Gallup, NM

Exploring Gallup, New Mexico

Exploring Gallup, New MexicoCarri Wilbanks

To immerse yourself in Native American history and culture, you'll want to head to Gallup, New Mexico. Located on the famed Mother Road, Route 66, just 25-miles from the Arizona border, it is a land of immense, still wild beauty mixed with historic Americana, relics of our country's motoring heydays.

"Gallup is known as the Indian capital of the world and we're completely surrounded by Indian reservation lands in all four directions," said Terry Frazier, Director of the Nightly Indian Dances. "We have the Navajo reservation, the southern new tribes in Colorado, and if you go west, we have Hopi Pueblo there, Zuni Pueblo, and then to the east of us, we have the Pueblo tribes along the Rio Grande as well as Acoma and Laguna, so we bring in different native dance groups to provide a cultural educational, safe learning environment for all of our visitors (in Gallup)."

These include free nightly drum and dance performances from Memorial Day to Labor Day by Navajo, Hopi, Apache, and Zuni people, among other tribes. Representatives from these tribes have been traveling to Gallup every summer for more than 30 years to perform and also to help educate visitors about their culture and customs.

"The nightly Indian dances help to preserve native culture, which is diminishing and we strive to perpetuate our culture, our language, our dances all through the nightly dance program, said Frazer It's one of Gallup's gems and Gallup should be proud to be offering this for so long for free to interact with the dances, to learn more about the culture and why they do those dances, to sit back and relax for the evening, have a little bit of a little bite to eat."

Gallup is also the Native American jewelry capital of the world. Here you can shop for treasures made by area tribes, from jewelry and pottery to paintings and blankets. One good place to start is First American Traders, which has been in business since the 1970s, and you can be sure what you are purchasing is authentic. From Navajo pottery to Navajo jewelry, sand paintings, and carvings, this shop has it all, and they're all hand-made. I especially loved the pottery here, which makes a unique wedding gift if you have any upcoming nuptials you need a gift for. But what is best of all about this merchant is that when it comes to creating the goods for sale, they will provide raw materials to the artists to produce at home and then sell in their shop, which helps eliminate the personal overhead that can make it difficult for people to create their crafts in the first place.

Shopping and culture aside, Gallup is also an eating destination. Here you'll find a delicious blend of everything from Native American to New Mexican dishes that are big on flavor and portion. There are so many good options, but I absolutely love the stuffed sopapillas at Jerry'sJerry's Cafe, which are pretty much legendary. Leftover from the Route 66 motoring days, complete with a neon sign with flashing yellow arrow pointing towards it from the road, the interior is a yesteryear diner with faux wood walls and cozy booths. And beyond the stuffed sopapillas, it does a whole range of big portions of New Mexican comfort food, including some award-winning red chile that should not be skipped.

Other Gallup must-do’s include a visit to the Rex Museum, which used to be a brothel, but now showcases exhibits detailing Gallup’s rich history. There are also the restored historic buildings like the El Morro Theatre, where Hollywood’s latest blockbusters and the performing arts share the stage. And just 10 minutes from downtown, you will find my favorite outdoor adventure area in the region, Red Rock Park. It is a hiking mecca with a series of stunning red sandstone cliffs with no chance of a bad view. It’s the kind of park that amazes visitors year-round and proves that New Mexico is positively the Land of Enchantment.

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Carri Wilbanks is a freelance writer, producer and TV host whose aim is to inspire people to engage with the world around them. Trekking across Europe and South America unleashed her passion for travel. When she's not living out of a suitcase, Carri resides in colorful Colorado. Read more about her global adventures at

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