American Adventures: The Life of A Tour Guide

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to be a tour guide? Is it simply the most adventurous, magical time, driving across the country, dipping in hot springs, laughing by the campfire, climbing mountains, and making new friends?

Yes, it really is.

Tour guides for American Adventures smile while atop Angels Landing in Zion.

In the summer of 2018, for some reason I felt completely compelled to work as a tour guide. It was like there was a strange voice in my head, telling me, you should do this. I had spent the year before working as an English teacher in South America, and as my 28th year of my life was approaching and my 4th year in New York City, I knew I had get on the road.

“Nothing behind me, everything ahead of me, as is ever so on the road.” ― Jack Kerouac, On the Road
Desert landscape at Valley of Fire in Las Vegas with my tour guide van alongside the road.

Not often in life, but sometimes, there are moments that while living it, you know are so good. This was one of those moments.

We spent the first three weeks of the job training to be tour guides. We lived at a campground on the Russian River of Northern California, near Guerneville, where roads winded through wineries, gracious redwoods grew tall, and a flowing river emptied in the ocean. After a week of camping and learning the tools of the tour guide trade, we hit the road to test our skills as tour guides. We drove from San Francisco to Los Angeles, and then east to the Grand Canyon, camping and laughing all the way.

At Plateau Point in the Grand Canyon, you can see the Colorado River rushing by.
From the depths of the Grand Canyon, Mari looks out at the Colorado River from Plateau Point.

The magic of this experience working as a tour guide sprang from the fact that we are explorers at heart. All of us decided that a summer of logging countless cross-country miles, dirt, sweat, tears, and days without a shower would inspire us more than an office job. All of us are born curious, and it's over time that the pressure and rigors of society tell us where to fit in.

A group of fellow tour guides watch the sunrise from Monument Valley, Utah.

Maybe instead of sitting indoors all the time, we are meant to eat, breath and sleep as one with the Earth. We woke up to greet the day, fall asleep beneath the stars, be one with the traversing sun, and be guided at night by the light of the moon.

“What is that feeling when you're driving away from people and they recede on the plain till you see their specks dispersing? - it's the too-huge world vaulting us, and it's good-bye. But we lean forward to the next crazy venture beneath the skies.” ― Jack Kerouac, On the Road
Bryce Canyon hoodoos, monoliths of stone, tower over tourists.

Unfortunately, that summer was only a once in a lifetime thing. After our training trip we were left to fend for ourselves out on the road with a van and trailer full of 15 to keep us company and ask "are we there yet?" on a guided tour across North America.

The memories I made from that summer will stick with me my whole life. Not only did I discover new parts about my home country of North America, I saw the role my country plays for others. I led tours for Intrepid Travel and TrekAmerica, from San Francisco to New York. Since the pandemic took over our world, our tour operator has closed it's doors to business.

It was a once in a lifetime summer.

A group of tour guides with Intrepid Travel gather around my van in Kings Canyon National Park.

"The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars and in the middle you see the blue centerlight pop and everybody goes “Awww!” ― Jack Kerouac, On the Road

I hope that my guests learned to love nature the way I do. As Alexander McCandless wrote, happiness real when shared.

“The best teacher is experience and not through someone's distorted point of view” ― Jack Kerouac, On the Road
Self portrait as the sun sets somewhere in Arizona.