Planning to pass through Gallup, New Mexico on your next road trip? There is more to do here than you might expect.
I recently spent a few days in Gallup as part of the TMS Family Travel Conference. Honestly, most of the travel writers who attended wondered why the organizers picked a small town in the middle of the desert. However, once I got a real feel for what Gallup is about and what it has to offer, I was sold.
Gallup is located in western New Mexico, about two hours drive from Albuquerque. It’s a small community filled with new hotels, restaurants, grocery stores and other conveniences traveling families need. At the same time, Gallup retains its authentic character and those who want unique experiences will find them here.
Gallup is a solid stop for a road trip through the American Southwest, or a good hub for digging deep into what this region has to offer. Here are my top things to do in Gallup, New Mexico.
Take a Hot Air Balloon Ride
Gallup is a top destination for anyone who wants to check “hot air balloon ride” off their bucket list. I had the opportunity to ride over the red rock canyons near Gallup, and it was just as amazing as you might imagine.
There are several balloons in the Gallup area and Bill Lee is a good place to start. Bill is a balloon enthusiast and CEO of the Gallup Chamber of Commerce, so he’s a good person to know. Contact Bill at http://www.scenicballoonrides.com.
Gallup hosts the Red Rock Balloon Rally, a hot air balloon festival in early December that attracts 150+ balloons. Pro Tip: If you volunteer as part of a chase crew, there’s a good chance you’ll get a ride before the event is over. Learn more about Red Rock Balloon Rally at https://www.redrockballoonrally.com.
Experience New Cultures
Gallup is surrounded by the Navajo Nation, and the Zuni Pueblo is a short drive away. Learn about the Zuni Pueblo at the Zuni Visitor Center or http://www.zunitourism.com.
The Navajo Nation covers a lot more ground. To find out what’s happening nearby, visit http://www.discovernavajo.com, listen to local radio, or ask around.
From Memorial Day through Labor Day, Indian dances are performed each night in Gallup’s Courthouse Square at 7 pm. There is no charge.
Another easy way to soak up local culture is to plan your trip around the Annual Gallup Inter-Tribal Indian Ceremonial in August. This long-running event features traditional dances, rodeo events, art exhibitions, parades and food. Learn more at https://gallupceremonial.com.
Take a Tour
This region is filled with relatively undiscovered archaeological and cultural sites. One thing I did not get to do, but is high on my list for a return trip, is take a tour in the Zuni Pueblo. You can explore an ancient village, see local artisans at work, learn about local music and dance, sample Pueblo cuisine or visit a modern Zuni community.
Prices start at $20 per person for a one-hour tour. Photography is not always acceptable, so ask first. Learn more at http://www.zunitourism.com.
Visit a National Park
Gallup has six National Parks, Monuments and Historical Parks within 100 miles. They include natural wonders, archaeological treasures and living cultures. Make Gallup your base and take a day trip. They are:
- Petrified Forest National Park
- Canyon De Chelly National Monument
- El Morro National Monument
- El Malpais National Monument
- Chaco Culture National Historical Park, also a UNESCO World Heritage Site
- Hubbel Trading Post National Historic Site
Shop for Local Crafts
Gallup is arguably the best place in the world to find Navajo and other local arts and crafts. With more than 1,000 local artisans and 100 shops and trading posts in the area, it’s one of Gallup’s biggest industries.
Turquoise, silver, leather, rugs, wall art, pottery… You name it, Gallup has it. Quality materials and craftsmanship aren’t cheap, but you’ll likely find (or negotiate) better prices on genuine items here than most other places.
Check out the Gallup Native Arts Market in August, where you can buy directly from artisans. Year-round, try Perry Null Trading Company, Tanner’s Indian Arts or City Electric Shoe Shop.
Visit https://galluprealtrue.com to get a big list of reputable outlets. Download the free Visitor Guide to read up on how to identify authentic materials.
Drive Route 66
Every road trip junkie dreams of driving Route 66 from Chicago to L.A. This historic highway runs right through Gallup. You’ll find lots of Route 66 signs, souvenirs and photo opportunities to commemorate your Route 66 experience.
If your family loves the Disney movie Cars, the area around Gallup looks and feels a lot like Radiator Springs.
We started our first morning with a hike to Pyramid Rock. It’s one of several hiking trails in Red Rock Park and most families should be able to hike it with little trouble. You’ll be rewarded with gorgeous scenery and a bird’s eye view of Gallup.
Gallup’s elevation is nearly 7,000 feet above sea level and the climate is very dry. Carry drinking water and wear sunscreen to combat altitude sickness and sunburns.
See a Rodeo
Rodeo is a popular sport among young men and women in Gallup and the city hosts half a dozen rodeos at Red Rock Park throughout the summer. The Best of the Best Rodeo in late June and Wild Thing Championship Bull Riding in mid-July are both popular events.
Eat Like a Local
We ate New Mexico red and green chiles for breakfast, lunch and dinner in Gallup. They were so good! Don’t limit yourself to enchiladas, burritos and salsas. I ate them on biscuits and gravy and pizza too.
Visit a Museum
Gallup has a handful of small museums and exhibits where you can learn about the area’s history. Be sure to check out the Navajo Code Talkers exhibit at the Gallup Chamber of Commerce. Most of these World War II heroes studied in Gallup before they were recruited to the war effort.
Other museums include the Rex Museum, Red Rock Museum and Gallup Cultural Center.
I loved my long weekend in Gallup as part of the TMS Family Travel Conference, and would love to return to Gallup with my family. If your family enjoys road trips, the outdoors and authentic American experiences, put Gallup, New Mexico on your list.
Disclosure: My stay in Gallup, New Mexico was hosted by TMS Family Travel and the City of Gallup for the purpose of review. My opinions are my own.