Gallup, New Mexico, sits at the intersection of art, history, culture and spectacular Southwest scenery.
That’s what a select group of tour operator and travel planner readers of The Group Travel Leader discovered during a five-day familiarization tour to Gallup and surrounding areas in New Mexico and Arizona. Hosted by the Gallup Office of Tourism and Marketing, this trip introduced participants to Gallup’s world-class arts community, nearby Native American pueblos, Route 66 heritage and stunning natural beauty of the high desert.
During the trip, participants visited numerous trading posts and learned about their unique role in the community. They also admired the fine art of the Zuni and Navajo nations and spent time exploring the Zuni pueblo with a village leader. A downtown tour highlighted the art and architecture of Gallup, and excursions to nearby National Park Service sites and other natural attractions highlighted the diverse ecology of the area.
Follow along on this itinerary to begin planning a fascinating Gallup adventure for your travelers.
• Arrival in New Mexico
• Drive to Gallup
Travel planners began their trip by flying to Albuquerque, New Mexico. About 140 miles east of Gallup, Albuquerque is the closest city with a major airport. The two-hour drive from Albuquerque to Gallup on Interstate 40 is filled with sweeping vistas, as well as charming towns and interesting stops. Travelers cross the Continental Divide en route to Gallup and can stop and pose for pictures at a sign marking the spot.
Group members who arrived early spent some time exploring Albuquerque. Once everyone had arrived, the group loaded into a luxury van and arrived in Gallup that evening. They enjoyed a good night’s rest at the Comfort Inn and Suites, home for the duration of the tour, and prepared to begin their Gallup adventure the next morning.
• Breakfast at Earl’s Family Restaurant
• Richardson’s Trading Post
• Tanner’s Indian Arts
• Lunch at Oasi Mediterranean Restaurant
• Downtown Arts Tour
• Dinner and Native American danceperformance at El Rancho Hotel
The first day of the trip introduced the group to some of Gallup’s calling cards: its Native American artisans, Route 66 heritage and distinctive downtown. Participants drove through town along Route 66 to enjoy a hearty breakfast at Earl’s Family Restaurant, famous for its oversized cinnamon rolls and green chile burritos. Next, they visited Richardson’s Trading Post for an introduction to the area’s arts and trading culture. From there they went to Tanner’s Indian Arts, a private dealer that specializes in museum-quality art and jewelry created by Native American artists from around the region.
The group enjoyed lunch at the Oasis Mediterranean Restaurant, which is run by a Palestinian family, and then proceeded on a walking tour through downtown Gallup that highlighted the artwork and heritage of some of the city’s historic public buildings. The day ended at the El Rancho Hotel, a Route 66 institution that has played host to movie stars and dignitaries. At the property, the group enjoyed a reception, a tour, dinner and a Native American dance performance.
Richardson’s Trading Post
Richardson’s Trading Post was first established in Arizona in the 1850s; it moved to its current location on Gallup’s historic Highway 66 in 1913. The oldest continuously operating trading post in the country, Richardson’s showcases the artwork of Navajo artists, as well as craftspeople from six other nearby tribes. The group was introduced to the beauty and variety of local native art — silver, turquoise, kachina dolls and Navajo rugs — and learned how the trading post serves as a safe storage place for the Native American community.
Tanner’s Indian Arts
In the 1800s, Seth Tanner and his son Joe began trading with Native Americans in the Southwest. Today, Seth’s great-great-grandson Joe and his wife, Cynthia, along with daughter Emerald, continue that traditional at Tanner’s Indian Arts. At this gallery, the tour group saw the family’s museum-quality collection of turquoise jewelry and learned about the history of turquoise mining in the area. The Tanners also showcase artifacts such as Navajo wedding baskets, Native American silver jewelry and items that were sold at trading posts in the 19th century.
Downtown Arts Tour
Art pervades public life in Gallup, and the travel planners saw evidence of that during a guided walking tour downtown. The tour started at the McKinley County Courthouse, a Works Progress Administration building constructed in 1938. Wall paintings throughout the courthouse’s corridors were created by Navajo artists and reflect the Navajo sand painting tradition. In the main courtroom, a 2,000-square-foot mural depicts the history of human civilization in the Southwest. From the courthouse, the tour proceeded to showcase murals on downtown buildings and the historic El Morro Theatre.
El Rancho Hotel
When they came to New Mexico to shoot Western movies, Hollywood royalty of the 1930s and 1940s stayed at the El Rancho Hotel, a Gallup property on Route 66. Today, the hotel remains a Gallup landmark, with rooms named for celebrity guests such as John Wayne, Ronald Reagan, Doris Day and Lucille Ball. The group toured the property to learn about its history and see its gallery of art and artifacts from the golden age of film. After a tour and dinner, the travel planners were treated to a Native dance demonstration presented by a group of high school students from the nearby Navajo nation.
• Tour and lunch at Zuni Pueblo
• El Morro National Monument
• Ice Cave and Bandera Volcano
• Dinner at Sammy C’s
On the second full day in Gallup, the group ventured out to visit nearby highlights. This began with a tour of the Zuni Pueblo, led by a tribal elder and archaeologist. After the tour, the group enjoyed a traditional Zuni lunch prepared by women in the village.
Upon leaving Zuni Pueblo, the group traveled about 35 miles east to El Morro National Monument and enjoyed a short hike around this striking natural landmark. From there they continued another 15 miles east to Ice Cave and Bandera Volcano, a privately owned attraction that showcases a volcanic crater and other fascinating ecological phenomena. The group then returned to Gallup and had dinner surrounded by sports and music memorabilia at Sammy C’s, a favorite local casual restaurant.
The group began the day traveling 35 miles south of Gallup to the Zuni Pueblo. This reservation encompasses 450,000 acres and is the center of Zuni art, culture and religious practices. At the visitor center, the group met a tribal elder and archaeologist who would guide them on a tour of the village. A highlight of the tour was Our Lady of Guadalupe Mission, a 1631 Catholic church that was later decorated with murals depicting native life and religious rituals. After touring the church and the village’s central plaza, the group returned to the visitor center to enjoy an authentic Zuni lunch of tamales, hominy soup and roast beef.
El Morro National Monument
Gallup is surrounded by numerous natural wonders, and the group spent the afternoon exploring two of them. El Morro National Monument sits in the high desert southeast of Gallup and preserves a 200-foot-high sandstone promontory and the ancient pueblo built atop it in the 13th century. The group enjoyed a short hike to the pool of water at the base of the rock, which served as a landmark where explorers and pioneers left more than 2,000 carvings.
Ice Cave and Bandera Volcano
From El Morro, the group continued east for a short drive to Ice Cave and Bandera Volcano. This privately held attraction preserves the site of a 10,000-year-old cinder volcano, as well as an ice cave that formed inside one of its lava tubes. The group enjoyed the short hike to the top of the volcano crater, where they could see evidence of the massive eruption, and the descent into the ice cave, where temperatures remain under 31 degrees Fahrenheit year-round.
• Breakfast and Tour at Hilton Garden Inn
• Perry Null Trading Post
• Ellis Tanner Trading Post
• Lunch at Peewee’s Kitchen
• City Electric Shoe Shop
• Petrified Forest National Park
• Dinner at Dickey’s Barbecue Pit
On their next day in Gallup, the group spent some time touring local hotels, with a tour and breakfast at the Hilton Garden Inn. From there, they visited two more trading posts, each with its own specialties, before enjoying Navajo tacos and other regional specialties at Peewee’s Kitchen.
After lunch, the group made a stop at the City Electric Shoe Shop, which is famous for boots and moccasins; they then traveled 70 miles west from Gallup and into Arizona for a driving tour of the spectacular Petrified Forest National Park. Upon returning to Gallup, they ended their day with a relaxed dinner at Dickey’s Barbecue Pit.
Perry Null Trading Post
The group spent the final full morning in Gallup immersing itself in the area’s art and culture. The first stop was Perry Null Trading Post, where founder and owner Perry Null escorted the group around the shop and demonstrated how raw silver and turquoise are used by Native American artists to craft exceptional jewelry and other art. The trading post also operates the largest rodeo pawn in the area, and the group explored the storage room where community members have brought hundreds of saddles and valuable ceremonial items for safekeeping.
Ellis Tanner Trading Post
Ellis Tanner Trading Post represents a modern approach to a New Mexico trading post. In addition to handmade, high-quality jewelry, the store also stocks local specialty foods, traditional herbal medicines and other Native American staples not available at area supermarkets. The group took some time for a tour and shopping and learned about the murals around the building, which honor the achievements of Native Americans in U.S. society.
City Electric Shoe Shop
Since it was established in 1924, the City Electric Shoe Shop has been the go-to source for shoes, boots, moccasins and other apparel in Gallup. The tour group enjoyed browsing the showroom and touring the basement factory with one of the shop owners to learn how belts, moccasins and other goods are made on-site with antique machinery.
Petrified Forest National Park
The group spent its last afternoon in the area traveling an hour west of town and across the Arizona border to Petrified Forest National Park. The park preserves 346 square miles of rugged landscape that includes desert plains and colorful painted badlands. During a driving tour of the park, the group enjoyed stopping for photos at some of its scenic overlooks and examining some of the petrified wood deposits for which the park is named. A large visitor center at the park entrance offers exhibits, a gift shop and other amenities.
• Sightseeing en route to Albuquerque
• Depart for home
On the last day of the trip, participants departed Gallup and made their way back to Albuquerque for their departure flights home. Along the way, some stopped at attractions such as the Continental Divide and the Route 66 Arch in Grants, as well as a drive through El Malpais National Monument, which sits about halfway between Gallup and Albuquerque.
As they boarded their flights home, the travel leaders were already busy planning their group trips back to Gallup.
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