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Gallup, New Mexico: Connecting To My Past

Gallup, New Mexico: Connecting To My Past

Why do we travel? For me, it’s about experiencing something new. I love discovering new adventures, meeting new people, and uncovering new cultures. But what I also love about travel is that it always surprises me. I would never have guessed that an antique necklace in Gallup, New Mexico would lead me on a journey to connect me with my past.

Gallup, New Mexico: Connecting To My Past 2

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Making Connections in Gallup, New Mexico

Gallup NM

Photo by: Tiffany Vaughn

Gallup’s slogan is “Gallup Real True”, so let’s get real; Gallup, New Mexico is not a typical vacation destination. You won’t find luxury resorts or pristine beaches. The dusty air and old buildings whisper of glory days past. But this is where I would be staying for the next few nights at the 2018 TMS Family Conference. While here, our hosts did their best to impress us with the no-frills culture, charming history, and natural beauty of the city.

See what this state has to offer on our blog article, Things To Do in New Mexico With Kids.

Whispers of the Past

Conference attendees explored the historic shops of downtown during a scavenger hunt. At Tanner’s Indian Arts, one of the shop owners told us about an exquisite and intricate “squash blossom necklace.” This immediately made me think of my mother who just came into possession of her mother’s squash blossom necklace. I snapped a quick picture on my phone and texted it to her. She replied with a picture of Gammy’s necklace along with a gorgeous turquoise bracelet very similar to the ones I had been seeing. Memories of my grandmother enveloped me as we continued our explorations.


Photo by: Tiffany Vaughn

After touring downtown, we traveled to Perry Null Trading Company. In addition to selling Native American jewelry and antiques, they safely store valuables for families around Gallup. As part of our conference, the owner showed us this storage room. The smell of leather permeated the room from hundreds of beautiful saddles. Surrounded by the essence of cowboy, I thought of my great-grandfather who was a rancher. Whatever happened to his saddle? I again texted my mom who had no idea but sent me a picture of his spurs. I thought of what life must have been like at the ranch in Pinedale, Arizona and figured it must have been quite similar to life in Gallup, New Mexico.


Photo by: Tiffany Vaughn

Gallup, New Mexico Becomes My Own

Well, I had missed a text from my mom that I didn’t see until I was back home in Arizona late Saturday night. “Anyway, my mom grew up in New Mexico.” Wait, what? I knew my grandma was born at the ranch, so I just assumed they’d always been there. It was too late to call so I did some online research and  found out they lived in Shiprock (which is about 1 1/2 hours north of Gallup) for a while, and later in Tohatchi (just north of Gallup) and finally, that my Great-Grandfather, James Henry Thomas, was the Deputy Sheriff of Gallup, New Mexico for 3 1/2 years sometime between 1937 and 1943.


Photo by: Tiffany Vaughn

I had been exploring where my great-grandfather had lived and didn’t even know it. The El Morro theater was a fairly new luxury when he lived in Gallup. Maybe some of the artifacts on display at Perry Null belonged to him. He may have stayed in the bunkhouse and met movie stars at the El Rancho Hotel. Suddenly, the places I visited weren’t just historic, they were MY history. My grandfather immediately connected me to this tiny speck on the map. I wanted to know everything about it.

This may have been a unique experience, uncovering my New Mexico heritage, but I have connected with everywhere I have traveled. The Prado Museum in Madrid brought back memories of childhood art classes. I visited a church in Belize and felt the peace I feel in my church at home. So yes, I love to travel for the novelty of it. But now I know I also travel to make this great big world my own.

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Discover what Gallup, New Mexico has to offer by reading our full guide on things to do in Gallup NM

Lead image by Tiffany Vaughn.

Tiffany Vaughn