Albuquerque Journal (Albuquerque, NM)

FIRST-PERSON TOURISM.(Final)

Byline: Polly Summar Photographs by Greg Sorber * Of the Journal

Navajo high school students lead tours of Chaco Canyon and offer an unusual glimpse into their daily lives

My editor dropped a brochure on my desk one day and said, "I think you should do this trip. A bunch of students at Cuba High School give tours of Chaco Canyon. It's part of a travel academy program at the high school, where they learn about the hospitality field."

"Looks interesting," I said. "And you can stay at this cute guest lodge, the Circle A Ranch, in Cuba."

"Sure, but I think you should stay in a hogan on the Navajo Reservation," he said, pointing at the photo of a familiar-looking round building.

"Like some German tourist?" (Nothing against German tourists, but I had never heard of anyone else scheduling a stay at a hogan.)

"Well," he said, "some readers may be curious what it would be like to stay in a hogan."

"Oh."

And with that, the trip was planned. I just had to find a photographer who was up for the adventure. Mr. Kansas proved ripe.

Next, a call to the Cuba High School Travel Academy. Rudy Valenzuela, the teacher there, took my call. "Do you want a hogan with amenities?" he said.

"Amenities?"

"You know, modern things."

"Oh, no," I said, smugly, thinking of German tourists. "We just want the basic hogan. We'll bring sleeping bags."

Of course, as the time drew nearer, I began to rethink that decision and called the high school again. This time I talked with Eddie Atencio, who also works with the academy. He laughed. "You're not going to be sleeping on the floor!"

"We're not?"

"No. Hogans have beds."

Oh. Well, what do I know?

I now pictured all the Navajo kids (Cuba High School is about 75 percent Navajo) laughing, just waiting for my arrival. Especially when I realized I needed to e-mail them about another thing: Could they accommodate a vegetarian? …

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