1. Paint the Town
Grab a guide map from the Gallup-McKinley County Chamber of Commerce, lead yourself on a tour of Gallup’s colorful downtown murals, and learn about the city’s culture and history through the eyes of its talented artists. Many of the murals are within easy walking distance of the Chamber, such as artist Richard K. Yazzie’s memorial piece The Long Walk, at the intersection of Third Street and W. Hill Avenue; and Zuni artist Geddy Epaloose’s tribute to Zuni life on the west wall of the Octavia Fellin Public Children’s Library.
2. Tribal Tradition
One of the nation’s largest gatherings of tribes, the annual Gallup Inter-Tribal Indian Ceremonial includes traditional food, dances, an arts-and-crafts expo, the Ceremonial All-Indian Rodeo, a talent competition, and the Miss Indian Ceremonial Queen Coronation. A highlight for many is the three-day competitive powwow. Dance groups from around the country gather in the arena to compete for prizes and titles. During the night parade, dance groups dressed in colorful regalia turn downtown Gallup’s streets into their stage. Street lamps and Route 66 neon illuminate the array of performances as locals and visitors pack the sidewalks, ready to cheer on the dancers.
3. A Movable Feast for the Eyes
Locals and visitors alike descend on Gallup’s pedestrian-friendly downtown corridor on the second Saturday of each month for ArtsCrawl, which celebrates the city’s rich artistic heritage. Many fine art galleries stay open late and open new exhibitions in conjunction with the event. As kids create chalk masterpieces on the blacktop during the summer months, area dance troupes take to the streets and local bands serenade the crowd. You can grab a delicious treat from a food vendor, and engage with local artists as they work along the promenade.
4. Star Power
Built in 1937, R.E. Griffith’s El Rancho Hotel once served as Hollywood’s home away from home, as casts and crews filmed at nearby locations. The restaurant still prepares classic Mexican, American, and New Mexican food, and there’s a popular cantina on the premises.
5. Floating Desert
Located just east of Gallup, Red Rock Park is home to some of the most beautiful geology in the Southwest. The 640-acre park has picnic areas, campsites, and RV hookups, as well as a variety of hiking trails. The annual Red Rock Balloon Rally is the second largest hot-air-balloon rally in the world, after the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta. Since 1981, the rally has attracted devoted international ballooning enthusiasts, photographers, and spectators, who come to witness the mass ascensions, balloon glows, and friendly competitions.
6. Encryption 1.0
Worldwide, the Diné language is best known for its use in the unbreakable code developed for the U.S. Marine Corps during World War II. Gallup hasn’t forgotten the 29 original Navajo Code Talkers or the hundreds who followed. The Chamber of Commerce presents a display of Code Talker information and memorabilia recounting the Diné people’s contributions to the victory at Iwo Jima and beyond. Also honoring the Code Talkers is a wonderfully colorful mural by local artist Be Sargent, at S. Second Street and Coal Avenue. It depicts each of the 29 original Code Talkers, and the 26 animals and items on which the code was based.
7. Riding Highlands
Gallup is home to several rodeos throughout the summer, including the annual Lion’s Club Rodeo, which takes place each year in June at Red Rock Park. Besides the four-legged fun, check out the battle of the bands, the rodeo parade, and the country-western dance, which featured Dennis Yazzie & the Night Breeze Band this year.
8. These Walls Talk
Located in the historic Santa Fe Depot, the Gallup Cultural Center’s building was designed by Mary Colter, railroad-boom entrepreneur Fred Harvey’s personal architect. The center has been refurbished to resemble Harvey’s magnificent El Navajo Hotel, which was built in 1918 near the depot. View contemporary Native American artwork in the upstairs Masters Gallery, then head downstairs to see a photographic account of the city’s past. Don’t miss the Storyteller Museum—packed with Native art, it showcases everything from kachinas to sand paintings. After meandering through the rest of the building, sit down at Angela’s Café con Leche for some of Gallup’s best coffee, soups, sandwiches, and desserts.
