Find Fun in the Unexpected on Route 66 and I-40
Gallup, New Mexico
Gallup, New Mexico offers travelers of any age and ability some enriching, fun and all around quirky experiences as a hop off the highway, halfway between Albuquerque, New Mexico and Flagstaff, Arizona. Route 66 made its way through Gallup in 1926, establishing Gallup as an iconic small western town and hub of unique charm. Here are some creative ways to explore Gallup and its Route 66 legacy:
Admire the Cars Movie Inspiration and Check out Red Rock Park Museum
The artists who rendered the movie Cars used Gallup as a kick-off point. The landscape seen in the movie mirrors the red rocks seen throughout the Gallup area and at Red Rock Park, which is a stop off of Route 66. The park is enormous with two hiking trails, an arena, amphitheater, convention center and more.
Groups definitely need to swing by the Red Rock Park Museum to experience a small free collection that encapsulates remnants from several Anasazi archeological sites in the area. The Anasazi were a prehistoric farming culture that developed and persisted in the area from 300 to 1200 AD. Through interpretive exhibits, the Red Rock Museum chronicles the lives and culture of the Anasazi as well as the present-day Zuni, Hopi and Navajo. The museum houses permanent displays of Kachinas, pottery, rugs, silver and turquoise as well as traveling art exhibits.
Find the Large Man Statues and Other Roadside Oddities
Who does not love a scavenger hunt? In Gallup, there are three different statues, each very different, of giant men. The first is the Giant Cowboy Muffler Man over John’s Used Cars (416 W. Coal Avenue). Muffler men are large molded fiberglass sculptures scattered throughout the United States, with four still in existence along Route 66. All of the muffler men have the same hand up and hand down configuration to mimic Paul Bunyan holding an axe.
Next groups can head to the north side of Gallup, where they will come across two giant figures along Maloney Avenue: the Indian Kachina Statue at the Playground of Dreams and Man, pulling a car full of coal, at We the People Park. Make sure to take some time and explore the We the People Sculpture Collection installed in 1994 by Alvarez Armando. The main component of this collection is a 110-foot, semi-circular wall with silhouettes of figures of all ages, sizes and more. This work is listed within the Smithsonian Art Database.
While groups are out exploring Gallup’s northside oddities, they should also look out for “’Tow-Mater’ on a Stick” and the “Tiny Bathtub.” Both of these roadside oddities once served or still served as signage for local businesses.
After groups leave We the People Park, they head back toward Route 66 to see if they can find the Buffalo Twin Sculptures. One exists outside of Panz Alegra (1201 E Hwy 66) and the other, the twin, is hiding along a chain link fence by the curve into downtown Gallup. (He is on the south side of the street in a used car lot).
Dive into History
Gallup’s Route 66 history dates back to 1926, but the town has been around since 1881 and was founded as the Atlantic and Pacific Railroad built headquarters to continue the expansion of trains in the Southwest.
One remnant of this time period is the Gallup Cultural Center (201 E Highway 66). This building originally served as the Santa Fe Depot and now houses the Storyteller’s Museum and a youth arts gallery on the second floor. In March of 2020 a newly refurbished exhibit honoring the Navajo code talkers’ and Gallup-area residents’ rich history of military service opened within the Storyteller’s Museum. This building also has one of the best cafés along Route 66 on its main floor: Angela’s Café con Leche. This café can accommodate groups of any size (reservations needed for parties over six).
Also nestled along Route 66 (and a block from each other) are the historic Richardson’s Trading Post and the city-run Rex Museum. Richardson’s Trading Post is actually older than Route 66 itself. The post opened in the Gallup area in 1913 and relocated to Route 66 in the 1930s at its current site. This store serves as both a fine Native American art retailer and a minor museum with its own collection that contains hundreds of items such as jewelry, moccasins, saddles, tapestries and more. The Richardson family curated this collection throughout the museum’s 107-year history.
Just a block away from Richardson’s Trading Post guests can visit the Rex Museum at the corner of Third Street and Route 66. This museum’s building has served as everything from a hotel to a brothel and more. The outside of the Rex Museum is becoming a living history exhibit as the stucco begins to crumble exposing the historic brick of the original building, which will one day be fully restored. The collection inside features bits and pieces of Gallup’s history including tributes to the city’s coal-mining heritage and remnants from the El Navajo Hotel. The El Navajo Hotel was a Harvey House that used to exist along Route 66 where the Gallup Skate Park now sits, next to the Gallup Cultural Center.
Visit the Historic Theaters
Gallup’s downtown area contains two buildings that, at one point in history, served as historic theaters. The El Morro Theatre opened in 1928 as a silent film theater complete with an orchestra pit and organ. Still open and operational, this theater now operates as a second-run film and live theater venue. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1996. Tours of the theater are available by appointment for groups of any size.
Down the road at the corner of Third Street and Coal Avenue is a building now named City Electric Shoe Shop. City Electric opened in 1924 next to the historic Strand Theater (constructed in 1920), which eventually became the Chief Theater. Sadly, the Chief fell into disrepair, but the neighboring City Electric Shoe Shop (named because they were the first business in town to use electric equipment to repair shoes) purchased the building and expanded into the old theater site. The shoe shop now makes moccasins and leather belts in the basement of the building.
In 2015, the City of Gallup also added an events center, which is a great central staging location in downtown for large groups.
Do not miss the opportunity to take a group on a unique Route 66 historical experience on a quick stop off of I-40 in Gallup, New Mexico – only 30 miles from the Arizona border. For more information about Gallup’s arts and cultural offerings or for a listing of traders, visit galluprealtrue.com, e-mail Jennifer, the tourism and marketing manager, at firstname.lastname@example.org or phone (505) 863-1227 for more information.