Gallup, NM – Tribes, Treasures and Trading

When we left our home, Steamboat Springs, CO., back in September, one of our concerns was how we were going to be able to cast our votes in the election in November. Not knowing exactly where we would be when our ballots came in the mail at our home base, we hoped that they would arrive in enough time for our daughter to be able to box them up (with mail she had been holding) and get them to us. Once she let us know the ballots had arrived, we made reservations to stay a week at the USA RV Park in Gallup, NM, our next destination, and asked if we could receive mail there. The ballots arrived the day after we got there. We took a couple of days to mail the ballots back, with plenty of time for them to arrive at the county clerk’s office to be counted. Now we can sit back and just ignore the rest of the campaign rhetoric that is getting soooo tiresome. I hope in the future, there will be legislation that will limit the length of time candidates can actively campaign. I guess there are pro’s and con’s to legislation like that. Maybe it is just the ugliness of this particular presidential election that makes me think that way.

Gallup gets a bad rap

When we told friends we were planning to spend a week in Gallup, and asked for suggestions on things we should see and do, the comments we got back were not very encouraging. One comment was that a week was probably 6 days too long. Another mentioned the paddy wagons that drive around in the evening to pick up drunks. And on they went. We were considering changing our reservation and only signing up for a couple of days instead of a week. Then, on second thought, we decided to do the week anyway. We could always just read or make baskets, or whatever, if we ran out of things to do. As it turned out, we were busy the entire time. There was so much to see, do and learn, we barely had ANY time to read.

As is our regular pattern, we like to check out the town we are staying in to give us some idea of what we might want to see and do, get our bearings, and find the grocery store. Our RV park was located on famous Route 66 (America’s Main Street), so we drove the length of Gallup on Route 66. It is kind of sad that this iconic route seems so run down and seedy. We were afraid the predictions of our friends were true. The road is lined with lots of rundown or abandoned motels, pawn shops with bars on the windows, vacant gas stations, and a fair amount of trash. BUT… then we started looking deeper.

Things are changing in Gallup

Downtown Gallup has established a fairly new Business Improvement District, become a New Mexico Main Street Community and been named a New Mexico Cultural District.  These tools are already working in concert to clean up the town and revitalize it.  I visited with the BID director (who had just relinquished his additional titles as Main Street Program Manager and the Cultural District director to other people – he had been doing all three!) for about an hour, learning lots about the history of Gallup, but also about the culture of the community, the players in the revitalization effort and the rift between the Native Americans and the whites that still exists today.  It probably goes back to the forced evacuation of the Navajo, called The Long Walk, of over 400 miles to Fort Defiance.  Eventually, they were allowed to return, but the distrust was already established.

The Gallup Cultural Center is located on Route 66 in the historic railroad station. There are lots of new artistic touches scattered around downtown to help elevate the arts. There are 11 fabulous murals on the sides of buildings. The trash cans have become actual works of art, and many tell a story. The El Morro Theater has been refurbished and is, once again, bringing people downtown to watch movies. The Cultural Center has a small museum upstairs with several different displays interpreting the Native American arts, showing steps in making pottery, a sand painting, and weaving, a huge collection with explanations of the various kachinas. Train history and its importance to Gallup is explained. It was very well done.


Gallup, founded in 1881, is named for the railroad paymaster, David Gallup. This depot was the headquarters for the new transcontinental Atlantic and Pacific railroad, but has now become the home of the Gallup Cultural District (and Main Street program). The statue is of a Navajo Code Talker from WWII. 43% of the people who live in Gallup at Native Americans from the Navajo, Hopi and Zuni tribes.


Exhibit in the cultural center showing the rocks which are ground up to make sand paintings


Exhibit of beading done by Native Americans


One of the eleven murals scattered throughout the downtown, adding color and telling the stories of Gallup.

