By Jack Stauss
Holiday River Expeditions has long been focused on helping people from all over the world experience the natural wonder of the Southwest. Intertwined with that focus is their mission to protect the nation’s wild lands. So, through experience and interpretation, they allow us to understand why places are important, and how we can protect them for the long run.
This tradition has been carried down now for several generations of passionate Holiday guides. It’s not easy either, with the climate and landscape constantly changing. Understanding how to communicate some of the issues can be a full time job. I know they work their hardest at it. After having been on several Holiday trips, I was curious to learn how they keep up this mission.
It starts in the desert
Holiday river guide Susan Munroe might be the best example of how Holiday fosters its legacy of passion for the rivers and canyons. Ten years ago when she first came to Holiday, she wasn’t sure that she wanted to row a boat. She was nervous around whitewater and happy to just drive the shuttle and live in the desert. But she went down the river a couple times and fell in love with the flow and the rapids and after a few more trips started rowing. Over the years she has worked her way up to a company leader and, perhaps most importantly, lead interpreter.
When Dee Holladay started Holiday River Expeditions, he began the interpretation program. He’d stock boats with books, natural history, maps, and river poetry. He’d teach new guides about the plants and animals present on the Plateau, and of the ancient people that left behind clues to their culture.
Susan has taken on this role in a huge way. At Holiday, they say a guide gets a Masters Degree in River Studies. It’s a practice, something that they work hard at. And by meticulously choosing curriculum, Susan is the professor. From conservation efforts to biology and geology to poetry, she has material she loads into the boats dry boxes. She helps teach the guides why these things are important. I’ve hiked through the Plateau with Susan and from the small shrubby plants along the river, to rock art on the walls, to constellations overhead she has a story for them all.
Why is it important?
It’s easy to just blissfully ride down the river, enjoy the meals, catch a tan and let the Holiday experience be a “normal” vacation. But the richness of learning something about the land, water, and culture will undoubtedly make your trip all the more meaningful. The stories that guides like Susan have spent decades learning and understanding are things that we rarely ever get to hear about anywhere else. They help us fill the trip with awe and wonder.
We learn that these places and resources we’re experiencing are under various threats from development, drought, and any number of other rapidly changing conditions. We can learn how to better take care of them.
Susan tells me that Holiday is well-suited to lead this charge. The legacy that she, Dee, and the rest of Holiday’s staff are a part of is not only working to make our trips more rich, but also being advocates for the places where they recreate. They work with the local legislature on protecting the rivers, they align with non-profit organizations, and Susan is constantly updating her library of information for the rest of the team.
Susan! What should I do?
It can all get a little overwhelming. For us, there is a lot of crazy stuff going on in the world right now. For Susan, she takes tons of trips down the river every year and it can get a little wild in peak season. But, she’s got the medicine. She says “throw a dart at the Colorado Plateau.” And by that she means just go. Pick a trip and go down the river. You’ll have an amazing experience with top notch guides that she has helped teach, and you’ll come back happier and better off knowing about a part of the world that only a handful of us are privileged enough to experience.
Jack Stauss moved to Salt Lake City in 2008 in pursuit of big mountains and wide open spaces. He has spent the last several years both enjoying and advocating for public lands and free flowing rivers. While he’s not typing on his keyboard, he will be backcountry skiing in the Wasatch or exploring Utah’s wild deserts. Read some of his environmental musings at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at @jackstauss on Instagram