Gallup, New Mexico, is a city on historic Route 66. It is renowned for its Old West frontier past and proximity to the Navajo reservation. Dubbed the “Heart of Indian Country,” Gallup is an excellent stopover destination for those touring the Southwest, with many intriguing attractions waiting to be discovered.
From exploring the rich cultural heritage of the Native American community to enjoying the breathtaking natural scenery, Gallup has a lot to offer. This blog post will share five awesome things to do in Gallup, NM, to help you plan your next road trip itinerary.
Fun Fact: There are 350,000 Native Americans between Gallup, New Mexico, and Northwestern Arizona.
1. Stay at the Historic El Rancho Hotel
Nothing captures the essence of Old West frontier charm better than staying at the historic El Rancho Hotel. Located in downtown Gallup, El Rancho Hotel has a rich history. It was opened in 1937, catering to movie stars and crews who came to Gallup to shoot Western films.
Over the years, the hotel has housed many famous actors, including John Wayne, Humphrey Bogart, and Spencer Tracy. When you enter the hotel, you can see many photographs of the celebrities who have stayed there. There are also displays of vintage posters from the movies filmed in Gallup.
The El Rancho Hotel features a Southwestern-themed decor, spacious rooms, and a communal courtyard. They are pet-friendly, and the rooms are aesthetically pleasing. I also appreciate the on-site open daily restaurants, of which there are two: The Silver Screen and The 49er Lounge.
Try the Trio of Dips for a starter, Navajo tea to drink, and the Ricardo Montalban (a combo plate with two enchiladas, a taco, pork tamale, and bean & cheese tostada) for your main dish. The food (and western-themed stained glass accents) here are spectacular!
El Rancho Hotel is a must-stay place if you love Old Hollywood glamour and the Old West.
2. Visit the Gallup Trading Posts
Gallup is famous for its trading posts, which offer a diverse array of Native American art and crafts. Perry Null and Bill Malone Trading Company are two of the most popular trading posts in the area.
At Perry Null, you can find beautiful handcrafted jewelry, beautiful pottery, and incredible Navajo rugs. The store has a cozy atmosphere, with friendly staff who are happy to share the stories behind the artwork. In the back is a fabulous horse saddle storage area that you have to see to believe. There are probably in the two to three thousand range, with row after row of saddles clinging to the walls in an organized and intelligent fashion.
The Navajo, Hopi, Zuni, and other Native American artisans make the stunning jewelry.
Bill Malone Trading Company, located on East Highway 66, has an impressive selection of turquoise jewelry and kachina dolls. The store also offers Native American books and music.
I briefly sashayed through Tanner Indian Arts (a 4th-generation business) with all-natural gem-quality turquoise and hand-woven rugs, while Silver Dust Trading Co. is known for Native American beadwork and seed beads.
Visiting the trading posts is a unique way to support the local community and discover the history and traditions of the Native American tribes.
3. Go Hot Air Ballooning
Red Rock Park is a scenic nature reserve located on the outskirts of Gallup, featuring breathtaking red rock formations, stunning desert landscapes, and a variety of adventurous activities. The park has many hiking trails to explore, including the Pyramid Rock Trail, Veterans Memorial Loop, and Canyon View Trail.
The trails vary in difficulty, so choose one that suits your fitness abilities and hiking experience. Due to the landscape, be cautious for desert critters, stay hydrated, and wear lots of sunblock.
If you prefer a more thrilling activity, X-Treme Lee Fun Adventures offers hot air balloon rides and night glows over the park. Seeing the landscape from above is a fantastic way to appreciate the natural wonders of Gallup.
While I am not adventurous, I wasn’t nervous about going up in the balloon with Bill Lee, my masterful guide and pilot. We started early in the morning for the blowup part, which was my favorite. It is truly amazing seeing these giant balloons springing to life.
We dipped between the mountains and could even skim our fingers across some of the red rock cliffs we were close to. When we landed, it was like a feather floating to the ground. Seriously, it was that smooth!
The views of Gallup from up in the sky were mind-blowing, but keep in mind the temperatures are way cooler than on the ground. Dress accordingly. Rides run around $250 per person, with a minimum of two riders, and last around 90 minutes.
FYI: Want to be sure your pilot is properly certified? Look for an FAA Certified Commercial Pilot.
4. Eat Delicious Local Cuisine
Gallup has a vibrant food scene, offering diverse culinary options. Two of the most popular restaurants are Coal Street Pub and Sammy C’s Rockin’ Sports Pub & Grille.
Coal Street Pub is a cozy gastropub that offers a variety of craft beers and delicious pub-style food, including burgers, sandwiches, and salads.
Sammy C’s Rockin’ Sports Pub & Grille is a lively, widely-recognized sports bar that features live music and a big-screen TV. The menu offers a range of American fare, from barbecue ribs to fried chicken. Be sure to order the Hatch green chile cheeseburger, a yummy staple of the Southwest.
Wash it down with one of the 27 on-tap beers as you check out the Hall of Champions with thousands of celebrity and athlete autographs and memorabilia.
My favorite is La Barraca Restaurant, on historic highway Route 66, family owned and operated for over 50 years. They tout serving delicious New Mexican style Red & Green Chile, but I go for the off-the-hook burritos. My gosh, they are huge and loaded with great flavor!
Satisfy your caffeine craving with a Biscoff Latte or an Iced Vanilla Coffee from Gallup Coffee Company, a local roaster serving yummy coffees, espresso, teas, and pastries.
5. Experience Authentic Gallup
Gallup, NM, is rich in history, culture, and natural beauty. From staying at the historic El Rancho Hotel to exploring Red Rock Park, there are many awesome things to do in Gallup. The city’s location on the edge of the Navajo reservation and its vibrant Native American community add to its unique charm.
Gallup has received many accolades, including being named one of the “Most Patriotic Cities in America” and one of the “Best Small Towns to Visit.” It’s no wonder that Gallup is a popular stopover destination for roadtrippers touring the Southwest. We hope this blog post has inspired you to visit Gallup and experience the Heart of Indian Country, the center of Native American ancestral homelands.
Fun Fact: On my first visit to Gallup, I met three noteworthy Native American artists: Andy Marion (3rd generation Silversmith), David K. John (a talented painter), and Penelope Joe, aka Pete Yellowhorse (a Navajo storyteller and artist).
Not only is Penelope Joe a talented young painter, but she is the granddaughter of a medicine man. Her paintings include animals from dreams, making you feel happy looking at them.
Gallup: Experience Real Travel
Gallup provided me with an exceptional introduction to New Mexico travel. I was captivated by its unique charm and the warm hospitality of its residents. Immersing myself in the richness of Native American art, music, dance, and culture was truly enlightening. Additionally, I had the opportunity to fulfill a long-held dream and soar through the sky in a hot-air balloon.
The plethora of remarkable experiences in Gallup, New Mexico, ranging from exhilarating aerial adventures to immersive cultural exploration, ensures an unparalleled travel experience.
Thanks to the Gallup CVB and TMS Family Travel for hosting me on my first Gallup visit. All opinions are 100% mine and unbiased.
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