Africa Has Nothing on the Southwest

IN RECENT YEARS, adventure travel outfitters have been scrambling to devise trips that meet our rapidly evolving tastes for fresh experiences. We want adrenaline (Class V whitewater!) but comfort (French wine). We want to be eco-sensitive (carbon offsets, biodiesel transport) and culturally sensitive (native guides, voluntourism) and, post-recession, we want affordability (more domestic itineraries). Now comes along an elegantly simple mashup of all these trends: the American safari.

EcoNewMexico (eco-newmexico.com), based in Santa Fe, has begun developing a network of locally owned and managed tent camps and eco-lodges that will be run much like the classic African outposts. Native American guides will lead some of the tours of ancient ruins as well as horseback outings to spot New Mexico's version of the Big Five: mountain lions, bears, bison, gray wolves, and bighorn sheep. Other activities will include volunteer work with animals set to be reintroduced to the wild, fly-fishing for trout, and mountain biking.

For EcoNewMexico co-founders Chip and Sandy Cunningham, who for 20 years have run trips in Africa with their company Uncharted Outposts, importing the safari concept has been a long-simmering vision. "We'd come back from Africa and ask, Why don't we do this here?" explains Sandy. The company got off the ground earlier this year and started offering its first tented trips this past August, with Silver City–based Great West Trail leading groups through the Gila and Aldo Leopold wildernesses.

"In the Southwest, we have these incredible places and animals that need preserving and guides who can bring it all to life," says Sandy. "But so few people really know about it."

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