Home to over 20,000 people, Gallup is the largest community between Flagstaff and Albuquerque. Due to the remote location, the city is the primary transportation and financial hub for the Four Corners area, providing services for approximately 120,000 people who live in the surrounding area. Frankly, when it comes to cell phone reception, grocery stores, restaurants, or big box stores, the choices are Gallup, Window Rock, or Farmington.
Community at the Crossroads
Located on I-40, 139 miles west of Albuquerque and 25 miles east of the Arizona border, Gallup has always been at the crossroads for travel and trade. Prior to the arrival of Europeans, there were trade routes connecting the Ancestral Puebloans to tribes on the west coast and south in Mexico. The modern incarnation isn’t all that modern. The settlement started as a stagecoach stop and a couple of shops catering to travelers back in the 1860s. Fortunately, the railroad chose Gallup as a stop on the western transcontinental route, establishing an office prior to the rails being completed in 1881. This pulled workers to town to collect their pay from David Gallup, the paymaster for the railroad at the time. Hence the phrase, “going to Gallup.”
Eventually, the railroad replaced the stagecoach, only to be replaced decades later by the automobile. However, Gallup remained on the map as a stop on historic Route 66, immortalized in the song Route 66, “Now you go through St. Louis, Joplin, Missouri, and Oklahoma City looks mighty pretty, you’ll see Amarillo, Gallup, New Mexico, Flagstaff, Arizona. Don’t forget Winona. Kingman, Barstow, San Bernadino.”
Gallup is rough around the edges. There is not much in the way of fine dining or high-end hotels. In fact, other than national chains, like Days Inn, Motel 6, etc, the most noteworthy local lodging option is Hotel El Rancho, a historic property built in the 1930s to accommodate movie stars and film crews who were working on westerns being filmed in the area.
El Rancho doesn’t feel like staying at a random hotel chain anywhere in the United States. The New Mexico vibe is palpable, taken to a fun, crowded, kitsch extreme, both in terms of historic preservation and reveling in their place as a Route 66 classic. Check out the collection of autographed Hollywood head shots on the second floor, an impressive Golden Age of Hollywood gallery.
Many people refer to Gallup as the “Indian Capital of the World,” because the Navajo Nation surrounds the community. Zuni Pueblo is south of town. Hopi is fairly close, across the Arizona border to the northwest and Acoma/Laguna pueblos are further east. Overall, more than 1/3 of Gallup’s population is Native American, with the Bureau of Indian Affairs regional headquarters based there.
Tribal members from the Navajo Nation represent the largest community. Though Navajo artisans make a variety of crafts, original Navajo rugs and blankets are prized by museums and private collectors worldwide and there is a reason they make the trek to Gallup. The selection is overwhelming, in terms of sheer numbers, as well as visually.
Zuni Pueblo is about 35 miles south of Gallup. It is the largest of New Mexico’s nineteen pueblos. They make carved stone fetishes and intricate jewelry, often with delicately cut turquoise or coral set in sterling silver.
Located in Arizona, Hopi pottery, black engraved silver jewelry, and kachina dolls are unique. Unfortunately, it has become more challenging to find good Hopi jewelry, because the cost of silver and other raw materials soared over the last decade while the amount the artist makes has remained fairly constant. That disparity forced many artists to seek more lucrative occupations.
Acoma and Laguna pueblos are between Albuquerque and Gallup. For people passing through, diverting to Acoma Sky City is well worth the time. Acoma’s pottery is amazing, intricate, detailed polychrome designs.
If you have less than day, I recommend checking out the trading posts, pawn shops, historic buildings and murals. The heaviest concentration of “all of the above” is in downtown Gallup. However, with ongoing construction on Coal, it is much easier to walk than drive. There is free public parking available next to the Cultural Center on Main Street/Route 66, as well as near the Municipal Courthouse. However, if you have more than a day, Gallup is a fantastic base for exploring Zuni Pueblo and the Four Corners region.
The weather in the Four Corners is pleasant (most of the time). For example, Gallup has more than 280 sunny days each year, with an average of 9.6 inches of rain annually. However, Mother Nature frequently packs all four seasons into a day and the Continental Divide is nearby. Therefore, jackets or sweaters are “a must” for evening activities, even during the summer. It is surprising how quickly the temperature drops in the high desert when the sun sets.
The Southwest Indian Foundation opened the Gallup Cultural Center in 1996. The Center’s goal is to educate the public about the rich heritage and history of the Four Corners region. Housed on the 2nd-floor of the historic Santa Fe Depot on Route 66, the station was renovated to look like the 1918 El Navajo Hotel, a Harvey Hotel at this location in the 1930s. Unfortunately, El Navajo didn’t survive. The property demolished in the 1950s.
