About Us

Find out more about the oldest rafting
company on the Colorado River

THE CANYONEERS STORY

From Nevills to Nowadays

Norm Nevills, 1948

Clippings from the New York Times, July 1938

High, Wide, and Handsome: The River Journals of Norman D. Nevills

Joan on-river with her dad Norm Nevills

Gaylord and Joan Staveley with their sons
Cam and Scott

We trace our company’s beginnings as a river rafting outfitter back to Nevills Expeditions, the first to carry passengers for hire down the Colorado River through Grand Canyon.

The story began in 1934 at the little hamlet of Mexican Hat, Utah when a young ex-Californian named Norman Nevills decided to treat his new bride to a honeymoon trip down southeastern Utah’s rollicking San Juan River. It was a winter trip in a boat made of scrap lumber and it lasted only four days, but that was long enough for Norman to become afflicted with that mixture of awe and excitement river buffs now call “rapids fever”.

Norm, the son of a gold miner and wildcat oil driller, was then working part time for the Rainbow Bridge Monument Valley Expedition, which was exploring the area for national park status, and when one of its staff expressed interest in going down the river to see and photograph Rainbow Natural Bridge, Norm jumped at the opportunity.

In 1936 he built a boat nicknamed “The Horsetrough,” because, he said, the lumber came from an abandoned outhouse and Navajo horse-watering trough and in it he successfully rowed the expedition staffer and two other men down 191 miles of the San Juan and Colorado to Lees Ferry Arizona. The film of their trip was shown in the university communities in California, and resulted in a flurry of letters that in turn produced passengers for several more San Juan trips.

In 1938, Norm organized and led the first commercial trip down the Colorado River through Grand Canyon, for which he designed and built a new type of craft called a Cataract Boat. The 1938 expedition generated a great deal of national publicity and succeeding expeditions, each of which generated more interest in river expeditions as adventure vacations. During Norm’s lifetime his Nevills Expeditions carried scores of adventurous passengers down the San Juan, Green, Snake, Salmon and Colorado rivers. At the time of his death in a 1949 plane crash, Norm, then only 41 years old, was widely known as the World’s Number One Whitewater Boatman.

After Norm’s death his mother asked two of his boatmen, Frank Wright and Jim Rigg, to continue the expeditions. They did so, changing the company name to Mexican Hat Expeditions. They added motorized trips in express cruisers built by Jim and his brothers Bob and Jack, and for several years offered a choice of 6, 12, or 19 days by cataract boat or 5 to 7 days in motorized boats.

In the early 1950’s I had met and married Norm and Doris Nevills’s oldest daughter, Joan, and life-changing surprises had begun. Frank Wright, learning we wanted to write a book about the lives and times of Joan’s parents, invited me to go on the river trips to get some first-hand background. In 1956 I was a passenger on one of Mexican Hat’s seven day expeditions down the San Juan, and shortly after that, on their nineteen day cataract boat expedition through Grand Canyon. There were twelve in our 1956 group and at that time only about three hundred people had ever gone all the way through Grand Canyon by boat.

Along the way, Frank allowed me to row some of the easy rapids and afterward I told him I’d like to be a boatman — if he ever needed one from a thousand miles away. To my great surprise, instead of a trip or two he offered me a partnership in Mexican Hat Expeditions. I jumped at it, and after the 1957 season ended he offered to sell Joan and me his remaining interest, which put the Nevills company “back in the family”.

Gaylord & Joy Staveley on the river, 2006

Cam Staveley on the river

Expedition boats were designed to get explorers down the river, with passenger space a secondary consideration. In a cataract boat one of the two passengers sat on the bailing bucket behind the boatman and the other sat or laid on the stern deck hanging onto safety lines. From 1958 through 1969 we carried on the Nevills tradition, conducting wooden boat expeditions for ten to fifteen hardy passengers at a time. Seven of those years were on the pre-dam San Juan, Glen Canyon, and Grand Canyon.

