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Business Happenings - August 2003

Immersed in the Colorado -
Canyonlands By Day & Night-Style

by Carrie Mossien

Canyonlands By Night
and Day

After 27 years running Colorado River tours day and night during Moab’s busy season, and teaching high school classes in construction in Woods Cross, Utah, Preston intends to dig in to his home town, as a business man and citizen.

“For 27 years I had to commute to the place I love,” Preston said on this year’s Summer Solstice. “Now I am a full-time Moab resident.”

The appeal and success of Preston’s business, Canyonlands By Night and Day, hasn’t suffered the arrangement, and only promises to prosper. And to prosper means to offer something to its clientele that feels good to the soul, and the pocketbook.

At the center of what has become a multi-faceted riverfront business is a world-renowned sound and light show begun in the early 1960s. The actual program has changed little over the years and is still relevant: Indian stories and legends, a spoken history of Moab pioneers and their conflict with Moab Native Americans, and finally a discussion of geology, the natural wonder of the canyons and patriotism.

From the lounge of a 140-seat motorized boat, the stage is southeastern Utah’s night sky, 300 to 500-foot canyon walls and the mighty Colorado River. Most people take advantage of a Dutch oven dinner on Canyonlands By Night’s outdoor patio north of town prior to the boat’s departure at dusk. For the three-mile trip up river, Preston, or another of his knowledgeable hosts, points out faces and images nature has carved throughout the canyon, repeating and inventing stories with intelligence and humor. It’s a friendly, relaxing ride; often there are beaver, goats and mule deer about. Always there are waterfowl, including the graceful Blue Heron.

The end of the ride up river marks the beginning of the recorded program, the brainchild of Weldon Wynne, a Texan who once ran a light show at Paladora State Park in the Panhandle.

“He decided he wanted to do something here,” Preston relates. “He went back to Texas, built a boat and returned to Moab. We’ve gone through several boats since then, but the show has continued.”

Moab resident Dee Trantor and Preston bought the business in 1976; Dee sold his interest after several years. Preston thought Canyonlands By Night would be something he’d like to retire to – and this year his vision has been realized.

A few years ago Preston began to call his business “Canyonlands By Night and Day” to better describe the trips available to tourists and locals alike. Preston found that for those not looking for white water experiences, Canyonlands By Night and Day had much to offer; tour busses made good bookings, and locals liked to bring their families during visits.

Daytime trips were comprised primarily of a jet boat tour down river to the boundary of Canyonlands National Park, about 32 miles from Moab. It is a fast, cool and exciting run, with a stop midway to walk where large conifers have turned to stone. Rory, who has been a guide on this trip for 10 years, knows it well. He knows every movie filmed here, every petroglyph and pictograph imaginable. He is so at ease at the helm of his craft it is nothing but fun to be aboard.

Preston has also been booking 4x4 trips, canoe rentals, La Sal Mountain tours and Native American rock art tours. His plan is to expand these services.

The Canyonlands By Night and Day office is just north of the river crossing, and houses a gift shop of fine clothing, casual wear, jewelry and souvenirs. Preston said he puts a considerable amount of effort into shopping the trade shows looking for quality and bargains. And not one of the many bargains lacks in quality.

“Our gift shop does very, very well,” Preston said. “We carry embroidered denim that costs less than regular denim at department stores. Our merchandise is priced way down below average retail.”

Preston is proud that he’s been able to maintain the cost of his services for seven years without an increase. “We want people to feel like they got a good deal in Moab, and we want them to come back. We make it a bargain for the shopper.”

The steady pricing includes the dinner, and Preston said it is first class. Diners have a choice of roast beef or pork, barbecue beef, pork or chicken, with “cowpoke” potatoes, corn, dinner rolls, beans, dessert and drinks. Lemonade, coffee and water are on the house; local wine and beer can be purchased separately.
“The patio is one of my favorite places on earth to be,” Preston says. “Trees on one side, the river on the other; big cottonwoods, bald eagles. You can see Indian writings on the cliff behind me, and Courthouse Wash just below it. This is an experience worth staying another night in Moab.

“Moab has been a love of mine forever. I love the people, the place, and I hope I can help the community now that I’m here full time.”

To make reservations for any of the Canyonlands By Night and Day trips call 259-5261, or stop by and visit the waterfalls, fish pond and gift shop right off Highway 191 on the west side of the road, north side of the river. Enjoy being immersed in Colorado River culture adrenalin-free – i.e. without being immersed in the river.

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