There was a time in Page when you couldn’t walk down the street without running into someone who worked at Navajo Generating Station. Just as often, you couldn’t go much farther without bumping into someone else who spent time working as a Colorado River guide.
Occasionally, it turns out, that someone is the same person.
“I wasn’t expecting to find something that would instantly draw me to it,” said Jon Adams, Senior Environmental Technician in NGS Environmental & Lab Services and a former guide for Colorado River Discovery. “But it gets into your blood.”
Although Lake Powell is indisputably the dominant feature of the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, this remaining stretch of river through Glen Canyon is the very heart of it — and at the heart of those who guide it.
Over the past two decades, only two river companies offered the 15-mile, smooth water raft trip down the Colorado River from the Glen Canyon Dam to Lees Ferry. They are Colorado River Discovery and Aramark’s Wilderness River Adventures.
For the past 11 years, CRD held the coveted National Park Service contract to provide float trips. Averaging 51,000 guest visits per season, CRD General Manager Korey Seyler estimates CRD introduced some 561,000 visitors to the Colorado River and Glen Canyon. Every 10 years the park service opens the river contract to bid. Last October, it was awarded back to WRA from which CRD had acquired it the decade before.
Born in Kanab, Utah, and raised in Page, NGS Operations O&M Supervisor Mick Swapp has been on the lake and river most of his life. He started to run the river for Wilderness River Adventures (WRA) in 1996 on his days off, and now — as an experienced Colorado River guide and boat captain with a 100-ton license — he will soon be in charge of training all of WRA’s new and returning river guides to operate its ew 30-foot pontoon boats.
Swapp became a guide to be within Glen Canyon’s 700- to 1,400-foot-high walls of 195-million-year-old red Navajo sandstone and to float the timeless river. Swapp has become a favorite with guests by singing his original river songs, the sound of his guitar echoing off the canyon walls.
Chuck Straub started in the NGS warehouse in 1981 and retired in 2016 as an O&M Supervisor. He saw his friend Swapp enjoying his time off on the river and thought that was something he wanted to try.
He started guiding for WRA in 1999 and continued for 13 years. In 2011, while at Petros Beach, a popular stop where guests are shown ancient and modern Native American rock art, he noticed the name “Trent” etched over one of the ancient petroglyphs. A National Park Service ranger happened to be at the beach that day, and he asked her about it.
“It wasn’t there this morning,” he said she told him. “She called it in to the ranger down at Lees Ferry.”
Straub said as various fishing trips arrived at the dock, the ranger asked, “Is anyone here named Trent?” “Yeah, I am,” one guy said.
Today when guides present their interpretation of the petroglyphs, they end with a plea, “Don’t be a Trent,” and relate the story that ended with a $10,000 fine, five years of probation, and 100 hours of community service, thanks to Straub’s sharp eye.
Since the time he graduated from Page High School, NGS Plant Mechanic George “Butch” Hutton has been running the Colorado. Until five years ago when he became a permanent SRP employee, he was a temporary mechanic at NGS for 25 years, working overhauls in the winter and guiding river trips in the summer.
“I ran eight-day motorized trips in 37-foot rafts and 12-day oar-powered rowing trips in 18-foot rafts,” he said. “I fell in love with it and never left.”
Over that time, he logged more than 300 Grand Canyon river trips and slept well over 3,000 nights in the Grand Canyon.
“My most special trip was last summer when I got to take my 23-year-old daughter, Haley, down with me,” Hutton said. “This was her first trip ever. We ran into a bunch of old river friends who told her that her father was a ‘legend.’ She was very proud.”
Photographer, falconer and river guide Gerry Nealon retired from NGS after 38 years. He started river guiding in 2001 while still working at NGS. He has captured numerous images of monsoon cloudbursts becoming waterfalls pouring over the Glen Canyon rim into the river.
“I was coming back up with two other guys empty and we got caught in a hailstorm and couldn’t even see the front of the boat,” he said. “We got up to the dam and there were waterfalls and rocks the size of garbage cans coming down. They closed the highway bridge. Rocks were hitting the girders. There were waterfalls all over the place.”
Adams, the NGS Environmental Technician, has been at the plant for 11 years. Born and raised in Page, he was a Colorado River Discovery guide for more than three years.
“You never had the same day down on the river,” Adams said.
That was especially true on a spring day in 2014, when a rattlesnake was discovered under a bush at Petros Beach. The snake was just off the path on the way to the petroglyph panel, he said. It had been seen a couple days in a row.
“We just decided that we can’t leave that snake there,” Adams said. “Somebody would come along and poke it and get bit.”
So he and another guide poured some frigid Colorado River water over the snake to slow it down, scooped it into a bucket and released it about 100 yards downriver where it couldn’t harm anyone.
“The people loved it,” he said. “They really enjoyed it.”
George Hardeen is an NGS Communications Consultant. He finished his first season as a CRD river guide on Thanksgiving.