How long have you been in business?
We (David and Vicki Mackay) started our own company in 1971. Prior to that time, David had worked as a river guide while completing math and zoology degrees at the University of Utah. We met on a Grand Canyon Rafting river trip in 1968 and have been running rivers together ever since. Now our two children, Bonnie and Walker, share the fun and adventure with us.
Why the name “Colorado River & Trail Expeditions?” You aren’t based in Colorado, and you run other rivers besides the Colorado.
Our company name goes back to the roots of our beginnings. When we started our company in 1971, we ran only the Colorado River. Then, as now, we emphasized off-river hiking and back country exploration on every expedition. Thus, “Colorado River & Trail Expeditions” was a good and fitting name. Over the years, we’ve branched out a bit, but the heart and soul of our river running operation is still the Colorado River and the canyon country of southeastern Utah and northern Arizona.
How experienced are the guides?
Most of our guides develop their expertise through an in-house training program that gives them an opportunity to learn everything about the river business from the bottom up. They participate in numerous training trips as helpers, or “swampers,” and must be able to repair rafts, motors and other equipments before they start operating their own rafts with customers on board. This usually requires two seasons. Most of our guides have a minimum of 3-5 years’ experience. Our veteran guides have been with us from 10-20 years.
How should we decide which trip to take?
All of the river trips offered by Colorado River & Trail Expeditions are “world class” in scope and character. We are confident that whichever expedition you choose, you will find beauty, wildness, and enjoyment that you seek. We recommend that you first determine how much time you have for the trip. The length of our trips are determined by the amount of time necessary for a quality experience. You are better off taking a complete 3- or 4-day trip than just 3 or 4 days as part of a longer expedition. If you are looking for the biggest rapids, you should consider Grand Canyon Rafting ( any time), Cataract Canyon (May-June), or Westwater Canyon (June-July). For scenery, every trip is great! For hiking and exploring, every trip is great! For children and beginners, Desolation Canyon is best. For more information, give us a call. We will be happy to answer your questions and offer suggestions.
Which trip is best for kids?
Our Green River Wilderness expedition through Desolation Canyon is terrific river trip for the whole family, especially those with young children. The rapids are fun, but not too scary. There are a lot of things to do and see, so little people don’t get bored or restless. Older children and teenagers have a ball paddling their own inflatable kayaks.
When is the best time to go?
We have scheduled our expeditions during the times of year that we think are most appropriate and enjoyable. It doesn’t really matter when you go. However, as a general rule of thumb, you can think of April and May as the most moderate months as far as temperatures go. It can be kind of chilly on the river, especially when you are splashed in the rapids, but it’s usually perfect for long off-river hikes. This is also the best time to see wildflowers in bloom. June and July are warm and dry, perfect for running rapids and playing in side streams, waterfalls, and natural pools. In August, thunder showers cool things off a bit, and the rain causes catus and other desert plants to bloom. Early-to-mid September, like the spring month, offers cooler temperatures and ideal weather for off-river trekking.
What about bathing and bathroom facilities?
It is okay to bathe and/or wash in the river, providing you use biodegradable soap and shampoo. Hand washing devices are set up in every camp. We carry clean, easy-to-use portable toilet facilities with us. They are set up in each camp and concealed in large, roomy tents for privacy.
What happens if it rains?
If it is during the daytime, we put on our rain suits or ponchos and continue down the river. If it is really raining hard, we will pull into shore and find some shelter until the downpour ends. If it rains at night, we break out the tents. Usually, though, the weather is great, and if it does rain, it doesn’t last long!
Why should we choose your company for our river trip?
If you appreciate personal service and enjoy being treated more like a “friend” than a “client,” you will probably like going with us. From office staff to river crew, we will do everything we can to help you plan, prepare and enjoy your time on the river. Our guides are the best! In addition to their training and experience, they are kind and friendly and enthusiastic. You should also consider we do not overcrowd our trips or our rafts. Our equipment is in excellent condition. We love what we do!
Can you help us with travel plans and arrangements?
When we confirm you reservation request, we will send you a trip planning packet that includes where to meet, how to get there, where to stay, what to bring, and other information to help you plan and prepare for your river journey. We will be happy to provide further advice or assistance on request.
What will I need to bring?
When we confirm your reservation we will send you a detailed clothing and equipment list that is appropriate for the expedition you have selected. This list includes suitable clothing, such as shorts, t-shirts and bathing suits. We also recommend a cloth hat with brim (for sun protection, a rain suit or poncho (for cool days in the rapids and/or potential thunder shower), a small day pack and plastic water bottle (for long hikes), and camera and film.
What is included in the price of the trip?
The price you pay for any of our river trips is “all inclusive.” We provide sleeping bag, foam pad, and ground cloth; cots on motorized expeditions;water proof bags for camping equipment and personal clothing; waterproof camera boxes; delicious meals beginning with lunch the first day; plates cups and utensils; Coast Guard-approved life preservers; and round-trip transportation from the designated meeting place.
What about meals and beverages?
Delicious Dutch-oven dinners, sandwich bar lunches, and hearty camp breakfasts are provided throughout the river trip. We think our menu will satisfy everyone, from those who are watching calories and cholesterol to those who want to splurge on the richest desserts and the biggest steaks! With ample quantites of fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and pasta, non-meat eaters also have a variety of good foods from which to choose. Hot beverages such as coffee, tea, and cocoa are served in camp. Assorted non-alcoholic cold drinks are available throughout the day. We do not provide alcoholic beverages, but adult guests may bring small amounts of beer, wine, or liquor for their personal use.
