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Authentic Western townAuthentic Western town

Gallup, New Mexico, is epicenter of Native American art, jewelryGallup, New Mexico, is epicenter of Native American art, jewelry

Gallup, New Mexico, is perhaps the most authentic Western town I have visited. Some, like Jackson Hole or Aspen, boast breathtaking scenery, but the towns themselves feel a bit Hollywood-money-second-homey-artificial. Around Gallup, lots of people actually ride horses as transportation, not just a hobby. If you’re looking to buy Western art, especially Native American jewelry, Gallup is where business gets done. 

  • This whimsical bumblebee by Zuni artist Andrea Lonjose Shirley seems ready to sip nectar from a cactus flower. At the heart of Indian country, Gallup is the place to go for the best selection (and prices!) of authentic Native American art. Surrounded by natural and cultural wonders, Gallup can be your base camp for a variety of adventures, from mountain biking to walking among mysterious ruins and otherworldly landscapes. Art and nature come together in New Mexico like nowhere else. Photo by Crista Worthy.
  • Barrel racing at its finest, and she’s only in high school! The Best of the Best Timed Event Rodeo brings excitement to Gallup each June. Photo courtesy Best of the Best Timed Event Rodeo.
  • Every August, Gallup hosts Native Americans from across the U.S. in a massive Inter-tribal ceremonial. Socials and rodeos are held at Red Rock Park, and there are day and evening parades along Route 66 in downtown Gallup with dancers in colorful attire. The evening parade is magical because observers often hear the sound of the dancers long before the performers can be seen. Photo courtesy Gallup-McKinley County Chamber of Commerce.
  • Fine Navajo-made bracelets and rings in Revival Style by artists Sunshine Reeves, Freddie Maloney, and Leon Martinez. Photo by Crista Worthy.
  • Inlaid animal pendants, mostly Zuni-made. The Gallup Indoor/Outdoor Marketplace and the Ceremonial Showroom present the country’s most complete and varied displays of genuine Indian fine arts, including Navajo rugs, katsinas, jewelry, pottery, and basketry. Photo by Crista Worthy.
  • Step into the Perry Null Trading Comapny and be astounded at the quantity of turquoise—more than I thought existed in the whole world. The vast majority of “turquoise” sold in department stores or online is fake, but not here. Photo courtesy Perry Null Trading Company.
  • At Perry Null’s, a superb Zuni inlayer like Harlan Coonsis will step in quietly, package under his arm. When Perry sees him across the room, his eyes light up and he beckons the artist over. The latest masterpieces are unveiled: a bighorn sheep bolo tie beautifully rendered from mother-of-pearl, or a dozen different colorful birds, each feather individually etched. Photo by Crista Worthy.
  • At Perry Null Trading Company, you’ll also find stunning pottery, kachina dolls, even a silver saddle once owned by Gene Autry. The “Rug Room” overflows with hundreds of the finest hand-woven Navajo rugs. Like jazz, this is all-original, American art, and its creation and sale brings dignity to its creators. Photo courtesy Perry Null Trading Company.
  • Summer brings nightly Indian dances to the Gallup Courthouse Square, free of charge. Prior to the dances, you can stroll through the Veteran’s Memorial Walkway that honors the sacrifices made by local citizens, and visit the Navajo Code Talkers Museum. Photo courtesy Gallup-McKinley County Chamber of Commerce.
  • You’ll find quite a bit of public art in Gallup, from WPA murals and others like this one that honors the Navajo Code Talkers, to numerous outdoor sculptures—even vintage neon signs on old Route 66. Asian, Latin, and European railroad workers brought early diversity to the town, which opposed discrimination long before the Civil Rights movement and fought successfully to keep its Japanese American citizens out of internment camps in WWII. Photo courtesy Gallup-McKinley County Chamber of Commerce.
  • Visit in early December for the Red Rock Balloon Rally, held at Red Rock State Park. The red rocks are often dusted with snow, and the morning mass ascension is a riot of color with up to 200 huge balloons drifting over the rocks into a cobalt-blue sky. The evening Glow in the Rocks is followed by Indian dances, a bonfire, and a Christmas parade the following day. Then do your Christmas shopping at the trading posts! Photo courtesy Gallup-McKinley County Chamber of Commerce.
  • Zuni Olla Maidens on the patio at The Inn at Halona Bed and Breakfast. The old family trading post/market (established 1910, the building dates to 1866) is conveniently located next door in Halona Plaza; the friendly Zuni staff will help you plan a tour of Zuni Pueblo or visit a particular artist. Photo courtesy Inn at Halona B&B.
  • The lobby at the El Rancho Hotel. Known as the “home of the movie stars,” John Wayne, Katherine Hepburn, Humphrey Bogart, Gregory Peck, Ronald Reagan, and more stayed here when filming nearby. The lobby exudes an old-time Southwest feel, with its great rock fireplace, curving staircase of hewn logs, Navajo rugs, and memorabilia. The old-fashioned elevator has a full-time operator, and there’s a gift shop, pool, bar/lounge, and a popular onsite restaurant. Photo courtesy Wikipedia.
  • Badlands Grill is the place for steak, with half a dozen different cuts and preparations. Other selections include double pork chops, a green-chile-accented chicken breast, pasta, salmon, and rare yellowfin tuna. Photo courtesy Badlands Grill.
  • A Navajo Taco at Earl’s, a Gallup institution. Making Earl’s unique are the Native American vendors who offer handmade jewelry outside and at your table (mostly mid-day). The vendors are regulated, the prices are excellent, and they will politely depart if you’re not interested. If you don’t want to be approached at all, just ask for a little sign on your table and you’ll be left alone. Photo by Tom Harjo via Flickr.