By then, though, we had substantial competition in the form of several Nevills / Mexican Hat “alumni” who had begun making war surplus inflatable pontoons into “boats” that could carry more supplies and amenities, and larger groups at lower rates.

In 1969 we retraced Major Powell’s route of discovery down the Green and Colorado rivers and, to my delight, my narrative of the adventure, Broken Waters Sing, became a Book of the Month Club Alternate Selection. (Visit gaylordstaveley.com for more book details.) After the Powell Centennial Expedition we put our venerated cataract boats aside, and to stay with the times, updated from expedition river running to whitewater vacation trips, converted to pontoons, and changed our name to Canyoneers, Inc. Since my remarriage in 1978, Joy and I have focused on maintaining the company’s heritage and exceptionality. During those 40 years, she has worked reservations, customer service, accounting, marketing, purchasing, personnel, middle and upper management, and National Park Service relations.

Sincerely,

Gaylord Staveley
Founder and CEO, Canyoneers, Inc.

Joy Staveley
President, Canyoneers, Inc.

Canyoneers is now managed day to day by Norm Nevills’ grandson, Cam Staveley, and his wife Laurie Lee. Cam brings Canyoneers over 40 years experience in river operations management, and piloting and guiding more than 300 Canyon river trips; Laurie Lee brings over 30 years managing reservations and customer service.

Cam Staveley
Operations Manager

Laurie Lee Staveley
Reservations Manager

Meet Our Guides

Expect professional service from our trip leaders, guides and staff

OUR GUIDES & STAFF

Canyoneers’ Grand Canyon whitewater rafting trip leaders, pilots, and guides have one of the most diversely demanding professions available in today’s world.

Conducting a 225 mile passenger-carrying trip down the canyon-locked Colorado River involves technical, mechanical, paramedical, culinary, interpretive and leadership skills, plus responsibility for passengers, equipment, and self.

   Ethan

I started backpacking in Grand Canyon when I was nine years old. When I was eighteen I realized it’s a whole lot more comfortable to see all the amazing things in the canyon by doing river trips, so I started guiding. My favorite thing about the river trip experience is that each day you are only living in that day; there are no phones, calendars, emails, or schedules, and really not a whole lot to worry about except what to eat, see, and where to camp. Sharing that experience with folks from all different walks of life is what keeps me coming back each season.

   Justin

After 10 years guiding in California, Colorado, West Virginia and New Zealand I finally landed my dream job in Grand Canyon at Canyoneers 8 years ago. I love getting to share the absolutely awe inspiring scenery of the canyon either by motor or oar raft. Whether it be laughing at camp, hiking to a waterfall in a desert oasis, or running big whitewater, the Canyon offers the opportunity to be in the moment like few places on earth. Then add in some stories that are stranger than fiction, and the canyon comes alive with stories of people as large the Canyon itself – some past, a few present – that have left their undeniable mark on the Canyon. This is a trip that stands out in everyone’s life that is lucky enough to make it, come join us!

   Kolby

Guiding Canyoneers river trips allows me to share my passion for the Grand Canyon and help others to discover and appreciate the beauty and peace of this natural wonder. I love being part of the group dynamics on these adventures – how everyone becomes so connected during the trip. I enjoy telling stories about the people who have impacted the Grand Canyon, showing everyone the plants and animals of this unique environment, explaining the geology of the canyon, and of course driving the boat through some of the biggest whitewater in the world.

   Jason

The Grand Canyon encourages growth as a human. It accents your strengths and weaknesses as you bob down her whitewater, hike its side trails, and camp in an extraordinary cathedral. One of my passions for being down there is the biodiversity that occurs throughout the canyon and the multiple ecosystems we pass through on our journey down the mighty Colorado. The guests create the experience, because this is not only a vacation or a bucket list check off, it is a true adventure that includes everyone’s participation to have a successful expedition. Each and every trip is different. I continuously strive to learn more about Native American history & culture, past river runners history, the geological story, and the list goes on. Cheers!

