How did you find yourself at Holiday?

Anna Trentadue is the reason I ended up at Holiday. She and I went to school together at Colorado College and she had been a warehouse kid during the summer of 1997 and raved about Holiday. On her suggestion, I applied to be a guide and got invited to the guide training trip for the summer of 1998. I didn’t have a car at the time so I took the Greyhound to Green River and walked over to Holiday. It was a memorable first look at Holiday. There wasn’t anyone around outside so I went into the warehouse kitchen. The first person I encountered was Tilts. No shirt, cutoffs, hightops, fu-man chu, going to town on his mid-afternoon bench-press workout. He stopped long enough to direct me to the bunkhouse and told me to pick any unoccupied bunk. Many of the bunks were already taken but I did eventually find an empty one. I figured that the bunk with a blow-up sheep and a message taped to it that said “Hollis, I am waiting for you” probably qualified as taken.

Mary Engels and friends on a raft with pizza

Mary, Anna, Mark, and Gonz on a Cataract Canyon Deadhead

What years did you spend guiding?

I guided from 1998-2008

What is something you learned while at Holiday that has stuck with you and has been valuable to life beyond the river?

Many things stick with me from my time at Holiday: Appreciation of avocados, backing trailers, backing double trailers, mental packing (the quality of being able to look at a pile of gear and assess if it will all fit in the proposed container), the beauty of a well-organized kitchen, how to engage with people with genuine interest and to make them feel seen and understood, how to tell a good story, and how to share my love of place. All of these are things that I began learning at Holiday and have continued to build on since my time there.

What is your favorite stretch of river that you have been on? 

I love them all but I think Lodore stands out as a favorite. The quality of light in the upper canyon in the late afternoon is just magical, and the water is challenging and interesting at all levels.

Mary Engels and friends dress-up night - lodore

Dress-up night on the Gates of Lodore

Do you still do river trips?

I do, mostly with my family and friends these days. My rig, with a Holiday frame that I built, gets some pretty skeptical looks when I show up at the ramp, but folks are generally converted after being on the water for a while with me. Still the best setup I have ever rowed.

What do you miss most from guiding?

There are many things I miss from guiding…. Just to name a few: Sleeping on my boat, my fellow guides, the vernal bunkhouse porch, sharing my love of rivers and canyons with new people, the satisfaction after a long day of physical work, cooking dinner in the kitchen while the light turns the water golden, and the ever-changing slice of the heavens at night.

What was it that pulled you away from guiding?

For a number of years at the end of my tenure with Holiday, I spent summers working with Holiday and winters sailing as a scientist with the Sea Education Association (SEA). What ultimately pulled me away from guiding was the opportunity to run the science operations at SEA full-time.

What advice or sentiment would you share with young guides working today?

Keep the white side up! Also, learn everything you can about the business, it all has something to teach you- gear maintenance, scheduling, inventory management, people management, etc. If you take advantage of your time there and get some foundation in these skills they will serve you for the rest of your life. Also, consciously practice your leadership skills. If you are not the trip leader (TL), learn what you can from each TL you work with. If you are the TL, each new trip is an opportunity to practice some aspect of leadership. You rarely get such a great opportunity for leadership development in other kinds of work!

Mary Engels rowing on the Yampa River

Yampa River with Mary and Thomas

Do you have a favorite memory of Dee? Sue? Tim? Frogg?

So many, it is hard to pick. One that really stands out is a Deso trip that I did with Dee and Sue, John and a bunch of his friends, several replica Powell boats, a film crew shooting a Powell documentary and a Holiday promotional video, and a BLM ranger. The first day on Deso was looooooong and every camp we came upon was taken all the way down to Stampede Flats. Finally, we got a camp, 20 miles in and late in the day. We pulled in and unloaded the gear and I gave the crew 5 mins of downtime before we needed to go on dinner. As you might imagine, cleanup happened with headlamps. Dee, bless him, was elbow-deep in the dishwater helping with cleanup, when he said to me “Well you know Mary, if you start cooking dinner earlier you wouldn’t have to clean up in the dark”. Sue, who was also helping clean up could see I was about to lose it and she just expertly maneuvered Dee out of the kitchen and let us finish up our job.

The next day we got a good early start and made it to camp in the late afternoon with plenty of time before we needed to cook. This time I gave the other guides half an hour of downtime before we needed to start dinner. Dee, who loved interp with a passion saw that the guides were not actually engaged at that moment and decided that it would be a good time to do an interp lesson. An hour later I was making dinner alone in the kitchen and Dee was still giving his interp lesson. Ha!