It’s called the “Indian Capital of the World” because the Navajo Reservation, as well as the Zuni, Hopi, Acoma, Santo Domingo, and Laguna Pueblos, are all so close. Artists from all these communities bring their finest work to Gallup’s over 100 stores and trading posts, especially on Saturdays, when benches outside the posts fill with Indians socializing. Today almost 40 percent of the population is Native American, and Gallup’s trading posts are the epicenter of Indian Art, with about 80 percent of all authentic Native American jewelry moving through the city on its way to Albuquerque, Santa Fe, and the world. 

Gallup celebrates diversity, with a timed-event youth rodeo in June, a huge Intertribal Ceremonial pow-wow and rodeo in August, and a spectacular December hot air balloon rally among the highlights, plus authentic Southwest cuisine year-round. Summer brings nightly Indian dances to the Gallup Courthouse Square. Prior to the dances, you can stroll through the Veteran’s Memorial Walkway, visit the Navajo Code Talkers Museum, and check out the numerous murals and sculptures around town. Mountain bikers can take advantage of a new 20-mile single-track high desert trail system on the mesa tops northwest of town, with panoramic views and hoodoos. You also can make side-trips to the Zuni Pueblo, where some of the finest inlay jewelry is made, or to Chaco Culture National Historical Park, to see ancient and mysterious ruins. If time allows, visit the Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness, where you can walk alone among stone hoodoos and strange formations that seem from another planet.

Perry Null stands among scores of saddles, some for sale, some being stored for local customers at his Perry Null Trading Company. Trading posts were originally founded as a way for the Indians to trade their wool, maize, and hand-woven blankets and rugs for staples they were unable to obtain on the reservations, such as cloth, groceries, and hardware, and the trading posts became interfaces between Indian and Anglo societies. Photo courtesy Perry Null Trading Company.

Tucked into northwestern New Mexico, Gallup Municipal Airport is located just southwest of town, at 6,472 feet elevation, so even in August high temps usually hover in the mid-80s. And in each August since 1922, usually the week before the huge Santa Fe Indian Market, Gallup celebrates tribal pride with the five-day Gallup Intertribal Ceremonial. Events include an all-Indian rodeo, a contest pow-wow loaded with colorful dancing, night and day parades, and juried Indian arts shows: jewelry, rugs, paintings, and more. New for 2017 is the first annual Gallup Native Arts Market, held for three days during the Ceremonial. All native juried and managed, it’s a rare opportunity to meet the artists and buy direct.

A young Zuni girl’s first Harvest Dance. If you visit Zuni Pueblo, always ask permission to take photos if people are involved and don’t interfere with religious ceremonies—they are “church” outdoors. Photo courtesy Zuni Tourism.

Even if you miss the ceremonial and market, you can always find authentic treasures, fairly priced, at the great Gallup trading posts like Richardson’s or Perry Null’s. The Perry Null Trading Co. has been doing business in Gallup since the 1930s, when it opened as Tobe Turpin’s Trading Post (don’t miss the mural outside). Null, an active pilot, started trading in the 1970s, developing personal relationships with the finest Zuni, Hopi, and Navajo artists. Perry knows when a particular piece is a design the artist has never tried before, and he frequently gives unique stones to the best artists, commissioning them to create something special. If you can’t find exactly what you’re looking for, ask: You may have missed it, or they can have it made for you.

It’s about a 40-minute drive south to Zuni Pueblo, a thriving community of about 11,000 surrounded by redrock mesas. About 90 percent of Zuni’s residents express their heritage through art, and here’s your chance to meet and purchase directly from the maker, as some studios are open. You can stay right in town at The Inn at Halona Bed and Breakfast.

In Gallup, stay at the El Rancho Hotel, built in 1937 and listed on the National Register of Historic Places. When asked for his favorite New Mexico-style southwest cooking, Null recommended Genaro’s Café, with the best hot red and green chili sauces in town. A fine-dining local favorite is the Badlands Grill, the place to go if you’re craving a hearty steak dinner. Earl’s Restaurant is an institution where Navajo families and thick-mustachioed ranchers in cowboy boots and Wranglers have been chowing down since 1947.

For something completely otherworldly, visit the Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness. There are no trails, cell service, or water. Striated hills in layers of gray, tan, and rust are punctuated by weird, miniature mushroom-shaped hoodoos, gray columns topped by brown rocks, and petrified tree stumps. This extraterrestrial-like landscape is a photographer’s dream. Photo courtesy Wikipedia.
Crista Worthy

Crista V. Worthy

Crista V. Worthy has been flying around the United States with her pilot-husband Fred and their children since 1995, and writing about fun places to fly since 2006. She has single-engine land and sea ratings. Her favorite places to explore are the backcountry strips of Idaho and Utah's red rock country. She currently lives in Idaho and serves as editor of The Flyline, the monthly publication of the Idaho Aviation Association.
Topics: US Travel

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