Two-wheel revolution in Gallup

Can a bunch of trails and bikes transform this down-and-out New Mexico town?

  • Gallup resident Jeremy Martinez at the top of the drop in at Gallup's new bike park. Trying to shed its rough reputation, the city has adopted cycling in various forms as a development tool.

    Andrew Cullen
  • Old Route 66 through downtown Gallup, New Mexico.

    Andrew Cullen
  • An aluminum can collector makes rounds on a Sunday morning. The city continues to struggle with economic and social problems.

    Andrew Cullen
  • Bikes for sale at the Gallup Flea Market, above, where locals buy and sell everything from fry bread to horses.

    Andrew Cullen
  • Dirk Holenbeek, a cyclist who moved to Gallup from Michigan in 1998 to work as a teacher, now runs a bike repair shop out of his garage.

    Andrew Cullen
  • Jeremy Martinez takes a breather at the Gallup Brickyard Bike Park, where he often comes to take a break from his duties as a new dad.

    Andrew Cullen
  • A mural in downtown Gallup reflects the town's Native heritage.

    Andrew Cullen
  • A rider on the High Desert Trail, a series of single-track "stacked loops" that range in difficulty from beginner to technical.

    Andrew Cullen
  • Cyclist and Gallup-area guidebook author Peter Tempest on the singletrack High Desert Trail outside Gallup, New Mexico.

    Andrew Cullen
  • "To really have a tourist economy, we'll have to overcome the shitty aesthetics. We need a legit downtown." –Chuck Van Drunen, who was instrumental in creating the Gallup Brickyard Bike Park

    Andrew Cullen
  • "I love it when I see locals interacting with someone in the outdoor community, boasting about the assets we have." –Lindsay Mapes, owner of Zia Rides, a Gallup-based bike race promoter.

    Andrew Cullen
  • Gallup is "disproportionately wonderful and disproportionately terrible at the same time." –Bob Rosebrough, who co-authored The Gallup Guide, which shows climbing routes as well as road biking, hiking and a few mountain biking trails

    Andrew Cullen
  • Gallup's downtown, where coffee shops and art galleries have come in among the payday lenders.

    Andrew Cullen
  • Teens gather at the Gallup Brickyard Bike Park, an area formerly used by vagrants. It's one of several outdoor recreation venues that have helped put Gallup on the map as the Adventure Capital of New Mexico.

    Andrew Cullen

 

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Then, in 1986, Ed Muñoz ran for mayor, promising to tackle the alcohol problem. He wanted to put up billboards declaring Gallup "the drunk-driving capital of the world," a suggestion that enraged local businesses anxious about tourism. The billboards weren't necessary, though: The town had caught the attention of the media. In 1988, the Albuquerque Tribune published a six-part series entitled "Gallup: The Town Drunk." ABC News' 20/20 followed with a feature called "Drunk Town, USA," a name that stuck for years. Mother Teresa even put Gallup on her list of "forsaken places," along with Calcutta.

Finally, in early 1989, a drunk driver slammed into a car on the highway to Zuni and killed four of its five occupants, including an infant. That inspired dozens of community activists to march from Gallup to Santa Fe to force the Legislature to wake up to the problem. By the time it reached the State Capitol, the procession was 2,000 strong.

State lawmakers finally listened. They helped fund a rehabilitation center in Gallup (since taken over by the Navajo Nation) that included traditional Native American healing methods; banned open containers in the front seat of vehicles; and passed a law to shut down drive-up liquor windows. The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation gave nearly $5 million in grants to fund various efforts combating alcohol abuse. Eventually, Gallup banned package liquor sales in the downtown commercial area. Some of the worst bars have shut down.

By the late 1990s, the situation had improved markedly. It was about then that some locals figured it was time for Gallup to get a reputation for something new.

 

Bob Rosebrough's handshake is startlingly gentle. Perhaps it's from spending a lifetime among Navajos, who are known for diffident handshakes, or maybe it's because he's 6-and-a-half-feet tall with the paws of a basketball player and enough strength for a bone-breaking grip. He grew up in Farmington, went to college and law school in Albuquerque and has practiced law in Gallup since 1979.

In the 1990s, Rosebrough started mountain biking. He and his friend, Peter Tempest, a Gallup native and now a local surgeon, would seek out established trails in Colorado or Utah to ride. While on one such outing in Telluride, they picked up a guidebook that described local trails and rides. It occurred to them then that the Gallup area, with its high mesas, towering red rock fins and ponderosa-covered plateaus, was just as rich in recreational opportunity. Someone just needed to publicize the trails. It would be worth it, even if it just encouraged locals to ride closer to home.

Rosebrough, who wrote the definitive climbing guide to the San Juan Mountains in southwestern Colorado, was up to the task. In 1999, he and Tempest published The Gallup Guide: Outdoor Routes in Red Rock Country, which featured not only climbing routes, but also road biking, hiking and a few mountain biking trails.

The book was hardly the first of its kind for the Southwest. Moab, Utah, had transformed itself from busted-down uranium-mining burg to industrial-grade recreational tourism desert mini-metropolis, thanks largely to two brothers who opened a bike shop there in the early 1980s. Telluride and Durango had long banked on trails and mountain-biking terrain to supplement their tourism industries. And in 1995, Troy Rarick opened a bike shop in the farming and oil and gas town of Fruita, Colo. Simply by building trails and marketing them, Rarick changed his town into a hip recreation destination. Rosebrough and Tempest's little book opened up many Gallupians' eyes to new possibilities.