When we plan our trips, we have a list of what we want to see. But since we only travel 250 miles every two weeks, there are always places we stop simply because they’re at the right place between Point A and Point B. Gallup, NM was one such means to an end.
When we decided to stay in Gallup on our way from Santa Rosa, NM to Flagstaff, AZ, I wasn’t exactly excited. It seemed like a small town on Route 66 with some hiking options, on the way to other places.
But when we made friends with some Albuquerque locals last week, some of them had negative things to say about Gallup. The kind of things that stick in your mind and cause your perspective to change. From that point on, I wasn’t expecting much out of Gallup.
I was wrong.
Things to Do in Gallup, NM
Contrary to my expectations, I liked Gallup. There’s not a lot to do right in town, but everyone is friendly and we had everything we could need during our week-long stay. When we had free time (which was in short supply during a busy work week), we took two day trips.
Gallup is surrounded by exceptional day trip options. When it comes to National Park Service sites, Chaco Culture is to the northeast. Going clockwise, there’s El Malpais and El Morro (southeast of Gallup), Petrified Forest (southwest), Hubbell Trading Post (west), and Canyon de Chelly (northwest).
We couldn’t get to all six in one week, so we chose the closest, Hubbell Trading Post, as well as Chaco Culture, which was highly recommended by New Mexico Jeep friends.
Day Trip to Hubbell Trading Post National Historic Site
John Lorenzo Hubbell opened his trading post in 1878, 10 years after the Navajo Indians returned home from their forced exile. The original mercantile is still open and active, with regional wares available for purchase.
The visitor center has insightful exhibits, films, and hands-on activities for the littles. On the opposite side of the trading post, we wandered around the Hubbell homestead. Caspian loved seeing chickens and a huge turkey, as well as a white horse and–best of all, in his opinion–a shiny red tractor.
Hubbell Trading Post National Historic Site is an hour away from Gallup. We drove there right after lunch at Sandra’s Place (see below) and were back home by dinner time.
1/2 Mile W. Hwy. 191, Ganado, AZ – Website
Day Trip to Chaco Culture National Historical Park
We started working with a new social media client this week, on top of the bajillion other projects we’re crazy enough to juggle, so we had to force ourselves to unplug during the work week. After lunch on Thursday, we left for the two-hour drive to Chaco Culture National Historical Park (sometimes referred to as Chaco Canyon).
It’s actually only 96 miles in distance, but the last 20ish miles are bumpy dirt road. Unless you have a Winnebago Revel, I highly discourage you from taking your RV to Chaco Culture. You’ll be miserable if you try. The drive there in our Jeep Rubicon 4×4 wasn’t bad, but the drive back out was rough. Our vehicle was in no danger, but the ride would’ve been smoother had we aired the tires down. Eric did lose a D-ring on the harsh road.
With that disclaimer out of the way, what you really need to know is that Chaco Culture is worth seeing. You could easily spend a full day there, exploring all the ruins and trails, and enjoying picnic meals against beautiful backdrops. Nature’s artwork.
We arrived at the visitor’s center at 2:45 p.m. and left the park around 6:30 p.m. (you have to be in your vehicle driving out by sunset, unless you’re camping for the night). In those four-ish hours, we:
- Did the self-guided tour of Pueblo Bonito, with the $1 guide from the visitor’s center. The ranger said that if we could only do one thing at the park, this should be it.
- Walked the Petroglyph Trail (we missed buying the guide for this–look for it at the center).
- Did the self-guided tour of Chetro Ketl, with another $1 guide.
- Drove the rest of the 9-mile loop, passing other ruins on the way.
- Took a look at the campground, just because we were curious. We saw one Airstream, truck campers, and maybe a Class C. But most people were in tents, which is what we would do if we wanted to stay there. We definitely wouldn’t attempt to drive our Class A down that road.
- Found a picnic table, unloaded our propane grill, and cooked up some bratwursts for dinner. As we lounged in our camping chairs on a Thursday, with a magnificent view, it felt like we were “doing it right.”
We saw all kinds of vehicles touring the park, from small passenger cars to big pickups. But I can see the entry road getting rougher and even dangerous with inclement weather. Just be cautious, and call the visitor’s center for advice if you’re in doubt.
