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The RME Difference

by Douglas A. Schmittou, CEO of Rocky Mountain Excursions

Hiking at the Maroon Bells

The genesis of Rocky Mountain Excursions occurred, in retrospect, on one perfect late September afternoon, in 1976, as I drove westward across US Highways 2 and 89, utterly transfixed by the mountains of Glacier National Park, which seemed to slowly rise from the earth like the hump of a great grizzly bear. The immediate effect of that experience was both visceral and profoundly uplifting. As my familiarity with the Rockies grew, it became quite apparent that I was predisposed to what can only be described as a spiritual form of “Rocky Mountain fever,” an affliction for which there is no known cure but which responds well to prolonged and repeated exposure to the Rocky Mountains.

As a commercial venture, RME was more directly the product of a fall foliage trip, the core itinerary of which remains the foundation of "The Majesty of Colorado Fall Foliage" tour. Steve Riley, a close personal friend who is now Executive Vice President of RME, and I were then more desperately in need of a vacation than at any previous point in our lives. Adhering to a slow, measured travel pace and an itinerary which featured every major fall foliage “hotspot” that we could comfortably incorporate into two weeks, we achieved a depth of personal renewal that, quite frankly, could not have been surpassed in the time which we then had available. Reflecting upon our journey, it occurred to us, as we drove back toward Denver that if we can consistently achieve such a deeply rewarding transformational experience (and we have done so in the course of our travels throughout the Rocky Mountains), we can help other people to achieve the same lofty objective. That conversation gave rise to our corporate identity, basic philosophy as a tour operator and our mission statement/invitation to our clients: “If you seek emotional, psychological or spiritual renewal, come with us and behold the majesty of America.”

Recognition of the natural world’s capacity to inspire and restore the human psyche and soul is hardly revolutionary, but from a marketing standpoint it is rarely, if ever, overtly emphasized as a rationale for ecotourism. On the other hand, mid-nineteenth century Transcendentalist authors such as Thoreau and Emerson wrote extensively on this topic, as did John Muir, a veritable messiah of the conservation and wilderness movements. A harbinger of the transformational experience, which is the central theme of this article, was recorded in 1870. General William Jackson Palmer, founder of Colorado Springs, Colorado, then observed after his initial visit to the area: “Could one live in constant view of these grand mountains without being elevated by them into a lofty plane of thought and purpose” ( 22010.pdf))? Muir (1901) offered an even more compelling perspective on this matter in remarks which pertain specifically to that great preserve now known as Glacier National Park:

“You will find yourself in the midst of what you are sure to say is the best care-killing scenery on the continent. Give a month at least to this precious reserve. The time will not be taken from the sum of your life. Instead of shortening, it will indefinitely lengthen it and make you truly immortal. Nevermore will time seem short or long, and cares will never again fall heavily on you, but gently and kindly as gifts from heaven.”

At Rocky Mountain Excursions, we consider facilitation of the transformational experience to be our highest corporate calling. And we use that term in the most inclusive and holistic sense of the word, i.e. a deeply restorative sense of physical relaxation accompanied by profound emotional, psychological and spiritual rejuvenation. We realize that some clients may feel uneasy about reference to a spiritual component of travel, so it is, perhaps, worth taking a moment to clearly delineate boundaries as they apply to our conception of the spiritual dynamic. We fully realize that very few, if any, clients will approach the tour experience as though it were a spiritual pilgrimage. Furthermore, we make no attempt to advance any specific theological position, nor do we engage in religious ritual in the course of tours offered by RME. We adhere instead to the simple belief that the Rocky Mountains are endowed by our Creator with great spiritual power and possess a limitless capacity to inspire and renew mankind. Potential clients who remain skeptical of efforts to establish linkages between spirituality and exposure to wilderness environments may be interested to know that academic researchers have begun to seriously explore this phenomenon. Research in this field is typically conducted by scholars in the disciplines of outdoor recreation or, more frequently, ecopsychology, a clinical specialization which often employs wilderness therapy as a legitimate form of treatment. Interested readers will find a brief list of relevant online resources at the end of this article. These documents admittedly are not the most digestible material for the lay reader, but they cite a litany of benefits accrued on an experiential level, that are far more specific than our generalized reference to “emotional, psychological or spiritual renewal.”

