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Business Happenings - April 2002

‘Tis the “shoulder season” for river runners
The Lower the Water, the Better

by Carrie Mossien

Adrift adventures’ Myke Hughes recommends a one-day Westwater run to kick off the rafting season before permits are required May 1. That’s the best April has to offer, he says, but is certainly not all.

“People are getting into packages,” Myke said of visitors who arrive and want to “do it all.” “As an outfitter, we can put those things together.”
Adrift Adventures holds the distinction of being Moab’s oldest originally-owned river company, setting up in Moab 23 years ago with six boats and a permit to “float” Cataract Canyon. “We started in an old warehouse where Rim Cyclery is now,” he said. “That was when the oil industry was going real strong and we were paying $2,000 a month to be there.”

A worthwhile investment in the long run. Just a few years later real estate prices plummeted and Myke picked up an old used car lot at 378 N. Main “cheap,” and landed the bread and butter of river companies - a permit for “The Daily.” “We also got a permit for Desolation Canyon about the same time,” he said. “Then Westwater. At the time all our boats were in a storage unit.”

Adrift Adventures now has boats by the trailer loads, four Suburbans used for jeep tours with one of the area’s most knowledgable tour guides, Eric Bjornstad, and jet boat interpretive tours below Dead Horse point with another master guide, John Holland. The jet boat tours are designed as geological and archeological treks.

“Our jet boat has an interesting history of its own,” Myke said. “We like to tell people it has spent as much time underwater as on top of it.”

Not to worry them, though. The boat was under water above the town of Green river for eight or nine years before Adrift acquired it. Its previous owner inadvertedly anchored it there and left it. Myke and his crew dredged it out and rebuilt it. It holds 16 people who stop for short walks through petrified forests and other unique areas.

Eric’s jeep tours are no less unique. Author of several guide books, Eric is considered the most knowledgable guide in Canyon Country. “People come back just in awe of his knowledge,” Myke says.
Although there are no rentals at Adrift, the company offers several jeep/raft combination packages. Part of the unadvertised benefits of working with Adrift, and all of the river companies, according to Myke, is the cooperation and reciprocation of business between tour companies, hotels and other tourist based businesses in town.

“I have a great sense of appreciation for the hotels, the campgrounds and other river companies,” he says. “Everyone has their niche and there’s so much business we refer people to each other. It’s a great situation for the community to be in.”

Even this year, when Myke said the tourist economy may suffer due to an expected drop in foreign visitation.

“Most rafters do all right, no matter what the economy does,” he said. “This year there will be more family vacations; kids in the station wagon looking for a National Park. The domestic bookings will pick up the slack of the downturn in International visitors.” At least that’s what Adrift Adventures’ bookings are looking like now.

And the local guides are gearing up. Adrift has a training program that requires river guides to work on the daily for a full year before doing multi-day trips. Returning guides, after three years, are offered a spot on an annual International tour - if those guides stay on until the last day of the season.

“It’s an incentive and it’s good for us and we think for the guides,” Myke said. “For us, when spring comes the wheel just starts right up again and the experienced guides know just what to do. For them it’s an education in different ways of running rivers, an opportunity to see Third World countries and other opportunities for hiking or surfing in foreign places.”

Past trips have included Costa Rica, Ecuador, Southern Mexico, and this year, Nepal.
As is probably true with other river company owners, Myke rarely gets out on the local trips anymore. He put in his five days a week during the early years. He always does the International tours, however.
Adrift employs about 30 guides in the peak season, and at one point up to 50, Myke said. He notes that “bigger is not always better.”

“Now I’d rather have fewer trips and sellout days,” he said.

And being an old river company, Adrift has its share of return clients: Wilderness Medical students; the Ambassadairs flying club, private school groups, medical representatives considering relocation to Moab, NFL players, and for 10 years the International Olympic Committee. Former 49ers quarterback Steve Young’s “Forever Young Foundation” also does annual trips with Adrift Adventures.

“We have an open door policy to the Big Brothers and Big Sisters in Salt Lake City, and children with diabilities. We try to give back to the community,” he said.

Locally Adrift supports several community non-profit organizations. It also has a conservation program where funds are donated regularly to a dozen environmental groups.One year an Adrift Adventure was the wish of a terminally ill cancer patient who was chosen by the Make A Wish Foundation to receive her special wish. Adrift worked with the Foundation and granted the wish. Unbeknowngst to Myke at the time, the recipient was a relative of Moab’s own Betty Stanton. The river trip was part of a family reunion.
Myke said Adrift Adventures offers specials on full-day Westwater Canyon trips for local customers during this, the “shoulder season.”

“The lower the water, the better,” on Westwater, he says. And April is the ideal month for it.
To make reservations for this or to inquire about other trips and packages call Adrift Adventures at 435-259-8594; or if calling from out of town call 800-874-4483. Full schedules and brochures can be found on Adrift’s website at adrift.net.

 
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