Some GPS programs give unreliable directions. Visit the official website for instructions.
Things to Eat in Gallup, NM
The 505 Burgers & Wings
Having visited a few places around New Mexico, I got a kick out of the burgers on the menu at The 505 Burgers & Wings.
The Carlsbad was pretty good, but the French fries were the standout. Eric had the hot wings and thought they were passable. If I went again, I’d probably try something with green chile. But I didn’t know then what I know now…
1981 NM-602 – Yelp
We pulled into Sandra’s Place for Sunday brunch. Looking at the building, and looking at all the vehicles in the parking lot, we had no idea how everyone fit inside.
The tables were close together, but we didn’t mind. Every time someone walked in, they said hello to half the people in the restaurant. The result was a laid-back and friendly environment.
Caspian got to sit facing a big window. Through it, he could see Route 66 and the train tracks just beyond. Between that and all the hot balloon art on the walls, he was in his element.
But the best was yet to come.
Eric ordered a burrito stuffed with hash browns, egg, sausage, bacon, and cheese, and smothered in green chile. When I asked him what he thought about it, he replied, “it was amazing…fantastic.”
I wasn’t sure what to get, but I knew I wanted green chile. I ended up picking the FBI: tortilla with hash browns and green chile, served with coffee.
I thought about that dish for days afterwards. The green chile got my metabolism going (read: it was on the spicy side), but I couldn’t stop eating it.
1501 W Historic Hwy 66 – Yelp
Eric read about Jerry’s Cafe in a tourism brochure. It had been voted the best green chile in Gallup, so he wanted to go. For my part, I didn’t see how it could be better than Sandra’s Place.
Insert chuckle at myself.
When I posted a food photo on Instagram for Sandra’s Place, @mrsshack83 said I had to try a New Mexican stuffed sopapilla. So when I saw stuffed sopapilla on the menu at Jerry’s, it was on.
Tell me how this sounds: sopaipilla stuffed with pork carnitas, guacamole, grilled tomato and onion, with jalapeño. Smothered with chile and cheese. Topped with sour cream.
This dish is Cherelle’s Choice, and words fail me. I am officially obsessed with New Mexican food. Yesterday before we left Gallup, I insisted we go back to Jerry’s a second time. There may or may not be leftovers in my fridge that I am so looking forward to.
If you’re driving through Gallup, it’s worth stopping in Galup just to eat at Jerry’s. That is all.
406 W. Coal Ave. – Website
Our Gallup, NM RV Park
Before we even got to USA RV Park, I knew we were in for something good. We talked to multiple people on the phone when making our reservation, changing our reservation, and whatever else we needed. Every time, they were extremely pleasant and friendly–totally accommodating.
The sites at USA RV Park were level and well-maintained, with gravel. Full hookups, and cable available for an additional fee. If the park were full, the sites would be tight. But they spaced other rigs away from us, so the size of the site never bothered us. Since the park is right off Route 66 and I-40, most RVers came in for one night and left the next morning.
As far as amenities, we didn’t do anything but use the little playground once. There is a swimming pool (still covered for the season), laundry room, showers, etc. There’s also a big shop inside with tons of jewelry, gifts, and decor, as well as RV essentials.
As I mentioned, the park is located on Route 66, just a few minutes from “downtown” and anything else in Gallup you’d need to go to. We’d stay again for sure. We were also able to fill up with propane on our way out, which is awesome since night temperatures are still dropping to the 30’s.
I did seriously consider staying at Red Rock Park, which has 5-stars on Campendium. Ultimately, I decided for full hookups at USA RV Park, since originally we were going to be without a sewer connection for three weeks prior. A girl wants to do laundry at home every once in a while.
2925 W Historic Hwy 66 – Website
➡ Keep reading: Announcing RV Wanderlust Travel Plans for 2018
Reminder Not to Jump to Conclusions
In my article about how three years of fulltime travel changed me, I mentioned how I’ve learned to rethink my assumptions. Gallup may not be a cosmopolitan hotbed of culture, but it doesn’t need to be. It has it’s own culture. It’s own history. It’s own people. And–thank God–it’s own food.
Our visit this past week was a reminder to avoid jumping to conclusions. If we didn’t encounter different places in our travels, then we’d never have opportunity to learn and grow.
What places have defied your expectations?