Pyramid Rock Trail: Gallup, New Mexico
Gallup, New Mexico is a rugged railroad town bordering the Navajo Reservation along Route 66 and Interstate 40 in the high country of western New Mexico. Finding big city benefits and diversions in Gallup is no guarantee. Those who inhabit or have inhabited Gallup are used to hearing, “I drove through Gallup once” from friends struggling to suppress their impression of Gallup as depressing and rundown. Locals know better.
Gallup can be, and has been, a rough town. Once deemed Drunktown USA for the abundance of inebriated citizens strewn about the sidewalks and obliterating their lives along local highways, the city and area have made progress in the battle for sobriety. Beyond recognition for a regional vice, Gallup is home to ancient culture, living history and secluded scenery. Trading posts from the old days still operate. Dazzling handmade art and jewelry are sold by children wandering through local restaurants. Soaring mesas surround the town and a national forest hides fifteen minutes to the southeast. Authentic New Mexican food, typically accompanied by green chile, and fluffy Navajo Tacos are never too far away.
Five minutes east of town lies Red Rock Park. Red Rock has qualified for state park status off and on, but struggles to maintain the moniker for a variety of reasons. In recent years, a casino has emerged very near the park, surrounded by the pickup trucks of the people it purports to serve. Red Rock hides behind this blight, containing wonderful sandstone rocks (think Moab), and two prominent landmarks: Churchrock and Pyramid Rock. Both landmarks are accessible by trails.
Over Thanksgiving, my brother and I decided to run/hike up Pyramid Rock. The round trip is about 3.5 miles from the official trailhead. The trailhead is hidden behind Red Rock Park’s arena, which is nestled in the rocks, not unlike the more famous venue near Denver.
Pyramid Rock is substantial, yet manageable. Its 7500′ summit towers over nearby features, offering sweeping views in all directions. On a clear day (most days are), one can see Mt. Taylor sixty miles to the east near Grants. The gain from the trailhead to the summit is just under 800′ feet. I can usually complete the route with decent time on the summit in under one hour. Hikers may want to double or triple that estimate depending on preferred pace.
The trail is well marked with cairns, contains a nice variety of surfaces (slickrock, soft sand, packed dirt) and offers forgiving ridgelines in the middle of the ascent. All along the route, exceptional perspectives frame Pyramid Rock to the south, and Churchrock to the north. A sharp increase in pitch makes the final push to the summit a great challenge.
After admiring the views from the top, the journey back to the parking area is rewarding at any speed, and those wishing for more distance can easily reroute to Churchrock for some added adventure.
If you find yourself in the area, don’t miss out on Red Rock and be sure to investigate some of the other outdoor offerings. Gallup is also home to excellent rock climbing and mountain biking.