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2004 Travelogue #28 Gallup
Gallup, New Mexico

Places of Interest:

New Mexico: Crownpoint Rug Auction, Gallup, Red Rock State Park,
Zuni Pueblo, Zuni Museum, Pueblo of Zuni Arts & Crafts

8/20 Last night it rained off and on all night but we awoke to a crisp, bright, sunny day.

We needed to pick up our mail in Thoreau, a small town 25 miles west of Grants. So, this afternoon we took Historic 66 through the countryside, enjoying the red rock and gray-streaked sandstone colors of the distant mesas, which looked like what we'd only seen in travel films. Up close, though, it was a different story.

Driving down the old highway, we passed old mobile homes with old tires on the roofs, I guess to keep the roof from blowing off; old travel trailers where people still might live and yards filled with lots of stuff or junk. It was a real eye sore. I believe these folks, whomever they are, saved every car they ever owned and put them out front, alongside or behind the house, along with every past washing machine and refrigerator.

After picking up our mail, we passed a roadside vendor selling "Hatch Chili" peppers, I just had to have some more. He was a Navajo and told me how to prepare them using my small propane grill. From the chili stand, we drove another 30 miles into Navajo country to Crownpoint, NM.

Here, each month in the Crownpoint Elementary School gymnasium, the Indians bring their handmade woven rugs to be auctioned at the Crownpoint Rug Auction (www.crownpointrugauction.com). The auction gives buyers a unique opportunity to purchase Navajo rugs directly from the weavers, at prices one-half or more of retail. The rug viewing starts about 4 pm and the auction begins at 7 pm, sometimes lasting until midnight.

The little old Navajo ladies carried in their rolled up treasures, got them registered and tagged and then a big Indian brave took them, laid them on folding tables and the professional store buyers pounced. It made a pre-Christmas sale-day at Macy's seem tame. They came equipped with their tools, measuring tapes, pads and pencils, folding and refolding their way through stacks of rugs. It was a shoving and pushing match to get to the tables, definitely not for the timid soul. Everyone has the opportunity to purchase these rugs and the Indian weavers receive 2/3 of the sale price.

After watching for a while, I headed outside to a small group of Navajo ladies selling tacos, chili pies, and Navajo fry bread. I opted for the fry bread. A lady took a ball of dough out of an ice chest, pulled it in different directions, patted it a few times to flatten it, then tossed it into a large black pot of boiling grease. There it was, Navajo fry bread. It came out puffed and similar to a flat sopapilla. I put red chili sauce on part of it but then switched to honey, which I preferred.

Before long, Peggy joined me. She'd also had enough of the pushing and shoving but said the rugs were the most beautiful she'd ever seen and certainly treasures.

She shared with me a special time she had earlier, with a Navajo lady from Kayenta, Arizona. She drives up each month, bringing several rugs for the auction as well as her Navajo jewelry, which she sells at a table in the school hallway. Her name was Grace Laughter. What an intriguing name and it fit this twinkling lady perfectly. She calls her shop, Zane Grey Southwest Arts & Crafts (phone 520-697-3406), named after the writer who was a close family friend.

8/22 We leisurely departed Grants this morning, traveling only 67 miles west on I-40 to Gallup, NM. We crossed the Continental Divide between Grants and Gallup, at 7500 feet elevation.

Gallup is considered to be in the "heart of Indian Country" with a population of 21,000 and an elevation of 6510 feet. There are three major Indian Reservations in the area. The Navajo are the largest remaining Native American tribe with 150,000 occupying the reservation the size of West Virginia. The Zuni and Hopi Reservations are the other two.

In 1881 the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railway laid track through these red rock mesas. The paymaster was a man named David Gallup and it's from his name that the town got its name; when payday came, all the crew went to "Gallup" to get their pay.

We stayed at the USA RV Park at Exit 16 off I-40 and East on Historic US 66. It's a well-maintained campground with paved interior roads, large gravel sites, 50 amps and FHU. The owner is big on patriotism but with a low tolerance for pets, especially dogs.