Always check Trip Advisor for things to do

The number one thing to do in Gallup, according to Trip Advisor is visit Bill Malone Trading. Reading the reviews, everyone mentioned how nice Bill Malone himself is. We packed up the Ganado Navajo rug and the two Apache baskets we have been carrying with us and had taken to the Museum of Indian Arts and Crafts in Santa Fe to tell us what we actually have. Bill Malone has over 50 years in the trading business, including 25 years at the Hubbell Trading Post, before opening his own store. He was a fountain of information, and sooo gracious and unassuming. We showed him what we had and he was very impressed, letting us know that the rug was probably from the 1890’s and the baskets from about the 1920’s, and that all were in excellent condition. He then asked if we would like an appraisal, for free, for insurance purposes (letting us know that we really should insure the pieces, they were that valuable). We were shocked with what he appraised the items for. So glad we brought the items to him.


Picture of Bill Malone, in the cowboy hat, and three members of his family, along with Tracy and Cooper. Many of the items in his trading post are from his own collection, while others are pawn items Native Americans bring in.  Bill’s wife, Minnie, is a Navajo weaver and some of the rugs are hers.

Ganado Navajo Rug (circa 1890's) and Apache Baskets (circa 1920)

These are the Apache baskets that have been in Cooper’s family for decades and the Ganado Navajo rug that has been in Tracy’s family for decades as well.

There is also an interesting story about Bill. As the manager of the Hubbell Trading Post for 25 years, he was well respected by both the Navajos who were trading with him and the whites who were buying from him. They knew him to be fair and honest. During those 25 years, he also amassed quite a collection of pieces for himself, paying fair prices for all that he bought. When the trading post couldn’t or wouldn’t buy a rug or piece of jewelry, Bill might buy it for himself.  The post was bought from the Hubbell Family by the National Park Service in 1967 after a 10-year campaign to preserve the post. In 2004, federal agents seized Bill’s collection and accused him of mail fraud, embezzlement and racketeering. It took three years and all of his savings, but Bill was exonerated of all charges. There is a book about this whole fiasco, The Case of the Indian Trader: Billy Malone and the National Park Service Investigation at Hubbell Trading Post. I have added the book to my reading list.

Hubbell Trading Post National Historic Site

As mentioned before, a substantial portion of the population of Gallup is Native American, and trading posts/pawn shops abound.  Trading posts were established in the late 1800’s to bring goods and supplies from the east and west, via the new transcontinental railroad, to rural farmers/ranchers, including the Navajos.  Navajos would trade the wool from the sheep they had always raised for food and other supplies.  The Navajo nation didn’t have currency, so they would have to trade or pawn wool, blankets, jewelry, baskets, and sheep for store credit. If they were pawning their items, they could get the item back when they paid off the loan plus an interest fee.   The Hubbell Trading Post was part of a large network of posts owned by the Hubbell family throughout the Navajo Nation.  Hubbell was partly responsible for encouraging excellence in Navajo rugs and jewelry because his customers who wanted to buy such goods demanded it.  While we were visiting the Hubbell Trading Post, a Navajo woman brought in a rug she had just completed and she was able to get a check, right then and there.


This is the entrance to the Hubbell Trading Post, looking much as it did in the late 1800’s.


The variety of goods available still includes basic supplies, like flour, dish soap, and jeans, but also has available the rugs, baskets, jewelry and kachinas that Native Americans bring in to trade.


a sampling of the rugs available at the trading post. In the old days. the weavers would ask the trader what kind of rug he would like them to make. On the back wall, there were templates of the various patterns of rugs that were the most popular. The trading post is located in the town of Ganado, and the most popular rugs used red wool dyed what was called Ganado Red.


The ceiling of the trading post and the Hubbell house behind the post were all covered with Apache baskets.


This is an example of an Apache basket they had on display. Value, $3150. We were blown away!