Optimization of the transformational potential of ecotourism requires, first and foremost, a longer immersion process than the six-day, five night excursions typically offered by competitors in our theatre of operations. In the contemporary world, few of us can afford the month-long sabbaticals advocated by Muir, so we have structured the majority of our tours to encompass 8-14 days, a time frame which we believe will promote a deeper and more rewarding experience, one that should hold particular appeal for international clients, given their financial investment in travel to the United States.

To the chagrin of more conventional tour operators, RME’s clientele has demonstrated a distinct preference for the ambiance and intimacy of small, 15 to 25 passenger buses. We believe that these smaller coaches are more conducive to clients achieving a deeply rewarding sense of personal renewal. Itineraries carefully structured to emphasize only the most spectacular aspects of featured destinations, as well as the use of the most luxurious accommodations and dining establishments in the area, are also critical components in facilitation of the transformational experience.

Leading competitors commonly offer “adventure” tours which include rigorous activities such as bike riding, white water rafting, kayaking and extended hikes. If your preferred solution to the stress of civilization is to burn it out through intense exercise, we will be more than happy to recommend an appropriate tour operator. RME, on the other hand, advocates a slow, measured travel pace, one that allows the beauty of nature to gradually work its magic. Our tours afford abundant opportunities for landscape and wildlife photography, and if you wish, train rides (some of which lead to music festivals), float rafting, fly fishing, brief backcountry excursions, western chuckwagon dinners/music performances and day spa outings.

Unlike most of our competitors, who provide excellent tours which are representative of selected portions of the Rocky Mountains, but offer a menu of destinations that virtually spans the globe, RME specializes exclusively in the Rocky Mountain West. As we expand our theatre of operations, we intend to offer the greatest variety of destinations available for persons interested in touring this spectacular area, including aspects of alpine Americana that are virtually ignored by other tour operators.

In the event that any questions remain concerning whether there is truly a need for the type of experience advocated by RME, I can offer no more poignant affirmation than the following observations by John Muir. Editorial license has been exercised solely to reflect the exponential population growth which has occurred in this market sector since the original publication of Muir’s remarks:

“[Millions] of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home; that wildness is necessity; that mountain parks and reservations are useful not only as fountains of timber and irrigating rivers, but as fountains of life”

Whether you are planning your first trip to the Rockies or have visited the area many times before, we hope that you will consider RME as your tour operator of choice. We urge novice and veteran travelers alike to give particular consideration to tours scheduled for that autumnal crescendo of color known locally as the fall “gold rush.” Fall foliage excursions are dear to our collective hearts and constitute one of RME’s areas of specialization. Take the time to truly savor this magical season. Witness the daily transformation of the aspen as they assume their electrifying cloaks of yellow, orange and red. Hear the elk bugling in the canyons, a signature sound of wilderness that you will never forget. And, if the weather is accommodating, experience crisp, cool days and brilliant, blue skies. It may well prove to be one of the most profoundly moving events in your life. Whenever and wherever the call of the high country may strike, we, at RME, invite you to come with us and behold the majesty of America.


Works Cited

“Backcountry Adventure as Spiritual Experience: A Means-End Study” by Paul E. Marsh. Ph.D. dissertation ( pdf?sequence=1).

“The Benefits of Wilderness Therapy for Treating Addiction and Substance Abuse” by Meghan Vivo (­therapy-for-treating-addiction-and-substance-abuse.htm).

“Naropa University Hosts Annual Wilderness Therapy Symposium”

“On the Spiritual Benefits of Wilderness” by Baylor Johnson (

“Psychological Benefits of Nature Experiences: Research and Theory with Special Reference to Transpersonal Psychology and Spirituality” by John Davis, Ph.D. (

“The Psychological Benefits of Wilderness” by Garrett Duncan (http://ecopsychology.

“The Psychological Value of Open Space” by Nora J. Rubinstein, Ph.D. (http://www.great

“A Qualitative Exploration of the Wilderness Experience as a Source of Spiritual Inspiration” by Laura M. Fredrickson and Dorothy H. Anderson (

“The Wilderness Experience and Spirituality: What Recent Research Tells Us” by Paul Heintzman ( (website for the International Community for Ecopsychology). This website includes, among its features, contact information for, and relevant publications by, scholars who consider ecopsychology to be among their academic research interests, as well as a list of persons who provide therapeutic and/or educational services pertaining to ecopsychology.