   Erin

I started river guiding because I love the Grand Canyon. I love to share stories of human history and geology with passengers. My favorite place is National Canyon and all the canyons that’s have lots of fossils, I always enjoy a good fossil hunt. 

   Will

I love sharing a life changing and humbling experience down the Colorado River together, a journey that is usually filled with immense joy, inspiration, pushing oneself, and appreciation of natural beauty. I also enjoy sharing the hydrogeology and other natural sciences at play in the Grand Canyon, by experiencing and seeing it first hand together. These trips are an unique and exciting opportunity to experience a place so expansive and gorgeous together, uninterrupted by modern distractions, and bonding together as a family.

   Mac

I’ve had the distinct pleasure of working in Grand Canyon for over 15 years starting as a hiking guide, and spending the last 12 years running the Colorado through the canyon. I find great joy in watching my guests develop their appreciation of this wonderful place, and cherish the opportunity to frame this incredible experience for them. Not only does the Grand Canyon amaze and astound, it also offers tranquility, and a sense of humility rarely found in our busy world. Seeing strangers develop life long bonds, living in the moment, and genuinely caring for one another is the great joy of my career. I look forward to meeting you on our trip!

   Greg

I guide in Grand Canyon because it is my favorite place on the planet and because I have a passion to share my deep rooted, family Grand Canyon river running history with our amazing Canyoneers Inc. guests.

My grandfather Norman Nevills was the first commercial river runner in Grand Canyon and the first to take women down successfully in 1938. I row a wooden Cataract boat named the Sandra and the last Nevills Cataract built by grandfather in 1947. The Sandra is named after my mom and is a sporty, thrilling and historic ride which harkens back to yesteryear, each and every time I row her down stream. While rowing the Sandra I always feel that I am somehow honoring my family’s history, our DNA and my grandparents who were killed in an untimely and tragic plane crash in 1949. I invite you to come downstream to experience a piece of living history, adventure, and serenity with the Sandra and Canyoneers.

   Jay Jay

A desert child from birth, I discovered my passion for running rivers in the mountains of Colorado. Now returned to Arizona, Canyoneers has made my guiding dreams come true. I couldn’t be happier to call the Grand Canyon my office and share the two things I love the most with those willing to take on the adventure!

   Rachael

My first Grand Canyon river trip was in 2005, and it was life changing. When I realized I could do what I loved as a job, I have never wanted anything else. I am from Flagstaff, Arizona and love all that Arizona has to offer. The Grand Canyon and the Colorado river speak to my soul and make me feel at home. I look forward to every trip! I love the people I work with, and I love showing the grand Colorado to new people- I am so lucky to be able to share this place with others. I love the calmness and stillness in the mornings, I love being at the mercy of nature and learning to be one with it. I am passionate about anthropology & archeology and sharing information about the ancient peoples who had a presence in the Grand Canyon.

   Oliver

As a guide, my passion is to take people down the river and share this place that offers memorable experiences. The Grand Canyon is a place where historically people have built a community and still go on to do so. From the rapids to the side hikes, to the historical and geological details, the Grand Canyon continues to paralyze people with its beauty. I love working in one of the seven natural wonders of the world.

   Travis

Years of guiding has shown me that some folks join a Canyoneers trip in order to go to, and some to get away from. Just a few days in the Grand Canyon is a taste of life apart from the compulsions of our networked society: a taste of fresh desert air, of pre-Columbian night skies, of the staggering perspective of deep time looming above. It’s a flavor I never forget, and a treasure I love to share with our clients.

   Chris

My enthusiasm for Grand Canyon exploration began with a simple day hike out to Dripping Spring in 2004. I have since built a resume tallying over a thousand nights in virtually every corner of the Canyon in pursuit of various projects, including a rare 57 day end-to-end traverse of the Canyon in the fall of 2015. I have been a Canyoneer since 2018 and count myself among the privileged few whose passions and profession are one in the same. Backcountry hiking and the ancient people of Grand Canyon are my favorite educational topics, and I loves a good game of Kubb or frisbee on the beach after a day on the River. When not in the Canyon, I teach at an elementary school. I live in Flagstaff with my partner Velisha and our pets.

