By Joe Ballent

Emma with a group in Lodore Canyon

There’s really no way to recapture river magic except by getting out there again.  Someone who knows this better than most is former Holiday River Expeditions guide Emma Wharton.  Bursting with energy and quick to smile, Emma has had river water in her veins for years.  After her days at Holiday, Emma went on to head up an organization called Grand Canyon Youth, based out of Flagstaff in Arizona.  Grand Canyon Youth is an outstanding program that encourages active youth involvement.

Involvement with such worthy causes as environmentalism, history, and awareness of river ecosystems.  Each year, youth (high school aged) from all over the country apply for acceptance to an Upper or Lower Grand Canyon river trip. It’s all on a basis of community service hours, and personal essays. As well as a commitment to an educational peer project presentation on-river, and proof of earning a requisite portion of the trip cost.

Trip focus is heavily on service and environmental stewardship. As a two-time GCY veteran, I got to partake in projects like weeding out invasive species such as Camel Thorn and documenting survey points for the Park Service to help standardize and log valuable erosion information.

Having gotten to experience both the worlds of Grand Canyon Youth and Holiday (with the former leading me to the latter), I noticed distinct parallels in the cultural dedication of each organization. No doubt a carryover from Emma’s unwavering enthusiasm and love for all things river.  Both GCY and Holiday subscribe to Leave No Trace ethics. Reflecting the utmost commitment to responsible waste management and duty to protecting the fragile river ecosystem from human influence as much as possible.

It was Grand Canyon Youth that first introduced me to the gear and the camp kitchen processes that would eventually come into play on Holiday trips years later.  Above all, these youth work trips helped engrain a blue-collar work ethic that is vital for a smooth-running river trip, be it for service or commercial purposes.

Youth trips are an invaluable experience and can teach someone worlds of self-knowledge through interaction with nature.  Holiday’s own youth trip roster includes the famous Burn Camp. Burn Camp is a trip chartered through the University Of Utah Hospital Burn Unit and catering to kids that were treated for severe burns there.  It’s one of the best weeks possible on the river; owing both to the breathtaking desert vistas and unstoppable energy of the staff.

If you have a child of high school age who you suspect would appreciate an immersion in a truly rewarding outdoor adventure then Grand Canyon Youth comes with my most sparkling recommendation.  Don’t worry; not every youth that takes a trip down the Grand runs off to become a river guide.  It just worked out that way in this case.

Make a difference in a young person’s life.  Find out how to support Grand Canyon Youth.

Joe Ballent found the river- or it found him –when he was only 16.  He began guiding with Holiday in 2008 and has enjoyed the unique privilege of getting involved with Holiday’s youth trips, including the University of Utah Hospital Burn Camp program.  His writing has been featured on various outdoor online communities including and  Joe works with troubled teens full-time but manages to find trouble around the country and world in his free time.  He is an outdoorsman by trade, a romantic by choice, a guitarist in a band, and an outlaw in Europe.