Southwest Road Trip: Zuni Pueblo to Gallup, NM

There are 23 Native American tribes in New Mexico. In Oaxaca, we count 16 distinct indigenous groups each with their own language. My sister and I decided to do a Southwest road trip about six months ago instead of making an international trip. We chose to do a wide circle starting from Albuquerque (ABQ), traveling to Zuni Pueblo, then on to the three Hopi Mesas in Arizona, up through Monument Valley, on to Mesa Verde, Canyon de Chelly, and Chaco Canyon before returning to Albquerque and then to Taos.

The Zuni people live on native lands about two-and-a-half hours west of ABQ. We signed up in advance for a tour operated by the Zuni Cultural Center, where we met Shaun, a cultural interpreter, who took us on a tour of the original pueblo called Middle Village. The name Zuni, Shaun told us, is an abbreviation of the Spanish Conquistador Gaspar de Zuniga, who colonized New Mexico with Juan de Oñate. Their original name is A’shiwi.

The Zuni are known for their exquisite silversmithing and fine inlay work called petit point, using predominantly turquoise and coral. He explained that about 75% of the village is engaged in the artisan craft of jewelry making, but most are only able to sell through middle men, who take a 40-50% commission from the retail price. This is a familiar number to me, since this is what tour guides in Oaxaca charge artisans when they bring tourists to workshops and studios and the customer makes a purchase. Finding markets to sell directly to clients is difficult for most artists and artisans, who are makers and not promoters.

Isolation amidst exquisite landscape enabled the Zuni people to survive despite Spanish colonization, and then later expansion of the American west. This is a similar story to that of Zapotec, Mixtec and Mixe pueblos in Oaxaca; remote mountain villages were able to retain original language and culture because they were far from the colonizers. In the Zuni pueblo, we could feel the isolation and see the struggle to achieve economic well-being.

We left the pueblo in late afternoon and headed toward Gallup where we found a room at the El Rancho Hotel on the original Route 66. This is a memorabilia hotel is steeped in history of the silver screen. Hollywood directors made this hotel their headquarters for western films shot in the region. The two-story lobby boasts photos of John Wayne, Errol Flynn, Henry Fonda, Shirley Temple (as an adult), Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, Spencer Tracy, Katherine Hepburn, Kirk Douglas, Gregory Peck, Ronald Reagan, and more!

Vintage Navajo rugs adorn the walls. Movie star photos, leather banquettes, antlers, carved table lamps with cowhide shades, a floor-to-ceiling stone fireplace add to the old-timey atmosphere. And, the restaurant is always packed, likely the best place in town to eat. What’s yummy? Enchiladas with Christmas sauce (red and green salsa), and a Prickly Pear Margarita to wash it down.

The next morning, we set out for Ganado, Arizona, and the historic Hubbell Trading Post, a mid-way stop on our way to the Hopi Mesa. The trading post is the oldest operating in the Navajo Nation, and is operated by the National Park Service. To be continued.

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