Q&A With Tour Guide Kathy Hendrickson

More than a tour; it’s an experience

If you are looking for someone to lead a tour of Las Vegas, N.M., you couldn’t find a better person for the job than Kathy Hendrickson of Southwest Detours. Her enthusiasm combined with copious amounts of research give clients what they’re looking for, an entertaining experience full of historical fact and imaginative delivery. Her business has gained quite a following since its inception. She introduces newcomers to Las Vegas and inspires repeat clients to come back for a second time around, and bring their friends with them. Southwest Detours is a take-off on the Fred Harvey southwest vacations that introduced America to the southwest with “detour” adventures arranged through the railroad. Kathy has brought that concept to life with enthusiasm and dedication.

Kathy HendricksonORP: You’ve been doing this for a while now. What have you discovered about yourself as you’ve grown as a tour guide?
I’ve discovered that I really enjoy being a tour guide! Meeting folks coming from all over the country and all over the world to explore our historic town is a very rewarding career. I find that my background in sales and marketing, when I worked for L’Oreal as an artistic educator, helped me reinvent myself as a good tour guide.

ORP: How do you prepare for a tour?
Being on the board of the Las Vegas Citizens Committee for Historic Preservation has been a great tool in preparing for a tour. I can research the archives at LVCCHP to get information about the buildings and homes we will tour. I like to add something other than historical facts. As an example, when I met Nina Strong, the Harvey Girl who worked at the Castañeda Hotel, she told me about her life working there. I use some of her experiences in talking about the Castañeda, which is fascinating for tourists to hear.

Kissing Cousins?ORP: What types of questions do clients ask?
Some of the questions are directed to me. For instance, “Are you from Las Vegas?” “How did you find this town and why did you want to live here?” That is a question I get almost every tour!

ORP: Are you ever stuck for an answer? If so, how do you handle it?
Most of the time I can answer the questions, but I do get stuck for an answer sometimes. I tell them, “That’s a good question. I will have to do some research to find out the answer.”

ORP: What is the funniest reaction a client has had to the tour experience?
I can’t recall a funny reaction to the tour, but I have had some really fun folks on the tour, which makes for a fun day. One of the funniest was after the tour of the Castañeda. I asked two couples to do the Castañeda Kiss at the water fountain. I told them that if they give me a good kiss, they will get a free drink when the Castañeda Hotel Bar is open. Well, the wives didn’t seem interested, but the husbands were. The men grabbed each other and gave me a big Castañeda Kiss. They said they weren’t going to miss out on a free drink!

ORP: What is the Castañeda Kiss, and how did it get started?
The Castañeda Kiss started last year when a couple on a tour walked in front of the building by the water fountain. I said, “Stop there and give me a kiss.” I took a photo of them and the woman said, “Now that was a Castañeda Kiss!” The more I thought about it, the more I liked the idea, and the Castañeda Kiss tradition was born.

ORP: What are the benefits of hiring Southwest Detours?
There are a lot of benefits to hiring Southwest Detours! For instance, the Montezuma Castle/UWC offers student tours on selected Saturdays, but only when students are available and there are no student tours on holidays or in the summer.  Southwest Detours does tours on demand and we are there all year round, every day of the week. Also, the Castañeda Hotel is not open to the public yet, so we can offer tours inside the building, which is a fascinating historic place. We also do tours at the Plaza Hotel, some historic homes and a few buildings on NMHU campus. Southwest Detours will give you the history of each place as well as a chance to explore inside and outside. We also offer movie site tours and will be adding ghost tours soon.

At the CastanedaORP: What do you tell clients about Southwest Detours when they call to book a tour?
I ask them if they want a private tour or if they want to join a group. Some folks prefer a private tour, even though it is more expensive. I suggest a group tour because I think it’s more fun to tour with other folks and some of my tourists become friends with folks they met on the tour and keep in touch with them. I also ask them what they are most interested in seeing and how much time they want to spend. I can then suggest the best tour to fit their needs, as some folks are only in Las Vegas for the day.

