News & Events

Region receives USDA support for economic development

19 March 2014

By Vida Volkert   |   Gallup Independent   |   Staff writer

ZUNI — Tom Kennedy was the curator at the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis about two decades ago when he felt a “visceral pull back to the Southwest.”

He could not look at a picture of New Mexico’s open spaces or Arizona’s deep canyons without feeling the need to return. When a wall size picture exhibit of the Grand Canyon opened at the Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art in downtown Indianapolis, he found himself returning to the exhibit over and over again.

“I would go there for my Southwest
fix,” he said Tuesday morning from his office at the Zuni Visitor Center, where he works as the director of tourism. Behind him, on the wall, was a framed colorful photo of the Shiprock formation. He looked at it and smiled.

Kennedy followed the visceral urge and returned to the Southwest shortly after and has lived in New Mexico ever since.

Shiprock, a volcanic neck rising nearly 1,583 feet above the highdesert plain on the Navajo Nation in San Juan County, is an iconic symbol of the Southwest. Visitors traveled to Shiprock from all over the world just to get a glimpse at the breathtaking and mysterious formation towering over the landscape.

Kennedy noted that Shiprock, like dozens of other significant natural landscapes like the national monuments at El Morro and El Malpais and the Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness Area, are located in the northwest region of New Mexico, along the Trail of the Ancients.

That’s why it only felt natural to include the region as a participant in an economic development project when the U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development office called for regional entries. USDA representatives liked the region’s proposal, and the counties of McKinley, Cibola and San Juan became the third region in New Mexico to receive technical and financial assistance to help promote rural communities through USDA’s Stronger Economies Together.

Kennedy recalled that the idea popped after Michael Patrick, a community resources and economic development specialist at the New Mexico State University, approached him with various project ideas from his Zuni students. Since Kennedy has been instrumental in the inception of the pueblo’s main street in yet another economic development initiative, Patrick was wondering how those ideas
could be incorporated.

“Michael is an economist,” Kennedy said. “He provides the largest background. What’s a successful business plan.”

In addition to the natural landscape, the region offers cultural diversity and a unique history shaped by two pueblos, nested in the southern part of the region, and the Navajo Nation, spread out on most of the land. The tribes have their own traditions, festivals and cultural events. Religious events at Zuni, for instance, revolve around a calendar shaped by agricultural practices. Major festivals take place in the fall, during the harvest, and nearby communities such as El Morro, Ramah and Grants, have joined the Zuni in an annual event known as the Ancient Way Festival and Arts Market. These communities are connected by New Mexico Highway53, and tourists traveling trough this corridor during these days of celebration can expect to find warm meals and fresh food, live music, arts and crafts booths, powwows and dances.

The 76-mile scenic route along New Mexico Highway 53 starts at the city of Grants, coming from the east, and ends in Zuni. Another portion connects Zuni to Gallup.

From Gallup, U.S. Highway 491 leads to Shiprock, across Navajo Nation land. During the summer and fall seasons the Nation holds a
number of rodeos and fairs across the territory. The oldest of the fairs is held in the community of Shiprock, and it includes a parade, fairgrounds and Native American dance competition.

Another road, New Mexico Highway 371 leads from Farmington to Interstate Highway 40.

These three corridors closely follow the ancient way route used by the ancestors of present day Zuni, Acoma and other Pueblo Indians. They traveled this route on foot carrying buffalo hides, turquoise and salt to trade for parrot feathers,
shells, coral, and cast brass bells from the south, Kennedy said. Remnants of the time are still visible in archeological sites. One of the most prominent is Chaco Culture National Historical Park, about 35-40 miles east of Crownpoint, off U.S. 371.

Located in a remote canyon cut by the Chaco Wash, Chaco hosts the densests and most exceptional concentration of pueblos in the American Southwest. This Pre-Columbian site was a major center of culture for the Ancient Pueblo peoples between AD 900 and 1150.

Evidence of archaeoastronomy has been found at Chaco and researchers believe that many of the buildings were aligned to capture the solar and lunar cycles.

“What does connect us is this Trail of the Ancients,” Kennedy said. “The bedrock of our culture are the ancients. It’s the cultural
foundation that we have in Northwest New Mexico.”

Patrick said the central goal of the SET initiative is to help business leaders and owners in the three-county region identify and pursue opportunities that will increase economic activity in the region and create more businesses opportunities for all through collaborative activities.

“It is too early to know what specific funding opportunities the SET initiative will identify for the region,” he responded by email to an inquiry about funding opportunities. “That will depend on the priorities and projects that come-out of the SET initiative planning process. We anticipate however pursuing federal grant opportunities in areas of business development, housing, infrastructure, manpower training and leadership development.”

Enrollment in the SET program is open through the months of March and April. Those interested in taking part in “Trail of the Ancients Regional Network” may sign up by contacting Kennedy,, NMSU’s Michael Patrick at or Northwest New Mexico COG Prestene Garnenez at


Recent Posts:

Read Articles From: