerque.
- Head east on I-40 and take exit 170.
- At the stop sign, turn left onto 333/Historic Route 66.
- Drive about three miles.
You’ll cross over I-40 right away and it’ll be to your right for a little while, then you’ll cross back under and I-40 will be to your left. At that point, you’re almost there.
- The musical section of the road is pinpointed pretty well by Google Maps, between mileposts 4 and 5, on the side of the road heading east.
You can watch my video to see exactly where it starts, but look for the green sign for exit 175 on the left side of the road, and then look for a white sign on the right side that says “Pass with care”.
Right after that sign a guard rail starts, and that’s where you’ll hear the first notes. The rumble strips are on the inside of the white line (unlike most rumble strips, which are on the outside of the white line to warn you when you start to swerve).
Drive with your right side car’s tires right next to the white line, and you should hear the tune! After the chorus ends, you’ll see more rumble strips ahead that have been filled in.
If you don’t get it quite right on your first pass, it’s pretty easy to turn around and have another go, just be careful of traffic on both sides.
Are there other musical roads in the United States?
Unfortunately, musical roads aren’t a big thing in the USA! There is one other, in Lancaster, California, that plays the William Tell Overture. You can also find other musical roads overseas in Japan, China, South Korea, Denmark, Hungary, among other countries.
The Musical Highway in Albuquerque, however, is the only one that plays America the Beautiful, and also the only musical highway in the southwest. So if you are excited about driving (and hearing) this highway, you should definitely go as soon as you can!
America sure is beautiful, and we hope this “little stretch of musical road that could” stays around as long as possible.