ORP: Talk about how you improve your tour skills?
I improve my skills by constantly looking for interesting articles on the history of Las Vegas, Montezuma, UWC, Castañeda Hotel, and of course, everything on Fred Harvey history.

ORP: Do you get repeat clients and if so, what is their reaction to the ways the tour has evolved?
I do get quite a few repeat tourists, as they sometimes like to come back with their friends. I also get a lot of referrals from tourists that I have given a tour to. I never give the exact same tour, as I try to add something new to it each time and they all seem to like it. Please LIKE Southwest Detours on Facebook to read all the great comments that folks have shared about the tours.

ORP: What do clients most want to see when they visit Las Vegas?
The most requested tours are the Castañeda Hotel, The Montezuma Castle and the Historic Plaza Hotel. We get a lot of Fredheads in Las Vegas, as they are very interested in Fred Harvey history. (NOTE: Fredheads are aficionados of all things Fred Harvey, the entrepreneur who took hospitality to the next level across America.)

ORP: What is the best thing you can hear from clients?
Last week, a man on the tour from Los Alamos area told me that finding Southwest Detours was like finding a pot of gold. That is probably the best thing I have heard so far! I do get some great comments, and I think most of the tourists are so happy there is a tour guide in Las Vegas to show them around and take them into buildings they otherwise would not have access to.

ORP: What does the tour consist of?
Each tour can be different depending on what the tourist is wanting. A typical tour starts at 10 a.m. in the lobby of the Plaza Hotel. From there we travel to Montezuma and tour the Montezuma Castle/UWC. I give them the history of the Montezuma Hotel starting when Fred Harvey managed it. I also tell them about the UWC which is an amazing school with a mission statement of peace through international education. My husband and I are very involved in the school as getaway parents, which is one of the reasons I am privileged to do tours there. If the Dwan Light Sanctuary is open we will also tour there. Sometimes, we break for lunch afterwards and then go on to the Castañeda Hotel tour, which was Fred Harvey’s first great track-side hotel.

ORP: Do the Harvey Girls continue to have a role in your tour?
Yes, very much so! The Las Vegas Harvey Girls usually join me for group tours, consisting of 10 or more folks. Last month, I had a group from the Albuquerque Senior Center and a Las Vegas Harvey Girl came along.

For more information about Southwest Detours go to www.southwestdetours.com
Book a tour by e-mail: tours@southwestdetours.com
Book a tour by phone: 505-459-6987


Las Vegas Ambassadors

Kathy Hendrickson
Southwest Detours owner Kathy Hendrickson stands in front of a car similar to the types of vehiciles the Indian Detour Couriers used to transport tourists into Indian Country.

The bustle of waitresses, the hum of conversation, and the clatter of dishes serve as background music as Kathy Hendrickson rushes into the restaurant for an interview about her new business, Southwest Detours. She has dramatic flare and while she isn’t wearing her Indian Detour costume, it’s easy to picture her in it: a burgundy Navajo-style velvet shirt, long dark green skirt, and silver Concho belt, boots, and a dramatic wide-brimmed dark green hat with a bronze hatband sporting the official Indian Detour silver badge. Her attention to detail lends authenticity to her presentations as a tour leader. And she loves the look.

Like restaurateur and hotelier Fred Harvey, Hendrickson is a natural born entrepreneur. She has a knack for talking to people and connecting with them. She also knows it takes more than having a knack for working with people to be successful. Being well prepared is essential.

“Allan Affeldt started the ball rolling by asking me to organize the Las Vegas Harvey Girls (like he has at the La Posada with the Winslow Harvey Girls), and do the tours. I took it to the next level, you could say, by starting my tour business,” Hendrickson said.

