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.
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.
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.
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.