“All we cared about as kids were grandma’s tortillas and red chile,” shares Angelisa Murray, owner/operator of Heritage Inspirations (est. 2014), of her formative summers with family in Colorado, making the drive from Arizona through Albuquerque, Santa Fe and Española, all the way up 285 past San Antonio mountain. Thirty-two first cousins would commune and she would make fragrant memories inextricably linked to these dynamic landscapes, through the mesa, the mountains and all the arroyos in between.
Travel in one form or another has always grounded Murray, no matter how far and wide she buzzed around the globe before intentionally and passionately rooting herself here.
“Taos is the confluence of life for my husband [Tommy] and I, after all these years on our interwoven journeys — mine mostly living out of my Patagonia suitcase. We found ourselves together again, camping by the rio in Pilar, realizing this was where we wanted to be, where we belonged,” she reflects on the whirlwind journey leading up to that moment. “There was no analysis, no thinking. It just felt right and from that point on, all the arrows unfurled before us.”
Despite being in the travel business for 20+ years, Murray never once in her life thought she would have wanted to open and run her own travel company.
“When it comes to what we do, it’s pretty massive; operating three different travel hubs out of Los Poblanos in Albuquerque, the Inn & Spa at Loretto in Santa Fe and El Monte Sagrado in Taos,” she explains. “Building a business with 20+ employees — notably not contractors — and one that involves logistics and permitting… It’s overwhelming especially in an industry historically dominated by male owner/operators. There are hardly any solely women-owned outfits.”
But Murray is no stranger to challenges and seeing in them, opportunities. She began her first travel job at 21 and just kept pursuing different experiences. After learning the ropes working in a global luxury hotel as a restaurant management for Four Seasons, she realized she had learned a lot but the corporate culture wasn’t for her.
“I spent a summer in Glacier National Park in Montana, and I saw that people could actually be tour guides professionally,” she reflects. “It put a bug in me. That and meeting Tommy in Alaska for the first time [it will be 20 years ago in May] really changed the paradigm for me.”
It was then that she hooked up with a tour company based in Berkley, CA, working all over the world as a travel guide and in New Mexico as a regional manager establishing biking routes, road cycling and hiking expeditions. She led a 10-day wilderness safari in the Kenai Peninsula in Alaska, rafting down the river exploring the bogs. It is where the educational component really began to click with her — even at one point partnering with National Geographic to create even more immersive experiences, long before “experiential travel” became the buzz word it is today.
Years later, the dots started to connect. While living in New Zealand for a year in 2005, she got back into the bicycle realm and delved into wellness, getting her yoga certification in northern Thailand. But when she fell 12 feet in a freak accident while bouldering four years later, a compound tib/fib fracture requiring six surgeries and a subsequent infection that threatened keeping her leg motivated Angelisa to embark on a path internally for her own self-healing, one that would ultimately manifest itself in the creation of Heritage Inspirations.
“They told me I’d never guide again — so I was kind of on this mission to prove to myself that I could be invincible,” she recalls. “Skiing is one of the only sensational sports I can do and still feel an adrenaline rush. I still have chronic issues. Moving to Taos was never in the plan, but in 2014, I was on my way to go work in the Pacific Northwest when Tommy and I reconnected here after not having seen each other for six years, and the rest is history.
“Taos has very intense power. The opportunities that created nudged the doors open were very organic to the point where it just became obvious that this is what I’m supposed to be doing and where I’m supposed to be,” Murray explains. “Our two worlds consistently collide, how he ended up here and his job has continuously progressed and grown. Tommy has helped me so much with the mechanics of the glamping trips, built our equipment… We both have our own paths, but they are interlaced where we can support one another and come together on so many levels.”
When her dad comes to the couple’s house out in the mesa in El Prado, he gets teary-eyed. “On the porch you can see San Antonio mountain – that was like our mountain, grandma’s house is less than an hour north,” she reflects. “The land that we live on today… There is purpose and meaning and lifetimes fortifying it. I feel very grateful all the time.
The commitment to guests and New Mexico — the place and its people — is what drives everything at Heritage Inspirations.
Murray continues, “It’s foundational to the niche we’ve carved out in travel. One of my goals is to really shift the model of what tourism can be for the local economy and what it means in the state. I believe it has the potential to be transformational, about protecting against development from the outside — which everyone can get behind, and stimulating and supporting the local community by sharing the rich history and unique-to-here culture with visitors.”
The relationship with Los Poblanos is such a good fit on so many levels, especially echoing this ethos. The rich history of the land, a beautiful lavender farm and an operation that cares about protecting and sharing the legacy of the area in the right ways. The property had bikes there, and with Heritage Inspirations’ already established ABQ Rio Grande & Farm e-bike tour, it just made good sense to come together — to add value to the experience by running it out of this incredible place.
“We take people out and teach them about the Bosque region,” she reflects. “My approach to travel is all about immersion, education and forging a deep connection with NM. We are such an anomaly in the U.S., for guests to drop in and get a glimpse of understanding into the heritage of our ancestral Puebloan lands and how that impacts everything… That you can see the stars at night, because of the preservation aspects of the Pueblo!”
But where the rubber meets the forest floor, it’s really about the people that work for her.
“It is so important to me that there is this wholeness they can feel by having a real job — it’s not just contract work,” Murray explains. “It’s such a priority that our people are happy and feel taken care of. We hire people from here as our ambassadors and guides. Photos, writing, staff… 100% New Mexican. Especially when it comes to guides. The colloquialisms of culture and generations of knowledge inherent in being born and raised here is powerful. And I feel my purpose is to help empower locals to share their stories. Instilling the value within themselves that to share their own heritage in this platform can work to protect the specialness of the place. It doesn’t have to come at the cost of that.”
And this approach translates to the guest experience. Heritage Inspirations is #1 on Trip Advisor in Outdoor Activities, and the reviews aren’t just one liners – they’re more like novels. The most popular activities are day tours, e-bikes, glamping excursions, and now they are building out custom itineraries and packages tailored to guests’ needs. Snowshoeing outings catered by The Love Apple offspring, Manzanita Market, and Taos Artisan Walking Tours are happening now with a sweet ending at Chokola. The new High Road to Taos tour is a full day immersed in New Mexico history, architecture and culture and kicks off in March. Cultural components thread through, like horno baking when the Pueblo reopens in April. It’s also a great time to be hiking in the Rio Grande del Norte National Monument. Summer really kicks into high gear with outdoor culinary tours, a gourmet picnic pairing at Vivac Winery, tours of Ghost Ranch, the sacred and stunning Plaza Blanca, and Abiquiu artist studio visits, guided hiking in the Columbine Wilderness, Amole Canyon and Williams Lake and other programming in Taos Ski Valley with the Resort, to name a few.
“We can’t do everything and we can’t be everything to everybody, all while recognizing the wellbeing you need in order to function. At the end of the day putting my needs first circles back to the fitness of the business,” she reflects. “So 2023 is all about reciprocity and crystallization. The issue now is the portfolio has grown so much we need to focus on what we do best and what guests want.”
Travel for good and being better stewards of the travel industry. That sure sounds right to us!