“Allan asked me to do tours at his two properties, Plaza Hotel and Castaneda Hotel. I had a conversation at the UWC to promote and do tours there. We started out calling them Harvey Girl Tours, but later put the tours all under the umbrella of Southwest Detours, which made better sense, since I do a lot of the tours on my own. When I have groups with 10 or more folks, I call on a Harvey Girl to help, or if someone requests a Harvey Girl to go on the tour.”

Las Vegas Harvey Girls
Harvey Girls and Detour Courier Hendrickson

The Castaneda and Montezuma Castle were Fred Harvey properties back in the day, and both used the services of Harvey Girls, dignified young women who were prim and proper, efficient, and dependable. The uniform of crisp black dresses with starched white accents at cuff and collar, and overlaid with a white apron, sent a clear message that the customer was first and service was paramount.

Hendrickson said she loves the Harvey Girls and the role they played in history. “They are charming, but that persona didn’t speak to me. And then I found out about the Fred Harvey Indian Detour Couriers. Now that appealed to me!

“Fred Harvey started the first chain of hotels and restaurants with an emphasis on quality and service. When train travel was slowing down in the early part of the 1900s, the Harvey Company began to explore ways to get people to the Southwest. The company promoted tours for railroad travelers that allowed them to leave the train and take tours into Indian Country. In 1926 the Indian Detours Company formed. It was only around for about ten years, but in that time the couriers – all highly trained and well-educated women – took thousands of people on adventures all over the Southwest. I looked at that history, that costume, and said, ‘That’s what I want to be!’”

Hendrickson officially launched Southwest Detours in March, and has already shepherded nearly 400 guests through the three historic properties. And she is just the person you want to lead your tour. She starts with scripted talking points, but does everything she can to make your tour unique and entertaining.

“I have two kinds of people on tours,” she said. “Most are not historians, but some are pretty knowledgeable. The knowledgeable guests sometimes ask questions I can’t answer despite all the research I have done. I like those questions. They help me add more to my knowledge base. I do a lot of reading and I’m always adding new information to keep the lectures fresh. I don’t want to say the same thing all the time, and I want to make sure what I do say is factual.”

Hendrickson is learning the business one day at a time. She has had a few surprises, but is not deterred. “I want to expand out and do tours in the surrounding area, but right now I’m putting my emphasis on Las Vegas. It’s more than going from one property to another. I talk about the history of Las Vegas, and take guests around to the neighborhoods where there are Victorian homes. I usually have one or two Harvey Girls with me when I have a group of ten or more. I’ve only lived here three years, but guests like it when someone like Martha Johnsen (a Las Vegas native and Harvey Girl) is along. She can fill in with what it was like growing up here.” Other members of the Las Vegas Harvey Girls in addition to Johnsen are Dee Clark, Becky Johnson, Virginia West, and Pam Buethe.

As the Detour Courier and company owner, Hendrickson – in addition to leading tours – is responsible for booking groups, overseeing development of the company, and creating interesting presentations. She said her affiliation with CCHP as a board member and volunteer has been valuable.

“It is through the CCHP archives and resources at the World College that I have learned new information about these properties and Las Vegas. It gives me more to talk about,” she said.

“After a recent tour Martha pointed out that we are like ambassadors for Las Vegas. And she’s right. We bring people to town, usually they stay over, eat in our restaurants, shop in our stores, and leave with a good feeling about Las Vegas. You can’t beat that!”

Kathy and Bill Hendrickson moved to Las Vegas after visiting here over a four-year period. “Bill wanted to live in a small town in Northern New Mexico. I wanted to live in a small town and close to Santa Fe. Las Vegas is perfect and we love it.

“Owning a tour business allows me to expand to other places in and around Las Vegas, but I do focus on Las Vegas since that’s what most folks want to tour. The Castaneda Hotel, Montezuma Castle and Plaza Hotel are the most requested.”

Southwest Detours’ subhead is, “Your Pathway to Adventure.” For your adventure contact Hendrickson at 505-459-6987, or e-mail info@southwestdetours.com. Tours vary in size from three to four people, up to a busload of 50. Fees available on request.

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