I was three years into my Landscape architecture profession in the SF Bay area (1972), a recent grad from Utah State University in Logan, Utah, when suddenly the recession led by the oil embargo shut the economy down. Unemployed, I returned to familiar ground in Logan and got hired as a lift operator at Beaver Mountain. The season was 1975-76. I made many friends and life was good being outside. As the season wound down, I was asked by two brothers skiing one day about my off-season plans. I was clueless! They suggested calling Holiday and talking to Dee Holladay about being a summer rafting guide. These brothers were Kim and Marc Crumbo. 

Sherpa on a rocketboxI called and went to Green River after the ski season along with 20+ strangers all seeking a position. It was something totally new and different but it meant continuing to work outdoors. We put in on the Green River from Ouray, UT as the road to Sand Wash (our typical put-in) was not passable. We all rowed our asses off jockeying for a position. Dee in those days would carry an outboard motor to save time in the long flat water stretches since, at the time, he had limited days off from being a mechanic at Rick Warner Ford. We used that motor the first day to get us closer to Sand Wash. Those of us who got hired- Sandy Heavenrich, Ned Rockwell, Jamie Meves (predecessor to Tim Gaylord, our current Operations Director), Winston Thomas, Dave Bodner, and myself, (go figure)- convinced Dee that we would much rather row boats than have to tote a motor. I believe for the most part the motors just collected dust in the fuel shed; from that day forward we strictly became a rowing raft company. 

Towards the end of that season, we acquired the Dinosaur National Monument permit and started running trips the following season out of Green River. That lasted until about 1981 when we built the current warehouse in Vernal, Utah. By then, Winston Thomas and I were busy leading trips and managing the operations as Frogg Stewart moved to Idaho to start Holiday Salmon. Winston and I became startup owners with Frogg, Dee, and Sue in that endeavor. 

Besides all the river trips we shared, my favorite memories of Dee and Sue were the times I would help in the office in Salt Lake City and live with them on Malibu Drive. The office consisted of a cubby hole under the stairwell in the basement of their home.  I lived in that basement from time to time in the off-season helping out and watching their daughters grow up. My winters were spent in Aspen, Colorado initially as a lift operator until I got my dream job as a ski patroller, (ideal life skiing and rafting.) The starting wage for rafting was $20 per day while ski patrol was $9 per hour; good enough back then. 

Another memory of Dee was from a night at Ray’s after dinner with the boatman and guests. The jukebox was spinning the songs out as well as the alcohol. The owner Bob threw in a case of beer with straws. Then things got wild when Dee and others got up on the bar, beer in hand, and started dancing! Fortunately, Sue was holding down the fort.Sherpa with hawaiian shirt

Ah, memories of river trips gone by. My most stressful, memorable, and emotional trip was planning and leading a 6-day Yampa trip with 4 Dialysis patients along with life-sustaining equipment, doctors, and nurses. It included two layover days to perform treatment at Mathers Hole and the other at Jones Hole. It was life-changing for them as well as us guides.

I would say that Yampa, wild and free, is by far my favorite river with the Salmon River second and of course, the Grand Canyon makes the list. Mathers, (on the Yampa) is one of my favorite camps. All the camps have river stories to tell, you just have to listen. My least favorite times on the river were the many 3-day Desolation trips. As many know the wind blows hard! Some trips were back to back; it was blisters on top of blisters! $60 bucks a trip. I didn’t care, I found my niche.  

Our annual training trips at the start of each year were always a great way to start the season and add to our growing staff. The new hires knew little of our method of choosing guides. Towards the end of the training trip, Dee would gather us out of earshot and we would discuss each candidate, then it came down to a vote, (you ready for this) Dee would lead us through rock, paper, scissors to make the decision! Lucky for you, Tim Gaylord and John Wood made it. 

Sue of course was the glue to the whole operation. She laid down lots of the main menu. She also made sure you were following The Holiday Way whenever she was on a trip. Nothing got by her (which has passed down to Janet.) I felt privileged that Sue would ask, listen, and implement some of my input from the menu to operations.  But dishwashing will NEVER change: the water needs to be ”Sue HOT”! 

Even today when summer rolls around whether in the warehouse or on the river, there’s a voice in both my ears; one is Dee and the other is Sue. It was instilled in me to follow a certain Holiday way of doing things, and that is true even to this day. Since Dee’s passing things have continued to evolve past Dee & Sue’s Way… but the heart of it remains. Tim gets it and so does JW.  

I was the first full-time operation employee hired to maintain equipment and help in the office. We even built a family cabin in Lamb’s Canyon. I did leave after 13 years, filling a void in my life with the love of my life. I did this thinking I could always return to guiding. After a  successful career in finance, a divorce, and a wonderful son (and retirement funds), I returned in 2011 part-time to see how the body would hold out. It did and until recently I was back on full time but this time as just a guide. I’ve cut back to part-time work now as I spend a lot more time at my place in McCall, Idaho.  


Meet the Guides SherpaIt sometimes feels like I never left; like rekindling with an ex. There are definitely changes. For one, guides seem so young! The clientele has changed. For me, it’s rewarding to have a guest come up and say I was on a trip when their mom and dad brought them and now they are carrying on the tradition with their spouse and family. Running into old river guides from the past is also rewarding. Small world is the river clan. 

With each trip, I try to treat it as if it is the first trip of the season. If ever as a guide you can share a trip with your family, do it.  My mom came on a Lodore trip once. She was tagging along with my cub scout den mother; it was such a quality time and fond memories. 

It’s now 12 years since my return and I have many more new memories and experiences. The canyons have pretty much remained the same, after all, they are millions of years old. Each trip comes with a different perspective. It could be the weather, water levels, or time of the season but for me, it’s the dynamics of the various guests that come on the river that enhances the river experience. It’s rewarding to see the transformation of each guest’s experience from the first day to when we say goodbye. Perhaps the reason we have such a high rate of returning guests. 

In closing, Holiday has been a big part of my life and continues to be. Guides today just don’t know how much Holiday has evolved and how streamlined the process has gotten. Like we used to haul 900 lbs of ice from Salt Lake every week just to run trips! It’s so easy now: not having to deal with inflating and deflating rafts each trip, having a  comfortable place to hang out between trips, boats you don’t have to bail, fresh food instead of canned chili, Dinty Moore stew and B&M brown bread, not having to cook strictly over an open fire, etc…

All the changes are positive and for the better, making Holiday one of the top rafting companies while still maintaining its commitment to preserving the environment and carrying on the Dee Holladay legacy of which I have been proud to be a part of. Whether you are a first-year guide or an old fart guide like me, cherish the moments and memories and maybe someday, you will share your stories. This job is life-changing.  Go with the flow….  Sherpa San  

P.S. More stories can be shared if you want, contact me through Holiday River. I would love to hear from past guides and guests!