July 2012

Cultural Entrepreneurship in New Mexico: Santa Fe Walkabouts


Alice Loy

In 2006 Georges Mally was bicycling across the country, following historic Route 66 and his dream of seeing the great American Southwest—until he got a broken spoke in Santa Fe. Delayed by mechanical issues, Georges spent a day exploring Santa Fe by foot, ending up at the Plaza, where he sat down next to a lovely woman named Sue. Two years later, Sue and Georges were married and had moved to Santa Fe.

Today Georges and Sue Mally are the owners of Santa Fe Walkabouts, widely regarded one of the finest tour operators in northern New Mexico. Consistently ranked TripAdvisor’s #1 Traveler Recommended Tour Company in Santa Fe, Sue and Georges offer custom tours for individuals and small groups. Intrigued by their website’s hilarious video <http://www.santafewalkabouts.com/4×4-adventures/> of their off-road vehicle, the Pinzgauer, I called and asked to book a tour.

Over the phone Sue explained the various options suitable for the three generations of our family who would be on the tour. We decided on an adventure in “The Pinz” up to Aspen Vista. The next week we packed our picnic lunch, met Georges downtown, and piled into the loudest, most brawny looking vehicle I’ve ever traveled in. Georges affectionately stroked The Pinz as he told the story of acquiring the rare Swiss Army vehicle several years before.

As we left town by way of Bishop’s Lodge Road we could feel the air begin to cool as the smell of pines began to fill the air. Climbing above Tesuque, Georges pulled off at a turnout, high above the city, and began to name and describe the far-off peaks as landmarks along El Camino Real. The Spanish, and later the Mexicans, used the Camino Real for hundreds of years before the Santa Fe Trail became the preferred route for transporting goods. Pointing out green patches where Pueblos reside, and urban centers resting on hillsides, Georges talked enthusiastically about the cultures that have passed through the Rio Grande Valley, and the ones that make up who we are today. I thought about the dynamic mix of cultures we have in our region—and wondered what brought Sue and Georges to Santa Fe.

Georges explained it simply: “The deep blue sky, the outdoors; that’s the thing for me—for everybody.” Their passion for sharing our state’s unique cultural and natural wonders led them to start Santa Fe Walkabouts. Connecting visitors to places like Puye Cliffs, Ghost Ranch and Abiquiu Lake is what inspires Sue and Georges. Their love for New Mexico is contagious.

Georges and Sue Mally are worldly people, having grown up in Europe and Asia. However, their love of culture, history and place may stem from being displaced from their original homelands as children. Georges grew up in communist Bulgaria; his parents fled when he was three years old, leaving him with grandparents for his safety. After eight years, Georges was reunited with his parents in France, where he spent the rest of his childhood. 

Sue’s family escaped Burma (Myanmar) with their two children, when Sue was seven. She spent her childhood growing up in Kuala Lumpur and moved to the US at age 17, where she earned her college and later graduate degrees.

Since they founded the business in 2008, Sue and Georges have steadily built their roster of clients. Speaking six languages between them, they host visitors from all over the world, most of whom request adventures to places like Pedernal, Tent Rocks or Kitchen Mesa. In the beginning, local hotel concierges would refer people to Walkabouts. Today, however, Sue says most of their business comes through the Internet. “We are really active on Facebook, and our website gets a lot of hits. And, the TripAdvisor recommendations have really boosted our business, too.”

This trend mirrors what travel industry experts all agree on: peer-to-peer travel recommendations dominate the way today’s travelers make tourism decisions. With “social travel guides” being the new way of connecting customers to experiences, Santa Fe Walkabouts is well-positioned to continue to grow their cultural enterprise and succeed as cultural entrepreneurs.

After reaching our destination of Aspen Vista and finding a small meadow to set our picnic out on, we walked into the forest to search for signs of bears (my kids were hopeful) and wildflowers (my mother was hopeful—and fulfilled). We were at 11,000 feet and the gathering clouds were hanging just above our heads. Wary of mountain thunderstorms we quickly ate our sandwiches and then climbed back into The Pinz, putting the canvas top up, closing off the skyview and shutting out the impending shower.

As we wound our way back down the mountain along the rough, boulder-ridden dirt road, Georges asked if we wanted to see how the Pinzgauer’s fully independent suspension worked. My father, a mechanical engineer, was delighted as we slowed to intentionally climb over an enormous gash in the road. Amazingly, at one point, one front and one back tire were simultaneously off the ground and still the enormous vehicle glided smoothly over the gash, shifting its weight gracefully until its whole had crossed the divide.

We had traversed the southwestern edge of the Sangre de Cristos and emerged above Canyon Road, dropping back into civilization. Brown adobe walls enveloped us, and the Pinzgauer was once again loud and out of place. I glanced back at the bright green aspens high above and felt lucky to live here, where culture and nature intersect, and where cultural entrepreneurship is thriving. And, I felt glad that Georges had gotten that broken spoke.

Alice Loy is co-founder and director of programs at the Santa Fe-based Global Center for Cultural Entrepreneurship. 505.263.5180, alice@culturalentrepreneur.org, www.culturalentrepreneur.org


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