With a population mix of Navajo, Anglo, and Hispanic—plus a Mormon influence, a strong presence of other tribes, and a richly intertwined culture and history that reflects that mix—Gallup is a place like nowhere else. Known as both the Heart of Indian Country and the Indian Jewelry Capital of the World, with more than 100 trading posts that deal in Native American jewelry, pottery, rugs, and all manner of other arts and crafts, Gallup might just be the best place to acquire that concho belt or squash-blossom necklace you've always wanted. Prices are often better than those you can find in Santa Fe, and the selection is just short of overwhelming. Many of the Navajos, or Diné, selling their wares (and here to shop for more mundane goods themselves) have come in from Window Rock, Arizona, the Navajo Nation's capital, 25 miles northwest of town, or from less accessible rural spots on the surrounding reservation lands. The Navajo Veteran's Memorial Park and the Navajo Nation Museum, both in Window Rock, are an easy drive from Gallup.
Gallup originated in the 1880s as a coal-mining town, and the railroad that followed encouraged a boom. Long strings of freight cars still rumble along the tracks paralleling Historic Route 66, and train whistles hoot regularly. By the ’30s, Gallup had become the lucky recipient of more WPA (Works Progress Administration) federal arts program projects than anywhere else in New Mexico; it had also become a fabled stop along Route 66. When you drive down its neon-illuminated main street today, you enter a retro world of pop-culture nostalgia.