Canyon Country Confidential
Aug 18, 2020
By: Melinda Rhodes
NAVTEC Expeditions knows where to go and what to do in the Moab area. Are you game?
You’re the new kid on the block of balanced rocks, sandstone spires, and architecturally unbelievable arches. Who do you want to give you the grand tour of the hood? The transplant from two states away? Nah. How about the kid whose family has lived here forever, who knows all the secret nooks and crannies perfect for playing hide and seek? Yeah, that one.
Johnny From the Block
John Williams is the kid (now an adult) whose family has called Moab home for more than a century. He conquered the Colorado River’s white water early on, running his first commercial tour as a teen, and is still rafting the river as a septuagenarian. In Rigid Hulled Inflatable Boats he designed himself, no less. Translation? He’s a badass 70-something-year old with bottomless knowledge of the river and its heinous hydraulics. Retirement, schmetirement.
John’s grandfather, J.W. “Doc” Williams, worked well past the typical retirement age, too. After closing his full-time medical practice in 1919 but still providing services for close friends and family, Doc had more time to promote tourism in southern Utah and was instrumental in Arches National Park’s history. He took many important people on tours through the red rocks over the years, including Dr. Larry Gould, a geological surveyor. Gould was so awestruck with the area now known as the Windows Section that he started a letter-writing campaign (remember stamps and envelopes?) to the National Park Service asking for protection of the stunning desert landscape. His campaign was successful and 4,520 acres that included Windows and Devils Garden were designated as a National Monument in 1929.
Go Big or Go Home
But that wasn’t good enough for Doc. He wanted the monument to be, well, more monumental. With help from the Moab Lions Club, he lobbied to expand the boundaries. In 1938, FDR signed a proclamation increasing it to 33,930 acres. But when did Arches become a national park? Not until 1971, its size more than doubling in the process.
This love of the land was passed down from one generation to the next. After serving in the military, John’s father, Mitch, ran a travel business with his wife for a while, taking visitors on river and jeep trips as well as aerial tours. The passion is also shared with the guides at John’s adventure tour company, NAVTEC Expeditions, who can rattle off interesting info about the history of Moab, Utah, and the geographical wonders found here faster than you can chant “olly, olly, oxen free.”
NAVTEC Expeditions is one of the few concessionaires authorized to offer tours in Arches National Park and Canyonlands National Park by boot or boat, rope, or rugged road. You thought Williams fam was only about the rafting? Nope. Doc hiked actively into his nineties and took a Jeep ride through Arches with park superintendent Bates Wilson at the tender age of 102. (And you thought granny was gettin’ around good on her Jazzy.) NAVTEC also operates outside of park boundaries, making some of the most secretive sites in Canyon Country accessible to those of us who weren’t lucky enough to grow up with this natural playground in our backyard. Some of the many expeditions you can choose from include:
- A half-day, heart-pounding canyoneering trip into Dad Gum Canyon, a place unpublished in guide books. SHHH, IT’S THE GOOD KINDA SECRET →
- A calm-water cruise through the aptly named Meander Canyon, stopping to seek out Indian ruins and petroglyphs along the way. DON’T ROCK THE BOAT →
- A rowdy 4X4 ride on the famed White Rim Trail, with optional side hikes into hidden passages (like a real-life game of Clue!) and concealed canyons just beneath the sandstone level. MISS SCARLET IN THE KITCHEN WITH A CANDLESTICK →
- A multi-day trip through the raging rapids in Cataract Canyon, where you’ll camp on beaches of soft, white sand. BETTER THAN THE BAHAMAS →
Can’t decide on just one? Try a combo trip. Whatever type of tour floats your boat (see what we did there?) NAVTEC is dedicated to the continued protection of the landscape Doc Williams, Larry Gould, Bates Wilson, and others have worked so hard to preserve over the years.