Zuni Pueblo – traveling back in time

Another day we went to the Zuni Pueblo.  Everywhere we had been, people asked if we had been there, so we decided to go. Our first impression of the community was how authentic it still was. When you enter the pueblo, one immediately notices all of the hornos (beehive shaped clay outdoor ovens) in front of most of the homes.  Most homes have three, maybe so they can get a week’s worth of bread and pies baked on one day.  We stopped at the one bakery in town and bought a loaf of Zuni sourdough bread – just ‘cuz.  Since we had skipped lunch, we just tore hunks off the loaf and ate it in the car.  It had a fabulous intense sourdough flavor both Cooper and I commented on.


Most every home in the Zuni Pueblo had three of these clay ovens (hornos) out in the yard.

We stopped at the Visitor Center and discovered that Zuni is a New Mexico Main Street Community, also housed at the Visitor Center.  I talked with the newly installed Main Street Program Manager for a bit, and found out they have exactly the same challenges that Steamboat had when we first started the Main Street program there.  He informed me that Zuni is the first Native American Main Street program in the country (which doesn’t surprise me).  It will be interesting to see how they use that program in the future to tell the Zuni story and the story of the pueblo.  They give historic walking tours of the village, but they also encourage a “shop local” program and are planning to participate in Small Business Saturday.

El Morro National Monument

To chalk up another National Park stamp in my National Park Passport book, we also went to El Morro National Monument, not far from Zuni Pueblo.  El Morrow is a huge sandstone escarpment that rises out of the sagebrush and stood as a landmark for those heading west.  It was known as a place to get water on the long trek west, and also for offering shade.  It was 150 miles without water to get to it, so you can imagine what a relief it was to see it in the distance, to egg you on to get there.  As people passed, they inscribed their names in the sandstone walls, on what is now called Inscription Rock.  I took several pictures of the inscriptions, but none of them turned out because of the shadows.  The inscriptions were from as far back as the 1500’s when the Spanish came to the area.  They were inscribed several centuries of passers-by (and more recent graffiti – boo!)


It’s really hard to tell how tall the sandstone walls of this rock face are, but once you get up to them, they are really high.

Let the Natives pick the pinions

Our last adventure in Gallup was to attend the Gallup Flea Market, a weekly Native American vending opportunity.  They were selling everything from Zuni bread (same bakery as the one we went to), to jewelry, to garage sale stuff, to firewood, to truckloads of hay, to herbal medicines from two different medicine women.  There was fry bread, and turkey legs, and roasted pinion nuts. We bought a small bag of roasted pinions to try.  It’s just like eating sunflower seeds in the shell.  Crack them with your teeth to get out the sweet nut inside.

It is pinion picking season around Gallup, with people parking all along the highways to pick up the nuts that have fallen.  When we were at Bill Malone’s, a woman came in with a huge flour sack full of fresh pinion to sell to Bill.  Before we left, we asked him if he was planning to sell the nuts.  Since we hadn’t been able to find our own nuts in Ridgway, CO as we had planned, we decided to buy two pounds of the nuts from him.  That was before we saw where the nuts were being collected along the highway on the way to the Hubbell Trading Post.  Oh, well.  The price was good and now we have our nuts.  Shucking them is really time-consuming, one nut at a time, but they are so good when they are fresh. We broke up the two pounds into smaller snack-sized Ziploc bags and frozen most of the nuts to shuck when we have some time, a little at a time.  I hope that doesn’t wreck them!


I know there has to be an easier way to shuck these nuts (since Indians didn’t have vice-grips back in the day), but using a rolling pin to crack the nuts also breaks the nuts along with the shells. Maybe someone in Tucson will be able to teach me the more efficient way to do it.

Gallup was well worth a week

I am glad we committed to staying a week in Gallup.  On the surface, the first impression is not so great, especially on Route 66, but by digging deeper, we saw another side to this historic town.  The community is dedicated to improving the downtown and bringing the whole town back.  Tourism is a huge part of the economy, but people need to feel safe.  We might be back through Gallup in another 10 years.  I bet it is much better by then.