9. Jerry-Rigged Appetite
A giant neon sign with a huge yellow arrow directs visitors to the entrance of Jerry’s Cafe, a mainstay of Gallup dining for more than 35 years. It’s not just the sign that gives off a Mother Road vibe. With funky wood paneling and bouncy booths, the place feels like a throwback. The bustling café is small, and almost always busy. Hearty breakfasts here are the stuff of legend, including the Wake-Up Call: two eggs scrambled or fried, hash browns smothered in chile and cheese, your choice of bacon, sausage, or ham, and a sopaipilla. For lunch, hungry locals gravitate toward Miguel’s Delight, composed of a chile relleno, crisp chicken taco, chicken enchilada, rice, beans, a tortilla, and a sopaipilla.
10. Hold the Bun or Hold on to It
What the green chile cheeseburger is to the rest of New Mexico the Navajo burger is to the state’s northwest highlands. This Native take on an American classic replaces the traditional bun with fry bread, a puffy round of deep-fried dough. Navajo tacos, which substitute a piece of fry bread for a hard or soft tortilla shell—as well as blue corn and whole-wheat fry bread—are delicious variations. Locals swear by the Navajo burgers at Earl’s Restaurant and Jerry’s Cafe.
Would you rather keep your burger conventional? Sammy C's Rock 'n' Sports Pub & Grille is the place for you. Named one of CNN's "101 Best Sports Bars in the U.S.," the popular joint offers legendary half-pound burgers (along with a full menu of hearty entrees) in various tempting iterations, from Jalapeño Bacon to Southwest (bacon, guacamole, pepper jack, and red or green chile). The walls are covered with fascinating sports memorabilia, and you can catch a band and pretend it's your corner pub while relaxing in the congenial atmosphere.
11. Enchanted Arias
“We’re trying to do something unique for Gallup,” says Land of Enchantment Opera Institute vice president Patrick Mason. The Institute, only a few years old, holds an annual summer workshop in Gallup. Each year they pull in prestigious opera singers (Allan Glassman, Cheryl Parrish), who come from afar. The gifted troupe of around 30 semiprofessional college-age singers stays in town for several weeks before presenting a series of performances at reasonable prices.
12. Post Time
Gallup is perhaps best known for its many iconic trading posts. Scattered all over the city, they offer curated selections of Native American jewelry, rugs, kachinas, pottery, baskets, and more. Browse case upon case, room after room, until you find exactly what you’re looking for. Richardson’s Trading Company, Bill Malone Trading Company, and Perry Null Trading Company have great reputations for authenticity, friendly staffs, and fascinating offerings.
13. Biking & Hiking
Gallup and the surrounding area boast more than 50 miles of single-track bike trails that cut through some of the most beautiful scenery in the Southwest. A hot spot for competitive mountain biking, Gallup hosted some of the nation’s best racers when the USA Cycling 24-Hour National Championships came to town. The city is home to several other races throughout the year, including the Squashblossom Screamer and Dawn ’til Dusk. Challenging and beautiful hiking terrain is plentiful along the High Desert Trail System. Pyramid Rock is Gallup’s most iconic natural feature, and the hike there winds past caves, rock formations, and even, on lucky occasions, a waterfall. The nearby Mentmore Climbing Area is rich in sandstone outcroppings for rope- and sport-climb enthusiasts.
14. Earl of Smothered Sandwich
Earl’s Restaurant, an American-style diner that opened in 1947, is known for hosting Native artisans who politely show their wares in the dining room while folks eat. Several artists also set up small tables out front to display their work. Locals love the open-faced Chiliburger Deluxe, which includes a hand-pressed patty covered in corn chips and topped with red- or green-chile sauce or chili con carne, cheese, and French fries. For the quintessential Gallup food experience, try the diner’s excellent Navajo taco.
15. Get Your Flicks off Route 66
Built in 1928, the 469-seat El Morro Theatre was restored in 1991 to show off its original Pueblo Deco exterior. The venue, now operated by the City of Gallup, presents films, live concerts, and performances by the Land of Enchantment Opera.
16. Ramblin’ On
Learn about Gallup’s rough-and-tumble roots and hear tales of bootlegging, gunfights, and other escapades while participating in a bike or walking tour.