The Cultural Center houses the City of Gallup Visitor Center, the Storyteller Museum, the Master’s Gallery, a gift shop and Angela’s Café. The Storyteller Museum features cultural and historic exhibits about the Gallup area; trains, Historic Route 66, the Navajo Code Talkers, and Native American art, artifacts, kachinas. For more information, the Gallup Visitor Center provides brochures about things to see and do locally and in the Four Corners region.
Navajo Code Talker Exhibit
The Navajo Code Talkers exhibit pays tribute to the contributions of Native American troops during World War II. The collection highlights how the Navajo Code Talkers used their language to baffle the Germans and the Japanese. Twenty-nine of the code talkers trained at Fort Wingate prior to departing from Gallup to Europe. Due to the number of code talkers in the area, the exhibit includes an impressive assortment of memorabilia from World War II.
As the Native American jewelry capital of the world, Gallup is known for its many iconic trading posts. It is the epicenter for original Native American arts and crafts. Scattered all over town, trading posts offer expansive collections of Native American jewelry, rugs, kachinas, pottery, baskets, music, and more. In fact, Gallup is where the buyers buy. The work produced in and around Gallup stock the art markets of Santa Fe, New York, and San Francisco. Furthermore, everything is within easy walking distance from the public parking areas on Route 66 by the depot. The 12-block downtown area is bordered by Route 66/Main Street (north), Hill Avenue (south, Fourth Street (west), and First Street (east). The densest concentration of turn-of-the-century architecture and historic trading posts are in this area.
Richardson’s Trading Company
222 W. 66th Ave.
Gallup, New Mexico
The flea market on N. Ninth Street, just off U.S. 491, is Gallup’s one-stop shop for interesting and eclectic items. Open from 8 AM to sundown on Saturdays, you can find great deals on Native American jewelry, pottery, clothing, saddles, and other handmade items. Additionally, it is one of the best places in town for delicious, authentic Native American cuisine.
Take a self-guided tour of Gallup’s culture and history via the downtown murals. Many of them tell the town’s story visually and most of the large, impressive murals are within easy walking distance of the Chamber.
Red Rock Museum
Through interpretive exhibits, the Red Rock Museum chronicles the lives and culture of the Ancestral Puebloans, as well as the present-day Zuni, Hopi and Navajo. The Museum houses permanent displays of Kachinas, pottery, rugs, silver, and turquoise as well as traveling art exhibits. Museum hours are 8:30 AM -4:30 PM Monday-Friday or by appointment.
Red Rock Park is the site of numerous annual events, including the Intertribal Indian Ceremonial in mid-August. It features a natural amphitheater set against wind sculpted red sandstone cliffs. There is an auditorium/convention center, 8,000-seat arena, a museum, a historic post office and trading post, stables, and a modern campground. The facility accommodates 600 for trade shows or concert performances.
We The People Park
This park is listed with the Smithsonian Art Database. There are several interesting sculptures, including one that is 110 feet long, constructed of steel, and surrounded by other sculptures representing “free speech, pluralism, democracy, and our coexistence with the environment.”
Random Drone Tip: Most of downtown Gallup and Route 66 is in a no-fly zone; however, this park, right on the other side of the interstate from Hotel El Rancho, doesn’t appear to have any flight restrictions.
Summer Dances on the Plaza | On Hold Due to Covid
Native Dancers perform from Labor Day to Memorial Day on the Plaza. Dancing is every Friday from 7-8 PM. Free of charge. Featuring traditional drum, rattle, and flute instruments, along with explanations regarding the cultural traditions that surround the dances. Many of the dances were banned until the 1930s. Thus, this is a rare chance to not only watch the dancers, but to get involved. Dancers often invite spectators to join the dance. Furthermore, photos are encouraged, which is often not the case during social dances or pow wows! Artists and vendors are on site. For the best view, sit on the east side of McKinley County Courthouse Square.
Gallup hosts the second largest Balloon Rally in New Mexico on the first weekend of December. Though the event is considerably smaller than the Balloon Fiesta in Albuquerque, The Red Rock Balloon Rally is still one of the largest in North America. Over 200 Balloons waft over the sandstone bluffs and canyons of Red Rock Park.
Held annually since 1981, there is no admission, though there is a small parking fee. Guests can gawk, volunteer as a member of one of the chase crews, or book a flight. For more details on the latter, contact X-Treme-Lee Fun Adventures.