   Summer

Guiding with Canyoneers has changed my life in ways I didn’t imagine possible. There’s something about the canyon that connects people on the most fundamental human level. To share stories that seem stranger than fiction, to touch rock that predates life on Earth, to turn strangers into close friends in a matter of days, and to feel the cold grip of the Colorado through every rapid is one of the purest experiences of joy a human can have.

   Scott

Initially, I moved up to Flagstaff from my hometown, Tucson, to pursue a degree in Mathematics at Northern Arizona University, and enjoy an environment ripe with outdoor activities. In many ways, I feel that I stumbled upon the doorstep of the Grand Canyon as I quickly discovered that Flagstaff is the “hub” for exploring the Southwest. It’s not difficult to imagine how someone could fall in love with the Canyon; it’s vast amounts of rich geology, human history, natural beauty, and world-class whitewater are more than I could ever imagine. Truly, what makes my time spent on the river so satisfying is making connections with new people and seeing how the Grand Canyon can have such a positive effect on their lives… including my own!

   Connor

The Grand Canyon is truly one of the most amazing places on this planet, and I consider myself lucky to be able to work down here. Showing this place to all kinds of different people and watching them fall in love with the canyon just as I did is one of the best joys I take out of this job. The whitewater is big and fun, but it takes a backseat to the sheer majesty of the place. See ya down there!

TESTIMONIALS

“My second trip after a thirty year wait: What a unique place and concentration of natural beauty. Enjoyed the entertaining stories, great food, fun river companions and professional guides/crew. Nice side trips and hikes — informative trail and river history by pilots and guides. Will recommend for our kids and grandkids. Keep up the preservation efforts and economical access opportunity. P.S. Special thanks to Kolby, Jake, Heidi, and Brandon.”

~ Rob Strong, Full Grand Canyon motorized river trip

“We just concluded our trip on Saturday. It was one of the great experiences of my life. Caroline, Jake and Rachel did an extraordinary job and are consummate professionals. I have been in the Canyon 15 times since 1983, and this was clearly the most memorable and most enjoyable, and I will never forget it. Thank you for a superb trip.”

~ Tod Schleier, Full Grand Canyon motorized river trip

“I can hardly express my total satisfaction with my Grand Canyon experience on the Colorado! Your professional skill, and attitude made me feel so safe, and your teamwork with Jake, and Mark just added so much. I haven’t stopped raving about all of you and Canyoneers. I hope I will have the chance to come back to the Canyon again.”

~ Judy Wilson, Full Grand Canyon motorized river trip

“Thank you so much for providing a wonderful trip. The information provided regarding what supplies to bring was very helpful. The trip was well organized and expertly staffed. It is easy to see why Canyoneers, Inc. is the oldest and most respected company. The staff is friendly, helpful, professional and knowledgeable.”

~ Laurie & John Stockman, Full Grand Canyon motorized river trip

“Thanks for making this a truly unforgettable trip. My dad, brother and I could not have picked a better way to spend a week together. I will look forward to taking my two boys on this trip. P.S. Dave ‘the hiking guy’ was fantastic.”

~ Dave Swartz, Full Grand Canyon motorized river trip

“Canyoneers is a company with a great reputation of caring, and for providing a quality experience. The legacy of this company was with us each day by having the famous Nevills Cataract boat along on the trip. The quality of interpretation of the history and natural history of the canyon was superb. As you know, we‘re not strangers to the canyon, or a trip down the river. However, I know we can both safely say that of all the trips we have taken down the river, this was the most enjoyable and rewarding.”

~ Rob Arnberger (former Superintendent of Grand Canyon National Park 1994-2000), Full Grand Canyon oar river trip

GRAND CANYON ADVENTURES SINCE 1938

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