The El Rancho hotel and motel in Gallup, New Mexico, opened in 1936. It was built by film director D. W. Griffith as a base for numerous movie productions. As a result, the hotel has hosted hundreds of movie stars over the years, including Errol Flynn, Gregory Peck, Humphrey Bogart, Jane Fonda, Jimmy Stewart, Joan Crawford, Katherine Hepburn, Kirk Douglas (still alive!), John Wayne, Lucille Ball, Mae West, Rita Hayworth and Ronald Reagan. As you drive along Route 66, there are billboards for miles advertising the El Rancho’s “celebrity” credentials, although most of the people used in the advertising campaign haven’t stayed at the El Rancho (or any other hotel) for quite some time.
This was the first trip that I’ve taken where every hotel that we stayed in was just as much of an attraction as our other stops. Route 66 has no shortage of roadside motels but the El Rancho—older than a lot of the other surviving hotels—feels special. There isn’t much to see in Gallup (be sure to say hi to Dude Man), but it’s a great place to stop for the night in between Holbrook and Albuquerque.
The rooms are all named for its famous past residents, and they’re spacious and clean. If you don’t want to stay over I recommend at the very least stopping in to see the beautiful lobby or to have a drink in the 49er Lounge, named one of the Top 50 bars in the US by Esquire magazine. We had dinner and breakfast in the hotel restaurant and both meals were fantastic—green chile enchiladas (when in New Mexico…) and the crispiest pancakes I’ve ever had.
The El Rancho has a lot of competition among all of the classic neon signage to be found in Gallup and along Route 66, but the El Rancho holds its own with a blinking sign that reads both “motel” and “hotel.” Their slogan is “the charm of yesterday with the convenience of tomorrow,” and while I’m not so sure the latter is still true, the El Rancho more than makes up for it in the charm department.
1000 E. Highway 66
Gallup, NM 87301