17. Signs of the Times
Be sure to cruise Gallup’s main drag after dark to get the best look at local holdovers from the heyday of Route 66. This stretch of the Mother Road is dotted with neon and other iconic 66 staples, most of which are in the same place they stood when the thoroughfare was shiny and new. “We’re not putting up old signs because they’re cool again,” says Lindsay Mapes, director of the Gallup Downtown Business Improvement District. The town retains its vintage cool by keeping signage and lights in strict tune with yesteryear—as at the Blue Spruce Lodge and the Ranch Kitchen restaurant.
18. The Beat Goes On
For another true taste of Native culture, don’t miss the Gallup Nightly Indian Dances, a local tradition for the past quarter century. From Memorial Day through Labor Day, hear native flute music, chanting, and drumming, and watch tribal groups from all over the region perform. Learn some of the history and cultural meaning behind the dances as participants explain their movements and regalia, against the backdrop of a striking Southwestern sunset. “Our children live a little bit differently, and our people live a little differently here, and we’re able to showcase that,” says Teri Frazier, director of the Inter-Tribal Ceremonial. “These cultures are still thriving.” For the best view, sit on the east side of McKinley County Courthouse Square.
19. Market Watch
In summer and fall, the downtown walkway between Coal and Aztec avenues is home to the Downtown Farmers’ Market, offering local jams, fresh produce, baked goods, botanicals, and friendly conversation. Along the market route, grab a cup of coffee, a parfait, or a breakfast sandwich from local favorite the Gallup Coffee Company.
20. Spur of the Moment
With some 100 trains passing through town each day, the bellow of a locomotive horn is a surprisingly romantic part of life’s soundtrack here. Amid all the freight trains, the Amtrak line brings one eastbound and one westbound passenger train through Gallup every day, and because it stops in the heart of downtown, arriving by train is easy. Relax as you head in from Albuquerque or Flagstaff, and take in the gorgeous scenery of the northwest highlands from the viewing car. Trains arrive and depart from the Gallup Cultural Center.
21. Hogans Aplenty
These mud-and-log structures dot the landscape on neighboring Diné Nation. The buildings were traditionally used as dwellings, but are now used more for ceremonial purposes. At the Sacred Heart Retreat Center, guests can stay in one of five modernized hogans.
22. Go-to Galleries
Gallup’s many downtown galleries serve up everything from the traditional to the eclectic. If you’re looking for Native American beadwork, pottery, paintings, or kachina dolls, Nugget Gallery is a must-see. Hopi-Tewa artist Stetson Setalla’s colorful hand-coiled pottery bowls are a fixture there. Makeshift Gallery, a locally focused, affordable artists’ cooperative, carries vintage clothing, metalwork, ceramics, jewelry, photographs, and recycled art. Blacksmith John Thumma’s whimsical horseshoe pieces run the gamut from trivets to earrings and business-card holders. Another artists’ cooperative, Art123, opens a new exhibit each month.
23. History’s Accessories
Gallup is a haven for lovers of Native American jewelry, and items suiting every budget are readily available. Much of the jewelry sold in the region has roots in Gallup, a longtime international distribution point for Native arts and crafts. In many cases, you can purchase a piece of jewelry directly from the artist who made it. While it seems that almost everyone in town is a jewelry artisan, Gallup and the surrounding communities (Navajo Nation and Zuni Pueblo) are also home to some of the country’s finest silversmiths and inlay artists. Aaron Anderson’s chunky silver-and-tufa-stone jewelry and Calvin Desson’s intricate stone inlay work can be found at Perry Null Trading Company.
24. Treasure Hunt
The Saturday Flea Market, held on N. Ninth Street, just off U.S. 491, is Gallup’s one-stop shop for interesting odds and ends. Browsers can find great deals on Native American jewelry, pottery, clothing, saddles, and other handmade items. It’s also the best place in town for delicious and authentic Native American cuisine. Try a cup of mutton stew, kneel-down bread, or roasted corn.
25. Mining the Past
After the railroad arrived, dozens of coal mines were established within walking distance of the newly incorporated town of Gallup. The Rex Museum honors the area’s original mining families, and showcases antiques from the town’s coal heyday. Shelves and cases are packed with a medley of day-to-day items and coal-industry staples from the early 20th century: lanterns, medical equipment, lunch boxes, even a contraption used to extract coal dust from miners’ lungs. The building that houses the Rex Museum has its own storied past: Its previous incarnations include a brothel, a police substation, and a hobby shop.