We set up our site, and then drove to Red Rock State Park, a major convention and rodeo area for the City, whose camping facilities we wanted to check-out. Stopping in the Park office, we received a rate schedule and hiking trail-guide.
We found the camping area inadequate for large rigs. Not only were the slots too small but they were also red dirt, not an asset on a rainy day.

Even though the camping facilities were out, the hiking trails were in. So we got our gear and headed up the red sandstone bluff. The trail made a rapid incline with various degrees of switchbacks where we stopped frequently to look across the valley and at the other massive red sandstone bluff opposite us. It was interesting to notice the knurled and dwarfed juniper trees in the rock crevices struggling so hard to exist.

8/23 We were up, out and heading south from Gallop in the Saturn this morning to the Zuni Reservation. The drive took us through National Forests of Ponderosa pines and junipers to the Zuni Pueblo, nestled in a picturesque valley, surrounded by mesas. The six original Zuni pueblos were believed to be the legendary "Seven Cities of Cibola" sought by Coronado in 1540. This pueblo was settled in 1699 and is considered to be the largest of the 19 Pueblos in New Mexico, both in size (more than 600 square miles) and population (with over 11,000 residents).

Approaching the community's outskirts, we looked for the Pueblo, expecting something similar to other pueblos with multi-level structures, like at Taos. However, the Zuni Pueblo is a large area of single adobe homes close to one another but not necessarily attached in a common structure. It was like a small town and is considered to be the largest inhabited Pueblo in the United States.

Usually, when approaching something like this, we try to get a feel for the place by driving the streets, checking for interesting things and places, making notes on what we might want to come back to or ask questions about. Grocery and hardware stores are always our favorite places, because there we discover the special things people eat and use in their daily lives.

On Pla Mesa Road, a side street, we found the Halona Plaza and Inn. I have no idea where the Inn was, but the Halona Plaza was a small dusty intersection with its own small dusty parking lot. The anchor and only thing on this Plaza was the grocery store. Upon entering the old wooden planked store, we walked into the past. One area had an old meat display case, which now housed rocks, semi- precious stones, and various supplies the Indians used in their artwork and jewelry making. Here we could buy unpolished turquoise rocks for $6.00 an oz.

Outside and diagonally across the street was the Zuni Museum. We left the car in the dusty parking lot, guarded by two old sleeping dogs stretched out under the hitching rails and walked across the street. There we met Lorena, a lovely, elderly Zuni lady. I greeted her with, "Good morning" and she said, "Are you going to the Museum?" I said, "Yes" and asked, "Is it worth seeing?" She replied, "Yes" and that was enough of a recommendation for us. Lorena was a petite lady, wearing many of her own rings and necklace creations and she carried a small cooler. She told us she was taking the cooler to the Halona store to sell her freshly-made beef tamales. I asked her if she made them herself and she replied, "I even ground the corn to make the mazda." I bought two of them right there for lunch and ate one of them later in the day, it was outstanding. After wrapping the tamale in the cornhusk, she used a piece of the husk and fastened each with little bows; a very creative Zuni lady.

The A: shawl (Navajo) Awan Museum and Heritage Center presented "Hawikku: Echoes from Our Past", "A walk through history and experience our past today" as the theme for the Museum. There was a small entrance fee or donation as they have stamped on the ticket. Greeting us at the door, a young Zuni man gave us a brief overview and directed us on a winding course through the little building.

The mythology and symbols of the Zuni are told in murals called the "Zuni Migration Story Murals". They describe where the Zuni people came from and how they arrived at "Idiwanna, the Middle Place", now known as Zuni. I won't go into the whole migration story but what I did find interesting is their beginning:

"Our ancestors emerged from the Fourth Underworld at a place called Ribbon Falls in the Grand Canyon."