There are a ton more moments that come to mind…I remember coming off a trip super bummed because I had forgotten the plates (yes, frisbee plates and family bowls became a thing). Tim made me feel much better when he said “Well at least you didn’t forget the boats”. Apparently, Dee at one point headed out for the San Juan without the boats. Tim sent a chase vehicle with the boats, but they couldn’t catch Dee until he got to the put-in.

What’s your most memorable story from a river trip?

Mary Engels and family on the river

Mary with her family on the Salmon River!

I think one of my most memorable trips was a San Juan trip. My 21st birthday was the day before the trip, and we camped that night at the boat ramp and celebrated accordingly. The next morning, I woke up at dawn to find our trip leader, TJ, frantically searching the bushes around the camp for the trip permit, which he lost at some point the night before. Eventually, Mike Lewis woke up, and discovered the permit in his pocket, thankfully, but that was just the opening salvo of a crazy trip.

I discovered that morning that I had forgotten my life jacket and so had to make do with one of the spares, not the nice new adjustable kind but the old type V with the bulky head pillow. When our 30 guests arrived, 13 of them were children under 13, and it quickly became clear that the parents and grandparents on the trip were not much interested in supervising children. We had a kid in a ducky miss our first petroglyph stop and then jump out to try and swim to shore abandoning the boat and paddle mid-stream, we had a kid whack his mom in the head with a ducky paddle when he got mad, we had grandparents who took their grandson off Ritalin during the trip because they “don’t believe in that stuff”, we had a kid go on a hunger and water strike in 100+ degree weather, and kiddos who were stealing food out of the kitchen while we tried to make dinner. It got so bad that we designated one guide each night to be the child wrangler. The preferred “game” we played was Houdini, where we grabbed every extra line from the boats, tied up all the kids, and timed how long it took them to get themselves undone. They loved it and it allowed the other guides to make dinner without interference.

There was some other craziness as well, which I don’t remember completely, but I do remember that at the takeout, our van vapor locked and so we had to have someone sit inside the van with a foot pump and blow air into the gas tank, which seemed to help the situation but made the whole van smell like gas for much of the ride home. The final insult was that there was another 30-person trip that took off the San Juan that same day, some specialty trip with guest guides, so when we finally got back to Green River at 9 pm, as the rookie, I had 9 well-cooked banos to clean in the dark with my headlamp. Thankfully TJ came with a beer and helped me finish up. A shower never felt as good as after that trip!

Do you have a story to share about a positive experience with a guest? 

There were many guests over the years that I connected with, but I remember one who helped me become aware of the gift of trust that the guests gave us as professionals. While talking with a guest on a Lodore trip it dawned on me that this guest was likely a world expert in his field (business) but that he saw me as an expert in mine. It was early in my TL career, and I was still grappling with some insecurity in the role. Having someone deliberately choose to put their trust in me that way was a great boost to my confidence.

Mary Engels in Frank Church Wilderness

Mary doing fieldwork in the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness. Her daughters sent along a stuffy to keep her company 🙂

Are you in touch with any guides you met during your time with Holiday? 

Yes, there is a close group of women that I keep in touch with from Holiday (“the Holiday Hotties”) and we try to get together at least once a year, if not more often. I also keep in touch with Kelly and Rick, and Tim, though I don’t get to see them nearly often enough.

What are you up to these days? (career, passions, hobbies, artistic endeavors, etc…)

Currently, I am an assistant professor at the University of Idaho. My work is at the intersection of water, climate, human impacts, and ecology (a little bit of everything). Between work, raising small people (5 and 3), doing some house remodeling, and surviving a pandemic, life has been pretty full. I am looking forward to getting back to traveling more, cooking for fun and not for toddler palettes, and spending more time on the water.

Where do you call home?

Right now I live in Moscow, Idaho, about 3 blocks from the NRS store….. dangerous!

Do you think you will ever be a river guide again?

I actually do keep a hand in as a guide by moonlighting with the University of Idaho outdoor program. This is a fun opportunity because the outdoor program serves mostly students, which gives me a chance to keep up with my interp practice. I am also working collaboratively with the outdoor program coordinators to develop citizen science protocols for plastic pollution and to map springs for use on all their trips. Fun! I will probably not guide again full-time, but I love being able to get out occasionally in a professional capacity. Most of my river time now is spent on family trips.