Police send travelers on lengthy detour to avoid Gallup
New Mexico State Police charged with keeping traffic out of Gallup are directing southbound travelers on U.S. Highway 491 on a 78-mile detour through the Navajo Nation, and, according to conversations overheard on the police scanner, some are getting lost.
From the state police checkpoint on 491, I-40 is less than two miles away, but through-travelers are told to go through Twin Lakes, Crownpoint and meet the interstate at Thoreau. The route requires knowledge of the reservation roads that often do not have road signs.
According to New Mexico State Police spokesperson Dusty Francisco, who says he grew up in Prewitt, New Mexico, the detour is a temporary measure .
“We are working on something,” Francisco said on Saturday.
Francisco said because of a manpower shortage, state troopers were unable to escort travelers from the checkpoint to I-40, but they are trying to work out an escort plan.
Navajo Nation Police Officers enforcing the 57-hour reservation curfew could be heard on the scanner Saturday talking about setting travelers straight after they lost their way.
New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham on Friday granted outgoing Gallup Mayor Jack McKinney’s emergency request to lock down the city for the weekend as the number of COVID-19 cases in McKinley County spiraled up alarmingly. State police converged on the city of 22,000 residents around noon on Friday and blocked roadways going into Gallup, including 491, which enters the city on the north end and runs through a few miles of town before joining I-40.
Grisham invoked New Mexico’s Riot Control Act to order all roads into Gallup closed to all non-residential travelers. The three-day closure also orders all businesses in Gallup to close from 5 p.m. through 8 a.m. Vehicles in the city are required to have a maximum of two occupants.
As of Saturday afternoon, the number of confirmed coronavirus cases in McKinley County, according to the New Mexico Department of Health is 1,064, with 20 deaths.