Founded in 1881 as a railhead for the Atlantic and Pacific Railroad, Gallup, New Mexico may be a small town, but it delivers big experiences. Surrounded by Native American lands, stunning natural landscapes and a healthy dose of Americana along Historic Route 66, there are plenty of ways to have fun with the grandkids here!
The writer was hosted.
Recently, my 11-year-old grandson, Marshall joined me for his first trip to New Mexico and the southwest. We traveled 145 miles west of Albuquerque through the treeless desert landscape to Gallup near the Arizona border. There we found a small town chock full of new discoveries to uncover.
Start at the Gallup Cultural Center
Get to know the history of Gallup NM with a visit to the Gallup Cultural Center. Located on Route 66, inside the Storyteller Museum features in-depth interviews with local experts. As you wander, note the exhibits showcasing trains, weaving, Historic Route 66, silversmithing and more.
Tour the Zuni Pueblo
Gallup is sometimes referred to as the “Indian Capital of the World” due to its location in the heart of Native American lands. A substantial number of Gallup’s residents include Native Americans. Residents represent the Hopi, Zuni and Navajo tribes. At the Zuni Pueblo just outside of downtown Gallup, a variety of cultural tours and experiences on offer provide ample opportunities to introduce the grandkids to this important part of the American southwest.
Kenny Bowekaty, a Zuni archaeologist and leader of the community shares the migration story of the Zuni people to the “Middle Place” where the Zuni Pueblo exists today. His fascinating story intrigued both Marshall and me as we spoke with him and visited the pueblo.
Meet a Native American Stone Carver
After our tour of the Zuni pueblo, we visited Zuni stone carver Jimmy Yawakia in his home studio. He shared stories of learning to carve as a child and later becoming a well-known artist. Working with stones he locates himself, Jimmy creates small carvings of spirit animals known as fetishes.
Experience Native American Culture through Special Events
If you visit between Memorial Day and Labor Day, be sure to catch one of the nightly Indian dances at the Courthouse Square in downtown Gallup. Also, the annual Inter-tribal Indian Ceremonial takes place in early August in Red Rock Park and downtown Gallup.
The longest continuously running event in New Mexico, the celebration includes exhibitions of Native American art, colorful parades and rodeo events.
Search for Treasures at the Trading Posts
For more than a century, Gallup has served as a major trade center for the Navajo Nation. The local trading posts in downtown Gallup display stunning Native American arts and crafts made by over 1,000 local artisans.
Treasures in these trading companies include jewelry–especially turquoise. Also look for pottery, woven baskets and hand-woven rugs.
Discover Local Hiking Trails
Surrounded by sandstone spires and towering red rocks, things to do in Gallup NM definitely includes hiking. Just minutes from the city of Gallup, Red Rock Park is an ideal place for a hike with the kids or grandkids.
We chose the 3-mile Pyramid Trail for a morning hike. Gallup’s flagship trail winds through impressive rock formations as you work your way up to the top. At the summit, sweeping views of the surrounding landscape rewarded our efforts.
Another favorite, the 2-mile Church Rock trail leads begins at the Outlaw Trading Post parking lot and leads you to spectacular views of the Church Rock sandstone spires.
Road Trip for a Volcano Hike
For another intriguing hike, we took a road trip roughly 72 miles outside the city of Gallup to the Bandera Crater. Located on the Continental Divide, a scenic loop trail led to the edge of a crater. Formed over 10,000 years ago during a violent eruption, it’s an impressive sight.
We hiked up over lava trails. Then, we descended into an ice cave for an unforgettable fire and ice experience.
Lift-Off for a Hot Air Balloon Ride
Soar to new heights with a hot air balloon ride over this amazing topography. It’s an unforgettable experience. Of course, if you (like my grandson) prefer to keep your feet on the ground, that’s ok, too. If you time your visit for early December, you’ll catch theRed Rock Balloon Rally. At this annual event, 200 balloons rise up creating a colorful spectacle in the sky.
Get Your Kicks on Route 66
Americana at its best, Historic Route 66 runs right through the center of Gallup NM. Here, you’ll find vintage signs dotting the roadside. Of course, diners display the classic Route 66 road sign. And, there’s just the right amount of kitschy neon signs.
In the animated movie Cars, Lightning McQueen and Tater sped through Route 66 en route to the fictional town of Radiator Springs. Marshall’s pretty sure he figured out which gas stations were in the movie!
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Search for Petroglyphs at El Morro National Monument
The El Morro National Monument sits on an ancient east-west trail. As explorers traveled this route, they left historic inscriptions on the rocks. These remarkably preserved petroglyphs provide insight into the lives of those travelers. Discovering these centuries-old inscriptions at this historic site was definitely a trip highlight.
Check-in at El Rancho Hotel
No trip to Gallup is complete without spending a night or two at the El Rancho Hotel. Located on Historic Route 66, the hotel’s past guests were as famous as the Mother Road. A favorite lodging spot for actors filming old-time westerns, John Wayne spent many nights here. Other notable guests include W. C. Fields, Desi Arnaz and Lucille Ball. As an old-timer, I was delighted to get Lucy’s room located across the hall from John Wayne’s suite. But Marshall had no idea who they were!
While you’re there, be sure to check out El Rancho Hotel’s gift shop. We found fun Route 66 souvenirs and plenty of Native American crafts. Taking a few home served as a reminder of all the fun things to do in Gallup NM!