The Route

Explore Native culture past and present as you visit ancient sites, trading posts, and galleries, with a side trip down memory lane on Historic Route 66. Your 266-mile journey starts in Farmington, the gateway to the Trail of the Ancients Scenic Byway, which your trip will largely follow. Day two takes you to the historic Toadlena Trading Post and on to Gallup, where the Mother Road leads to a historic hotel and Red Rock Park.

Hot-air balloons float above Gallup’s stunning landscape. Photograph by NMTD.

Day 1

Soak up Native culture old and new in Farmington, the heart of the Four Corners region, which has been home to Pueblo, Navajo, Hopi, and other Native people for centuries. Orient yourself at the Museum of Navajo Art & Culture, in downtown’s New Mexico Arts and Cultural District. Antique and contemporary Navajo rugs and textiles star here. Head to nearby shops to find your own treasures, from vintage and contemporary Native jewelry and other works at Fifth Generation Trading Company to contemporary pieces at Artifacts 302, in a historic lumber-and-hardware building where you can sip coffee and find artists working in an open-studio setting.

Unwind with a walk beneath the shade of cottonwoods along the more than eight miles of Animas River Trails. (There’s great bird-watching here, too.) Fuel up at the Chile Pod, a popular spot with a menu that includes the award-winning New Mexican Mac & Cheese.

Adventure awaits about 40 miles south in the Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness Area, an other-weirdly wonder of weathered rock shapes. Photo ops abound as you traverse a landscape filled with hoodoos known by names such as Alien Throne and King of Wings. For a truly amazing adventure, pair up with Navajo Tours, where an interpretive Diné guide will share Indigenous history.

Head back to Farmington for bites at Three Rivers Brewery, which occupies a series of historic storefronts. Between the brewery, pizzeria, taproom, and “brewstillery” lounge—a social-club throwback where you can watch old movies and admire the die-cast car collection—there’s something for everyone. Play a round of shuffleboard or pool in the taproom to round out the evening.

Take a run at Farmington’s Animas River Trails. Photograph by Jeremy Wade Shockley.

Family Zone

Raft the Animas and San Juan rivers with Farmington’s Desert River Guides. “It’s a different way of seeing the Four Corners area,” says Cody Dudgeon, who launched the company with his wife, Ryan, last year. “From the river, people can see the bluffs and the wildlife.” Choose from an array of adventures, including a two-hour float with lunch, a full-day trip, and family fun with Class I and II rapids. “We are able to take kids as young as five,” Dudgeon says, “and our guides are friendly with all age groups.”

Day 2

Grab a cinnamon roll or a hearty three-egg omelet at the landmark TJ’s Diner before heading south to the historic Toadlena Trading Post, near Newcomb. It remains interwoven with the Diné community and talented artists who live on the Navajo Nation. The Two Grey Hills rugs and other works crafted by Navajo masters are exquisite. Be sure to visit the on-site Toadlena Weaving Museum, exhibiting detailed textiles inspired by the sacred practice of Navajo sandpainting.

Giddyup down the road to Gallup, famous as a center for Navajo and Zuni jewelry that draws buyers from throughout the world. Shop ’til you drop at a dizzying variety of stores. See fourth-generation silversmith Jude Candelaria at work in his Flux Tufa Works studio gallery, which features a rotating lineup of contemporary Native artists. ART123 Gallery offers abstract paintings, contemporary jewelry, and other pieces by Native and non-Native artists. When lunch calls, park yourself in Bombay Grill, where the saag paneer will astonish you, not least because you’re dining in a truck stop.

Get outside in nearby Red Rock Park, which draws its name from the colorful cliffs that date back more than two million years. Pyramid Rock and Church Rock, both three-mile trails, offer easy hiking with superb views.

Spend happy hour on the patio of El Rancho Hotel, a Route 66 landmark built in 1936 for the movie stars and film crews working on Westerns shot in the area. With newly updated rooms, it’s easy to feel like a celebrity.

The lobby of the El Rancho Hotel drips with history. Photograph by Kate Russell.

Event Central

The Gallup Intertribal Indian Ceremonial celebrates its 100th anniversary August 4–14 in Red Rock Park. New Mexico’s longest-running continuous event honors Native culture and art with a powwow, a juried art market, all-Native rodeo competitions, colorful parades of Native dancers down Route 66, and participants from throughout North America.

Spend the night at Kokopelli’s Cave. Photograph courtesy of Kokopelli’s Cave.

Where to stay

Perched high in a mesa overlooking La Plata Valley, near Farmington, Kokopelli’s Cave bed-and-breakfast is a luxury lair. The multi-room space, carved into sandstone, is outfitted with creature comforts, including a Jacuzzi tub and replica kiva area with a wood-burning horno. Two porches provide extraordinary views.

The great outdoors is yours to enjoy at one of 21 campsites at Lake Farmington. Outside your tent flaps or RV door lies a sandy beach for swimming and fishing, plus trails for hiking, mountain biking, and horseback riding.

Gallup’s historic El Rancho Hotel will transport you to Hollywood’s golden era. Built by pioneering director D.W. Griffith’s brother, R.E. Griffith, this unique hotel reflects the flavor of Old West Gallup.