Gallup hosts Native Americans from across the United States every August in a massive Inter-tribal ceremonial. 2020 was cancelled due to covid, 2021 may be virtual (remains to be seen), but 2022 marks the 100 year anniversary of this event. Organizers are already working on it (as of 2020).
The Inter-Tribal Ceremonial is four days, running from Wednesday-Sunday, with socials and rodeos held at Red Rock Park. Friday-Sunday events are usually scheduled 9 AM – 10 PM. However, it is a good idea to check the schedule for exact times and locations. The Indoor/Outdoor Marketplace and the Ceremonial Showroom present an unsurpassed selection of authentic Native American Fine Arts, including Navajo rugs, kachinas, jewelry, pottery, textiles, and basketry. Additionally, there are day and evening parades on Route 66 in downtown Gallup, with dancers in full regalia. The evening parade is magical, because observers can often hear the sound of the dancers long before they see them.
In addition to the rodeos during Inter-Tribal Indian Ceremonial, Gallup hosts multiple large rodeos. Check out their website for upcoming rodeos.
Hiking & Biking
From the rolling mesa trails of the High Desert Trail System to the tree-lined singletrack trails in the Zuni Mountains, there are a variety of biking, hiking, and cross country skiing, and outdoor trails for all skill levels. Formally designated “The Adventure Capital of New Mexico,” Gallup is home to hundreds of miles of hiking, biking, climbing, and outdoor trails.
High Desert Trail System- First and Second Mesa is a 28 mile moderately trafficked loop trail located near Gamerco, New Mexico. Dog Friendly.
The Pyramid Rock trail is a 3-mile round trip route. Church Rock Trail is a 2-miles trail, beginning at the Outlaw Trading Post parking lot.
UNM Gallup Fitness Trail is a 1.3 mile loop trail. There is ample free parking on campus and easy access to this trail in the southern part of Gallup. Trail map.
Twenty-five miles of single track trail for mountain biking, running and hiking in the Cibola National Forest about 15 miles east of Gallup on NM 400. Additionally, Hilso Trail Head is on this route at mile 7.5.
The People’s Flag
This 1/2 mile easy hike is on a crushed rock trail that leads up to the flag that overlooks the City of Gallup. Located on Hasler Valley Road next to Michele’s Readi-Mix.
This National Recreation Trail includes over 22-miles of stacked loop, single track mountain biking trails, with good trailhead parking at both ends. Additionally, there are multiple works of public art on the route, including rock sculptures, metal sculptures, and sundials.
The trailhead is just to the northwest of the Red Rock Motorsports area and the gate is always open. Though the trail climbs steeply at first, it’s good exercise to tote the bike, right?
Twin Springs Area
Primitive single-track trails, logging railroad corridors, and two track forest roads. No signage and the roads are unimproved dirt and trails are closed from December until mid-April due to unpredictable weather.
Fun Facts About Gallup
- Rand McNally named Gallup America’s most Patriotic Small Town in 2013.
- The Land of Enchantment Opera hosts a unique educational program every summer where young artists from around the world come to Gallup to learn and perform for audiences.
- The city fought (successfully) to prevent 800 Japanese American residents from being placed in wartime internment during World War II. In fact, Gallup was the only New Mexico city to do so.
- Gallup also has a long history of being in the forefront of the civil rights movement. For example, the city opposed racial discrimination against its black residents as far back as the 1940’s…and see 3.
- Bob Dylan claimed he was raised in Gallup early in his career. However, Bob Dylan has no connection to New Mexico. He was born Robert Zimmerman in Duluth, Minnesota.
- Red Rock State Park: 8 miles east.
- Red Rock Museum: 4 miles east
- Acoma Sky City: 88 miles east
- Chaco Culture National Historical Park: 72 miles south
- Aztec Ruins National Monument: 96 miles north
- Canyon de Chelly National Monument: 90 miles northwest
- El Morro National Monument: 51 miles southeast
- El Malpais National Monument: 87 miles southeast
- Cibola National Forest: 15 miles south
- Bisti Badlands/DeNaZin Wilderness areas: 105 miles northeast
- Navajo Reservation: 10 miles west
- Zuni Pueblo: 20 miles south
- Four Corners Monument: 120 miles north
- The Continental Divide: 20 miles east
- Hubbell Trading Post: 56 miles northwest
- Wild Spirit Wolf Sanctuary: 62.6 miles southeast
- Bluewater Lake: 47.6 miles east