Blue Desert

Red Rocks In The Blue Desert

By Jenna Vandenberg

“So why Blue Desert Guide Company?” I ask.

I glance around at the desert landscape around me. The trees of the Cibola National Forest are green. The exposed rock layers of the mesas are an alternating pattern of red and white candy-like stripes. The only thing blue is the sky.

As Amanda navigates her white 4x4 off of Indian roads and onto dirt roads, she assures me that we’ll see some blue soon enough.

We are getting closer and closer to Shiprock, a volcanic formation that erupted 30 million years ago in what is now the northeast corner of the Navajo Nation.

Shiprock is a brilliant red. The surrounding lava walls are black.

Gorgeous? Yes. Blue? No.

I snap some pictures of the crumpling cliffs and then we hightail out of there before it gets dark. We travel further and further up Buffalo Pass until Amanda pulls into a viewpoint and tells me to look behind me.

blue desert, jenna vandenberg
Photo Courtesy Jenna Vandenberg

The sun is going down, turning the lava peaks a pinkish shade of purple. The desert below is a soft blue; miles and miles of you-can’t-tell-where-the-desert-meets-the-sky blue. Later that evening the sun goes down and the moon comes out and we get fully enveloped in Amanda’s favorite color.

Got it. Blue Desert Guide Company. Good name.

Amanda and Vino dreamed up their vision of an authentic travel guide company over plates of New Mexican food in a Houston restaurant. They met eight years earlier on the Navajo reservation, teaching high school students just north of Gallup. Both had fallen hard for the Four Corners region of New Mexico, as so many travelers do.

But for Amanda and Vino the San Juan Flats, the peak of Mt. Taylor and the ridgeline of the Chuska Mountains aren’t just pretty places. They are spiritual sights. They are vistas that need to be shared with explorers who are looking for something beyond Santa Fe and Taos.

oso vista, jenna vandenberg
Photo Courtesy Jenna Vandenberg

Luckily for travelers like me, their guide company quickly went from an idea into a reality. I had been to Santa Fe before. The adobe shops, turquoise jewelry, and ability to wear my cowboy boots everywhere appealed to me, but I sensed there was more to New Mexico that I just wasn’t getting.

I needed an insider: someone to tell me the secrets of Shalako when our Zuni guide remained silent, someone to point out hogans and explain why they have eight sides, someone who knows where the best green chile cheeseburgers are, and (of course) someone to show me where the best shade of blue can be found.

But blue wasn’t the only color on the palate. I traveled with Amanda for a week and saw the full kaleidoscope of New Mexico colors.

We stood on orange boulders as we surveyed the prehistoric pueblos of Chaco Culture National Park below. Venturing down to explore, we ducked through the doorways and peeked through the windows of the ancient gray stone ruins.

We resided within the white adobe walls of Oso Vista Ranch and made green chile stew in the kitchen. We photographed the turquoise doors of Acoma pueblo homes.

We scrutinized the scrawled names of conquistadors on the light sandstone walls of El Morro’s Inscription Rock. We hiked through the red rock spires of El Malpais. We shopped for multicolored textiles as Amanda pointed out the different patterns of the Ganado and Two Grey Hills regions.

chaco canyon, jenna vandenberg
Photo Courtesy Jenna Vandenberg

By the time Amanda dropped me off at the Albuquerque Sunport, her white 4x4 was white no longer. It was covered with the colors of our Four Corners adventure.

To book a customized tour with the Blue Desert Guide Company, check out the Blue Desert Guide Company website or give Amanda and Vino a call at 713-471-3762. As of 2015 the company appears to no longer be in business, but I think the piece stands well on its own. Enjoy!

jenna vandenberg

Jenna Vandenberg is a Denver based writer, runner and teacher. She has taught middle schoolers in China, Norway, and Las Vegas. Although she often gets sidetracked keeping score at baseball games and eating muffalettas in New Orleans, she is currently working on running a race in every state.

Follow the quest at Running through this World. Jenna can be found on Twitter @jenn102gb.