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.