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, NM: A Destination Vacation

I love New City of Las Vegas Museum and Rough Rider MemorialMexico, from its mountains in the north to its deserts in the south. I love the mix of cultures and variety of recreational and cultural activities. In Las Vegas, New Mexico we have our share of fun and educational activities all through the year. Among our assets are a museum that has steadily gained in stature and reputation under the conscientious care of a qualified curator and friends who continue to support and promote its collections. Check out the Las Vegas City Museum website for details. But that’s just the beginning. WAIT—as the infomercials declare—there’s more!

New Mexico Highlands University: NMHU was established in 1839 as New Mexico Normal School and became New Mexico Highlands University in 1941. Its original purpose was teacher education. Today the university offNew Mexico Highlands Universityers graduate and undergraduate programs in arts and sciences, business, education, and social work. Many in the community consider NMHU to be the heart of the community providing education, jobs and opportunity. It is literally located in the “heart” of Las Vegas surrounded on all sides by neighborhoods and business districts.

Luna Community College: Named for Maximiliano Luna, speaker of the House of Representatives for the Territory of New Mexico in 1899, the school started out in 1967 as a vocational training school, Luna Area Vocational Technical School, and later became known at Luna Vocational Technical Institute providing occupational training for students in area school districts. With its expanding course selection the school’s board of directors adopted Luna Community College as its name reflecting its broader educational opportunities.

United World College at Montezuma, NMUnited World College: An institution that matriculates 200 students from around the world in an International Baccalaureate program designed to prepare them to attend colleges and universities anywhere in the world. It is located at the site of a scenic restored hotel in Montezuma, N.M., and is surrounded by forests and mountains. The grounds include a natural hot springs and a historic trestle bridge (no longer in use). The cultural activities bring a vibrancy and flavor to the area that has broadened the world view of locals and given the students a taste of what it’s like to live in small town America.

​Outdoor recreation: There are plenty of areas you can enjoy whether as a hiker, a biker or a fisher-person. Check out the New Mexico State Parks website for more information about Storrie Lake and other popular fishing spots. Hermit’s Peak continues to draw hikers and camping remains a fun adventure for families. Check for accessibility as some areas are restricted because of fire danger.

Hermit's Peak - Las Vegas, NM

​Hermit’s Peak: (This is a Wikipedia factoid) Hermit’s Peak is named for the Italian religious recluse John Augustiani, who lived there in a cave he had dug into the earth around the time of the Civil War. His cave became the subject of pilgrimage by devout New Mexicans, during his life and for a number of years after his death. The peak is in the Santa Fe National Forest and the trail to the peak is maintained by the Pecos/Las Vegas Ranger District. The trail to the top is approximately four miles from the El Porvenir Campground. Look for the face in reclining profile. It’s there.

Las Vegas Wildlife Refuge: (From the Interior Department Fish and Wildlife Page) With the Rocky Mountains to the west, the Great Plains to the east, and the Chihuahuan Desert to the south, Las Vegas National Wildlife Refuge encompasses a diversity of habitats. Located along the Central Flyway, the Refuge provides an important resting, feeding, and wintering area for migrating geese, ducks, and cranes. Las Vegas NWR rests on a plateau in the foothills with the Rocky Mountains just beyond. River canyon walls drop below the refuge on three sides. Las Vegas preserves both wildlife habitats and a slice of New Mexico’s rich cultural history. Check out the website for more information.

Citizens’ Committee for Historic Preservation: (From the CCHP website) “The Citizens Committee for Historic Preservation was formed in 1977 to encourage the preservation and appreciation of Las Vegas and San Miguel County historic resources. Established by land grant in 1835, Las Vegas was originally called Nuestra Senora de Los Delores de Las Vegas Grandes (Our Lady of the Sorrows of the Great Meadows). The history of Las Vegas is influenced not only by many different cultures, but also by two major forms of transportation. As a major trading point on the Santa Fe Trail, Las Vegas became a prosperous Spanish town with a wide variety of adobe structures. As trade on the trail increased, so did the variety of settlers and architecture in the town. The arrival of the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad saw a further increase of new residents many of whom built Victorian houses reminiscent of their homes in the Historic Castaneda HotelEast. While the Victorian residents are quite a surprise to visitors, used to the Pueblo revival of Santa Fe, it is the combination of the indigenous adobe architecture and the variety of Victorian architecture that makes Las Vegas unique.”

​Annually in August CCHP puts on a Places With a Past tour that features six to ten properties more than 100 years old, many of which have been restored and are currently occupied. A favorite on the tour is the Montezuma Castle, now part of the United World College. CCHP also conducts other historic events throughout the year. For details contact CCHP at 505 425-8803. Also see the site’s virtual tours to get an idea of what PWAP tours might consist of.

Originally posted to my blogspot site in February of last year, this information is worth repeating. The last two photos are mine. The others come from NMHU, CCHP and the City of Las Vegas.