We left Flagstaff Arizona and headed to Albuquerque for the annual hot air balloon festival. Because of our excursion through the Petrified Forest National Park and some other national parks in western New Mexico, we decided to spend the night somewhere halfway between Flagstaff and Albuquerque. I enjoy reading the book 1000 Places to See Before You Die and I also have the sequel that covers just the United States and Canada. I consulted the book to see what attractions it suggests visiting and it lists the town of Gallup as one of it destinations to visit. Since Gallup is the largest city between Flagstaff and Albuquerque and is conveniently located off of I-40, we decided to make this our stopover.
Gallup is known as the "Indian Capital of the World" because of its location near so many different Indian tribes. The Navajo, Zuni, and Hopi tribes along with some smaller ones are located in or near Gallup. The fastest way to Gallup is of course on I-40, but the most scenic route would have to be on the famous "Mother Road" Route 66. At times, we would get off the interstate and travel Route 66 to admire the buildings and road signs of an era long ago. We drove into Gallup on Route 66 as it crossed Highway 491. This highway until 2003 was labeled Route 666. However because of the association with 666 and devil worship it was redesignated as 491. It is still known as the Devil’s Highway.
Our hotel, a Comfort Suites, which although isn’t fancy or historical, does sit along Route 66. So I can say we stayed at a hotel on the Mother Road. The heart of Gallup where Route 66 cuts through is filled with old motels easily identifiable by its large lighted signs and blinking letters to make sure it gets your attention. To would-be travelers, many of the motels advertise that it has air conditioning and color TV as if at one time, that was a luxury which we take to be standard today. Perhaps the most famous of these motels along Route 66 is the El Rancho Motel. This motel is on the National Register of Historical Places and many Hollywood actor and actresses stayed here while making many of the films that were shot in Gallup during the 40’s and 50’s. Ronald Reagan, John Wayne, Kirk Douglas, and Katherine Hepburn are just some of the guests. To really feel the spirit of Route 66, it must be seen at night when all of the lights make the street come to life. The El Rancho hotel with its pink lights and flashy sign makes sure that no one will miss it.
To find our dinner choice, we used our Iphones and using the app Yelp, we found the El Metate Tamale Factory. It had great reviews and since we love tamales, it was a no brainer. We drove to 610 W. Mesa Ave and our route took us through residential neighborhoods. When we arrived, we discovered that the restaurant is a house which has been converted and it lies within a residential neighborhood. I was at first nervous because some of the houses seemed run-down and I wondered if we should be here at all. We were probably early for dinner because at 6pm we were the only ones there. The only person working there was the cook who was busy making tamales. Since the other staff was not there, he acted as our waiter and cook. We told him that we wanted tamales. Within ten minutes, we had freshly made tamales that he had made earlier that day. The food was phenomenal and it was cheap. Had it not been for Yelp, we would probably not have eaten here because of the neighborhood. We were glad we came here and it satisfied our hunger for New Mexican cuisine.
Before we left Gallup, we made a stop at Richardson’s Trading Post. This place sells jewelry, clothing, and other handmade items. The items are made by the different Indian tribes and are sold on consignment. My wife bought a handmade turquoise pendant made by the Zuni Indian tribe. Richardson’s allows Indians to make money from their crafts while allowing tourists and residents to buy authentic items. After doing a little shopping, we headed south out of Gallup on Route 610 to visit a few more national parks. El Morro National Monument lies about an hour away. The drive takes you through the Zuni and Navajo Indian Reservations. El Morro has been an important campsite for hundreds of years and is an important site among the Native Americans. The highlight of El Morro is a large sandstone bluff that contains a pool of water at its base. This pool of water is important because of El Morro’s remote location, travelers who may have been trekking for days found the pool of water a reliable place to refresh and recuperate before heading back out. Along the sandstone bluff carved into the stone are inscriptions with dates and names of those stopped here with some dating as far back as the 17th century. It is known as Inscription Rock to Americans, but the Indians have many different names for it. As of 1906, it is illegal to carve anything more into the rock. There is a $3 entrance fee to visit.