The Flip Side of Gallup

The Gallup Inter-Tribal Indian Ceremonial

Gallup, New Mexico, in the 21st century would be nowhere without the Indians. Window Rock, Arizona, the capital of the Navajo Nation, is a short hop away across the state line. Yet, at the same time, Gallup is a dangerous place for Indians. The problem is that, with only 22,000 inhabitants, Gallup has 39 liquor licenses, or about 19 per 10,000 people—much larger than most big cities.

The Indians come to Gallup, get drunk, and frequently die. According to a 2015 article from the Indian Country Media Network:

In 2014, 36 unnatural deaths were recorded for Natives in or around the Gallup area. Almost all were alcohol related or caused from being homeless. Seventeen of those deaths were caused by motorists killing pedestrians attempting to cross major thoroughfares or I-40. Nearly all the victims were Native. This winter, too, has begun with record-setting deaths from exposure in McKinley County—12 so far; all the victims were Native.

Another lethal practice is for drunks in cold weather to lie down on the warmer asphalt highway, fall asleep, and get run over.

I have always seen Indians of the Southwest as a national treasure. Alas, it is a treasure that we have compromised by destroying their culture and leaving them to fend for themselves in the cold cruel world of contemporary America.

Devil’s Highway

They Were Bound to Change the Name

When Martine and I have finished taking the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad connecting Durango with Silverton, we will head down to Gallup, NM, perhaps stopping for a few hours at Window Rock, AZ, the capital of the Navajo Nation.The road connecting Farmington, NM with Gallup used to be called U.S. 666, aka “The Devil’s Highway.” A few years back, the highway changed its number to the less apocalyptic U.S. 491.

Even 491 has a curious Biblical resonance. When Peter asked Jesus how many times shall he forgive his brother who sins against him. According to Matthew 18:22, Jesus answered him, “ I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven.” Let’s see, that multiplies out to 490. In the 1960s, Vilgot Sjoman came out with a Swedish film entitled 491, presumably referring to the end of someone’s patience at being excessively sinned against.

Highway 491 with Ship Rock in the Distance

When we take Highway 491 née 666, we will pass Ship Rock, sacred to the Navajos (see above photo). I’ve always wanted to take this route from Farmington to Gallup, but I usually traveled in the past via the Chaco Culture National Historical Park, which is my favorite destination in New Mexico. However, like many of the best places in New Mexico, I would not venture to take a rental car down the washboarded access road. That also goes for the Bisti Badlands and the De-Na-Zin Wilderness, all in the same general area.

Had I but world enough and time, however, ….