Art plays a significant role in the economy and heritage of the Zuni Pueblo. The Pueblo is noted for their artisans and the beautiful, pottery, fetish (objects carved in shell and precious stones), and jewelry. The jewelry is handcrafted with sterling silver and gold. The Zunis have become renowned for developing several different styles such as inlay, needlepoint, and mosaic designs in their jewelry. They are mainly produced in the home and are the main source of income for the majority of the Zuni households.

The Zuni's are happy to have visitors in their Pueblo but to take pictures; a $5 photo permit must be purchased at the Information Center. We browsed through stores and trading posts along Main Street, such as "Turquoise Village", and the "Pueblo Trading Post", but our favorite was the "Pueblo of Zuni Arts & Crafts". They carried a vast array of quality items such as: jewelry, pottery, beadwork, and kachina dolls, each piece signed by the artist. We purchased a Zuni inlayed cross-made by Adalaine Bowannie, a Zuni resident.

On our way out of town we stopped at the Zuni Senior Center, which was a new building and looked interesting. In the large Activities Room, I found elderly men and women at tables doing crafts. I stopped to visit at each table and admire their work. They had big smiles and seemed so pleased to show me their paper flowers, hot pads, and whatever else they were working on. Each of the women wore her beautiful turquoise jewelry and the men wore their cream-colored, straw, cowboy hats and turquoise bolo ties.

Gallup has more than 100 trading posts, shops and galleries making it one of the centers for authentic Native American art. Specializing in "pawn," the trading post experience is something to experience.

We made several trading post and "pawn" stops and one we found fascinating was Southwest Jewelers Supply & Pawn on US 66 (www.swjs.com). We normally look for a busy parking lot to give us some kind of voter approval of the establishment but for some reason we chose Southwest Jewelers, which didn't have a car in the lot when we drove in. The "pawn" store was partially underground and as we walked down the stairs I noticed it even had a chair elevator for the handicapped.

Entering this store was like going into a real pawnshop, as I know them. Guitars hung on the wall, tools of all kinds were stacked around, and glass cases were filled with a variety of real "dead pawn" Indian jewelry. "Dead pawn" is merchandise that was put up for pawn but never paid off, so the dealer is selling to recoup the loan. We like "dead pawn" for our purchases because the items have a story, someone owned it and it was loaned for some reason.

A young man met us at the front counter; his name was George Hengle, the proprietor. We began a conversation that lasted almost an hour. He talked about his kids; we talked about ours; he talked about his hurried, busy lifestyle, and he was curious about our laid-back style. He spoke Zuni and Hopi, knew the jewelry very well, gave us good information and we bought several pieces.

We were curious about the "pawn" system as it relates to the Indians and George provided us with information to understand the system. Due to the Indian Reservation system, a mortgage or banking institution has no legal claims for repossession on an Indian Reservation. The Indians must pay cash for a car or home so, therefore, the "pawn" system is the loaning operation for the Indians. The system, here in New Mexico, is 10% the first month and 4% per month on the outstanding balance. Their precious jewelry or other items are their collateral for loans.

One of my purchases from George was an old Sterling silver ranger belt buckle, loops, and point with spider turquoise stones mounted on each piece. I now needed a good leather belt and someone to attach the items. He recommended the City Electric Shoe and Saddle Shop, an institution since 1927, down the street on West Coal Ave., in the old part of town. There we found boots, saddles, lariats, western hats and even belts. I found the right length and the leather smith shaped and formed my belt to fit my buckle.

As usual, when we have a good conversation with a "local" we inquire about some of the nearby eateries. George supplied us with four names for dinner; one of which was Earl's, on Historic US 66. Earl's opened in 1947 and served a home-style menu. Their dinner special looked good to us: baked ham, candy yams, pinto and green beans, salad bar, and bread pudding with frozen custard for dessert. While we ate, Indian vendors strolled past the tables selling paintings, jewelry, carved fetishes, etc. Interesting place and the food was good.

We found the Zuni people to be friendly and helpful. Our day with them has been another enlightening experience and we both have collectables to remember this special time.


Bob & Peggy Woodall


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