I have more questions …
Please do not hesitate to give us a call. We’ll enjoy the opportunity to visit with you. You can also contact us by telefax or e-mail.
Being a River Guide
Being a river guide is one of the most rewarding and challenging jobs. The guides who operate our rafting trips are responsible for everything from preparing delicious meals to patching rubber rafts. Most of our guides have worked on the river for at least 7 years, while our senior trip leaders have been running rivers professionally for 15-20+ years. Because of the longevity of our guides, there has been a continuity in the quality and character of our operation over the 40+ years that we’ve been in business. In fact, many of our guides are second or third generation river runners. At Colorado River & Trail Expeditions, everyone is a good leader and a loyal follower and there is a friendly camaraderie between guides and owners.
Being a river guide requires a lot of training. It generally takes two full seasons for new guides to learn the ropes and gain the experience needed to run their own raft with passengers on board. All of our guides are required to have a Backcountry Food Handlers Permit, a Wilderness First Responder medical training certificate, and a Swiftwater Rescue Course from Rescue III International. They must also know the rules and regulations of the National Park Service and Bureau of Land Management, and have sufficient knowledge to offer interpretive discussions about the human and natural history. Extensive on-the-job training under the tutelage of senior guides includes running rapids, leading off-river hikes, gaining a knowledge of the environmental factors affecting the rivers and canyons, how to prepare delicious meals, how to take care of equipment and repair rafts, and most importantly, how to take good care of our guests.
Rafting guides continually work at becoming more proficient and knowledgeable by being on the river. By working under the tutelage of more experienced guides, they not only learn the mechanics of operating a raft, setting up equipment, rigging the boats, cooking meals, but also become familiar with the “CRATE Culture” of working together as a team to provide the best experience possible for our customers. By working under the guidance of experienced trip leaders, new guides learn how to “read the river.” Eventually they are given the chance to run their own rowing raft. Our most senior guides operate our motorized rafts.
Experience is something that comes with time. With every year on the river a deeper understanding of people, rivers, and interpretation is developed. Most of our present river guides have been on the river for the last 7 years. Our most senior guides have been on the river nearly 30 years. In the 70s and 80s most guides came to work on the river as a summer job. This has changed over the years with many river guides choosing rafting as their career. We have been very lucky to have some of the best (if not THE best) long term career guides at CRATE, providing amazing continuity over the years.
Our trip leaders are always required to make decisions, most of them along the lines of where to camp and what to eat, but sometimes more serious decisions. Our river guides are people you will feel good being with. Good judgement comes from training, practice, and experience.
Time and The River Flowing
by Vicki Mackay
Dave began working as a boatman for Western River Expeditions in 1965. He ran river trips in Grand Canyon, Utah, Idaho, and Mexico. We met on a Grand Canyon Rafting trip in 1968. In 1969, he invited me to go again as a swamper and I fell in love with the river! By 1970, Dave was convinced that he wanted to start his own company and I was excited to help him. So, at the end of the 1970 season we went to Grand Canyon National Park headquarters to apply for a permit. Ours was the last Special Use Permit given out for Grand Canyon river running. A few years later the park converted to the current system of concession contracts and user-day allocations, basing allotments on historical use. We remain a small Grand Canyon company today because we had only a short time to establish our history of use. It is interesting to note that our first permit application was two pages long, filled out on the manual typewriter in the superintendent’s office. Our most recent concession application was hundreds of pages long and about four inches thick!
Some of our first customers were Sierra Club folks from southern California and Playboy Magazine. The Playboy people included the Playmate of the Year and other attractive professional models! The outcome of their trip was a full page ad in Playboy and other magazines targeted at “what kind of man reads Playboy?” CRATE ran six Grand Canyon trips in 1971. The cost was $345.00 per-person for a 9-day trip from Lees Ferry to Temple Bar. Because the original CRATE warehouse was in Salt Lake City, gear was hauled from northern Utah and back again to run each trip. Dave, Vicki, Walt Gregg, Stu Reeder, Bill Trevithick, Mondell Hebbert and other guides from the early days spent many nights sleeping along the side of the road between SLC and the Grand Canyon.
The Rivers and Expeditions
Colorado River & Expeditions started in 1971 with a permit in the Grand Canyon. A year-or-so later, we added Cataract Canyon, and Desolation Canyon. Later we acquired a Dinosaur National Monument permit from Jack Currey when he sold Western River Expeditions. We eventually sold our Dinosaur operation, but we have kept all of our other original permits. During the off-season CRATE has explored other rivers including three trips down the Usumacinta in southern Mexico, the Frazier River in Canada, and the Noatak River in Northwest Alaska. In 1978 we took a September trip down the Tatshenshini River in Southeast Alaska and were captivated by its wildness. We still run a trip on the Tatshenshini River every summer, and in 2010 we expanded to its sister river, the Alsek. We ran an exploration trip on the North Slope of Alaska down the Kongakut River in 1990 and still run charter trips there for groups. We have hand picked the river sections we have operated on over the last 40 years and feel very lucky to have them in our lives.
Celebrating 44 years in 2015
Colorado River & Trail Expeditions was founded because of a love of being on the river. That is still the case today. We continue to outfit rafting trips of exceptional quality with the best equipment, delicious meals, and superior customer service. We are especially proud and appreciative of the outstanding men and women who guide our trips. They are smart, fun, knowledgeable, experienced, and committed to the care and well-being of our passengers.