My favorite moment in Egypt wasn’t seeing the pyramids or cruising down the Nile. It was drinking sugar cane water with an Egyptian woman who’d just wrapped a headscarf around me and proudly announced, “Now you look like Muslim woman.”

In China it was staying up late talking with Elaine about guys, family, and life. In Mongolia it was the taxi driver who could have so easily ripped me off, but didn’t. And the reason I’m so attached to Norway is probably because of all those nights drinking and dancing with my favorite Scandinavian.  

New Mexico was no exception. Of course I loved the green chile cheeseburgers, the Navajo pottery shards that littered Oso Vista Ranch, and the pueblos atop mesas that people still live in. But it was the people that made the trip. If life (or a plane) takes you to the Four Corners/New Mexico area, I highly recommend you find these people and the restaurant/pueblo/company/ranch/canyon that they are connected to.

Calvin: Since the Canyon de Chelly National Monument is on Native land, visitors that want to go down into the canyon can only do so with a Navajo guide. There are about 60 guides available to give tours, but Calvin Watchman should be your man. Not only did he regal us with stories of his adventures climbing through the ruins that are tucked in high canyon crevices (he also fell several stories off said ruins), but he also pulled our car out of the mud. Calvin has a pretty deep connection to the place, and still has land there. It’s the same land that his grandmother resided on when she raised him. Calvin grew up solely in the canyon until he was twelve, wherein the government realized that he wasn’t in school. He did have some initial success escaping the confines of school at Fort Wingate, but now he frequently returns to his home without what I picture as cowboy-style-school-policemen hot on his heels.

Watchman’s tour company is called Tseyi Trails. Call 928-349-8528 to arrange things. The exact price of a tour depends on what you want to do (hiking, horseback riding, overnight camping) and if you will be driving your own car or his.  Without a guide, visitors can still enjoy scenic overlooks and hike the White House Trail.

Jim and Barbara: Scenic overlooks are a bit more nerve wracking if you are hanging out with Jim and Barbara. Instead of causally enjoying a view I was listening to Jim telling me to hang my heels off the edge of this cliff and casually sit back. Like, into thin air. It took me awhile, but I did it. As the owner of Kokopelli Adventures, Jim is used to coaxing people up and down rock walls. Working with at-risk kids is his specialty. He brings portable rock climbing walls to schools, takes groups hiking and canoeing, and teaches team building and leadership skills to kids through climbing and other activities. “My hope is that some of them will put me out of business pretty soon,” he says. If clutching rock faces sounds like fun (and it is!), check out Kokopelli Adventures here or give Jim a call at 505-863-9941.

Tahama:  Definitely the spunkiest person (spunky: not my favorite word, but describes Tahama perfectly) that I met in New Mexico, Tahama was our guide through the Acoma Pueblo at Sky City. Continuously inhabited since the 1100’s, the 300+ buildings atop the mesa still serve as the cultural hub of the Acoma people. Although most families live elsewhere, many, like Tahama, return to their mother’s ancestral home for special events and festivals.

Sky City is between Albuquerque and Gallup off of highway 40. If you want to visit the pueblo, mesa, and surrounding areas, you must check in at the visitors center and sign up for a guided tour. Tours are given between February and November. Check their website ahead of time for tour times and a calendar of non-tour dates. Though I can’t promise Tahama will be your guide (she was finished with college, studying for her real estate license, and hanging out part time in Albuquerque at the time of my tour), hope for her anyways. She answered all questions and related the stories and history of the Acoma people ease and humor. Plus she had a few questions of her own. When she took a picture of Amanda and I, we told her that we’d met for the first time a few hours ago at the Albuquerque airport. She looked horrified. “How do you know each other aren’t serial killers?” she asked. We both smiled for the camera in response.

Amanda: I didn’t turn out to be a serial killer, and Amanda definitely wasn’t one either.  Instead, she’s a former Navajo teacher who can’t quite stand being away from the Four Corners area of New Mexico. She’s been to about a million different countries (ask her about getting to the islands off the coast of Panama – funny story), but ever since she was seven, New Mexico has felt like home. With her connections to the area, in-depth knowledge of the culture, and contagious love for the San Juan Flats surrounding Tohatchi, she’s a natural tour guide. Plus she makes awesome posole. Check out Blue Desert Guide Company’s website for different tour packages and gorgeous pictures of the area.

Margaret: Of all the great people that Amanda and BDGC is associated with, Margaret is definitely the kindest. There is no way I can ever picture her saying a mean thing. It’s just not possible. Like Amanda, Margaret came out to New Mexico to teach. She describes the same sense of coming home as soon as the Zuni mountains and mesas came into view. Margaret owns and maintains Oso Vista Ranch where we stayed. I could go on and on about the house (adobe windowsills, local art decor, great views, cozy fireplaces…) for awhile, but the teacher in me also has to mention the fact that Margaret opens up the ranch for several weeks during the summer while she runs an outreach program for local kids. Check out the Oso Vista Ranch Project’s website for more details. If you are interested in booking a stay at the ranch, information on how to do that can be found here.

My trip through New Mexico was sponsored by the Blue Desert Guide Company. The opinions expressed here are solely my own.