The Wild West of Gallup, New Mexico

Hot-air balloons soaring over red rock deserts can be much more affordable in Gallup than in other parts of New Mexico. Families looking to try and tame their finances can get an authentic glimpse of the wild Southwest and our freewheeling past in the town that still lives in them.

“This is real cowboy and Indians country,” Gallup Mayor Jackie McKinney told a group of visiting families.

An affordable weekend in Gallup could be headquartered in the modest Days Inn by Wyndham Red Rock-Gallup where rooms start at just $66 and include breakfast, Internet and access to the largest indoor pool in Gallup. Plus, you could bring your dog. If you want to spend a little more and immerse yourself in a historical landmark, the El Rancho Hotel, off the famous Route 66, will bring you to the spot where movie stars like the John Wayne, Gregory Peck and the Marx Brothers regularly stayed to film their westerns. Many still have their names hanging on the doors outside their favorite rooms. Walk around and take in the cinematic memorabilia hanging on every available space between the authentic New Mexican decor. Rooms start at $84.

Desert in Gallup, New Mexico.

Desert in Gallup, New Mexico. Photo: Rina Nehdar

Outdoorsy families will love the hiking trails at Red Rock Park with layers of rose, pink and salmon stone stretching across the towering desert cliffs. Choose from the favorite three-mile, round-trip Pyramid Rock trail with views of the open, sepia landscape or the two-mile Church Rock trail that showcases spires of rock leading to heaven. Yearly rodeos and tribal ceremonies are open to the public. If you go during the first weekend in December, you’ll get to witness the Red Rock Balloon Rally with hundreds of balloons coloring the blue sky. Everything is free but parking is $5 for the day. If you can’t go in December but you’d still like to soar above the cliffs, you can book a ride with X-Treme-Lee Fun Balloon Adventures and owner Bill Lee will promise you the softest landing.

Hot-Air Ballooning in Gallup, New Mexico. Photo: Rina Nehdar

Hot-Air Ballooning in Gallup, New Mexico. Photo: Rina Nehdar

If you’d rather clink your spurs around saloons, trading posts and a haunted movie theater, downtown Gallup is the place you’ll want to go. Summers also bring nightly tribal dancers. Discover what four generations of family working together to bring Native American art, jewelry and goods can accomplish, including showcasing an exhibit that displayed at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. Tanners offers unique memorabilia like hand-spun rugs, gem-quality turquoise and Katsina dolls. You’ll find many shops around town to explore and discover Indian treasure. When you’re ready to cool off, you can stop by Coal Street Pub for a bite and a brew or warm up with some coffee at Gallup Coffee Company with old-fashioned coffee equipment on display. Take the kids to catch an old flick at El Morro Theater, but watch out for the front row of the balcony where they say the ghost of a woman still patronizes the theater in her favorite seat.

Hot-Air Ballooning in Gallup, New Mexico.

Hot-Air Ballooning in Gallup, New Mexico. Photo: Rina Nehdar

As your family rides out of town with a face full of smiles and a head full of memories, you’ll be happy to know you also saved a wallet full of bills.