It’s no secret the Four Corners is a treasure trove of history and culture. But many sites are isolated and receive little publicity, and finding them can be a challenge.
A new partnership between the National Geographic Society, city governments and a regional tourism council is trying to simplify the search.
On June 2, an event will take place at Aztec Ruins National Monument to celebrate the completion of a two-year geotourism initiative. National Geographic will unveil a content-packed map, and supplementary website, highlighting about 800 destinations, or “assets,” across the Four Corners.
Assets can be natural (canyons, rivers, rock formations) or man-made (restaurants, lodges, indigenous art). The common denominator: Each one must showcase the authentic Southwest. No gimmicks.
Mesa Verde and Chaco Canyon are household names. But many assets will be less familiar to all but the most avid history buff or culture connoisseur. Ever heard of the Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness? How about Navajo (or Diné) rug weaver Genevieve J. Hardy?
Lifting native voices and remote vistas out of obscurity is one of the map’s primary goals. Jim Dion, sustainable tourism program manager for National Geographic’s Maps Division, said travelers can be reluctant to visit the unfamiliar.
“(National Geographic) is a trusted and well-respected brand. Our stamp of approval assuages the risk aversion to trying off-beat places,” he said.
John Cohen, executive director of the Durango Area Tourism Office, says the ruggedness of geotourism is gaining popularity: “More travelers nowadays are looking for something genuine.”
“I’ve worked in the tourism business my entire adult life. We tend to travel as our parents traveled,” he said. “After World War II, people were conditioned to buy vacation packages with all-inclusive resorts. It was about sun, sand and sea. Relaxation above all. What we’re seeing lately is an emphasis on experiential travel.”
The project began two years ago with the creation of a regional Geotourism Stewardship Council, which spent three months collecting more than 1,000 nominations for the map and website.
“It’s very grass-roots,” said council manager Susan Thomas. “An organization with as much knowledge as National Geographic could easily have chosen the content. But they left it to the locals to tell their stories.”
Visitors to the Aztec Ruins on June 2 will find tables staffed by map-destination representatives. Other festivities include Navajo singers and storytellers, ceremonial dancers from the Zuni Pueblo, Acoma Pueblo, the Southern Ute tribe and an appearance by Fort Lewis College’s Ballet Folklorico.
Dion believes the project will bring interest, and the revenue that comes with it, to struggling local economies. In exchange, travelers will find a true “sense of place.”
“Whether they are from Paris, France, or Paris, Kentucky, the idea is to foster awareness,” he said.