SALT LAKE CITY, UT — Western River Expeditions announced that as of last week, its river rafting vacations in the Grand Canyon are fully operational. This news comes after a several-month hiatus mandated by the National Park Service over COVID-19 concerns.
The company’s sought-after rafting vacations in the Grand Canyon normally begin as early as April. Reservations are coveted, with bookings at near capacity already for 2021.
With a 2020 season shortened by 10 weeks, Western’s team has been tireless in its efforts to accommodate this season’s bookings. Those who lost seats during April, May and the first half of June due to closures have been slotted into later departures or rescheduled for next year.
“Of the trips we’re able to run, most of our guests have stuck with us and we’ve been able to refill where there have been cancellations,” said Brian Merrill, Western River Expeditions’ CEO. “People who are coming are comfortable with travel and the precautions we have put in place.”
The first rafting trip Western hosted this year was on the Colorado River through Cataract Canyon, departing the week of June 7. Merrill met the guests at the end of their river journey and escorted them to an airstrip for a scenic return flight to Moab, Utah. This is headquarters for the company’s river operations for Utah.
“Groups are always pumped when they come off the river, but this group was especially excited,” observed Merrill. “They were gleeful, almost childlike in their enthusiasm for just being out there. They remarked just how great it was to get out and forget about everything going on in the world for a few days.”
Tending to new protocols and the concerns of 20 guests was, noted Merrill, “a bit stressful for the guides because they felt so responsible for everybody. But the guides began to relax when they sensed their guests were on board with what the guides were doing.”
Western employs some 70 guides for its Utah and Grand Canyon operations. Their work begins long before they reach the river.
“So much goes on behind the scenes to make it happen on the river,” said Merrill. “I tell our guides this is a kind of industrial job with lots of machines rolling around while packing up a 54-foot semi-trailer box truck that delivers what guests and guides require for several days or a week on the river.
This company with nearly 60 years of river rafting protocols under its belt, scouted, navigated and maneuvered around the unforeseen flash flood and high-profile rapids caused by the pandemic.
Getting a foothold in the river bank this year has been, to say the least, a challenge for this company. Losing 10 weeks of a rafting season that is only 22 weeks long is akin to a year-round business being shut down for a year. And once Western River Expeditions was able to operate, how to do so took weeks of planning and training around new procedures and protocols.
“Even though our river rafting model is already conducive to social distancing, sunshine, fresh air and remote wilderness, we were tasked with submitting operation plans to National Park Service boards, Bureau of Land Management and associations within our own industry,” Merrill explained.
Jason Taylor, Utah Operations Manager for Western River Expeditions, took a deep breath. He met up with this first group at the beginning of their adventure.
“There was no apprehension. People were excited to be on the trip. Almost everybody had read our COVID mitigation plan that we have developed. Regarding our protocols, they commented that we were doing what we said we were going to do and that they never felt at any time they were at risk,” said Taylor.
Now with approved COVID-19 protocols in place, Western underscores what some experts have said – that whitewater rafting may be the safest way for a family to vacation this summer – especially for those within driving range of Moab, Utah, where activities begin.
Vacations that embrace fresh air and the healing powers of nature can work wonders on pandemic-driven nerves.
Western River Expeditions for nearly 60 years has operated star-quality river rafting vacations. This year they are also applying their decades of professionalism to pandemic-related challenges. For more details on Western River Expeditions’ protocols please see https://www.westernriver.com/downloads/COVID-19-operations-plan.pdf
For a copy of Western River Expeditions’ 2020/2021 catalog, questions, availability and reservations call toll-free: 866.904.1160 (Local: 801.942.6669) or visit the website at: http://www.westernriver.com/.
About Western River Expeditions
Western River Expeditions is an adventure travel company headquartered in Salt Lake City, with operations and offices in Moab, Utah and Fredonia, Arizona. Annually from March through October it escorts more people down rivers on professionally guided rafting trips in Utah, Idaho and Arizona than any other company. It is the largest licensed outfitter in the Grand Canyon and the largest single tour provider in Moab, UT, through its division Moab Adventure Center (http://www.moabadventurecenter.com/).
Western River Expeditions, providing Grand Canyon rafting, Utah and Idaho rafting, and international multi-sport trips, was founded in 1961 by Colorado River rafting pioneer Jack Currey. It has been named one of the “Best Adventure Travel Companies on Earth” by the editors of National Geographic Adventure magazine. The company is the proud recipient of the “Best of State” award through Utah’s Premier Recognition and Awards Program for the past sixteen consecutive years (2004-2019).