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Business Happenings - June 2003

Bons Voyages with Canyon Voyages
by Annabelle Numaguchi

Canyon Voyages
211 N. Main Street
(435) 259-6007
or (800) 733-6007
email: Check out their website at

When I first arrived in Moab three years ago, my then-fiancee and I were planning our upcoming wedding celebration that included our closest family and friends, none of whom lived here and many of whom had never visited. So we wanted to give them an overview of the reasons we’d chosen to move to Moab, which included the beauty of the Colorado River. Since we were new to the area, we asked friends and co-workers, particularly avid river rats, which company they recommended to organize a trip down the river. Without exception, the name we kept hearing was Canyon Voyages, owned and operated by Don and Denise Oblak. Three years and several trips later, I realize why they were everyone’s number one choice.

We spent the day before our wedding with thirty companions paddling down the winding river walled in by ochre cliffs and spring green tamarisk. The excursion included four duckies, which are two-person inflatable kayaks, and a pair of multi-person rafts each rowed by a fabulous, friendly guide who talked us through moderate rapids, invited us to jump in the refreshing river and prepared a large sumptuous lunch on a warm sandy beach halfway down the stretch. The views of sienna buttes, herons and azure skies made us pleased we’d picked this place as our new home and proud to share it and show it off to our friends.

The trip was such a success that when we finally docked on shore we were reluctant to end the party. After our guides dropped us off at home, we popped open some pre-wedding champagne and cold beer, lounged in the grass shaking out the sand still clinging to our arms and legs. We invited our delightful guides to join us and much to our enjoyment, they did. How can you not have fun on a trip when the people organizing it are having such a good time too.

And our guides were not only spending the summer working at a job they loved, but also for a company they loved. Canyon Voyages has a stellar reputation among tourists and employees alike, and that’s mostly due to the wonderful personalities of Don and Denise. They run the business with corporate efficiency while retaining all the warmth and affability of a family-run operation.

Canyon Voyages came into existence in 1991 just prior to the boom in eco-tourism in this area. Don and Denise had friends in Moab, whom they would visit often when on vacation from their corporate jobs in Arizona. Once they decided to move here, it seemed a fairly clear choice to open a river guiding and retail store because they knew and loved the river so well.

They arrived in Moab Beverly Hillbilly-style; all their belongings including two dogs and a bird precariously piled on top of one bus and one van. Denise describes this time as “our leap of faith” in quitting careers with dependable salaries and benefits to start a business that floated on the back of the Colorado and a great deal of luck.

The boom in tourism did arrive in Moab shortly after Don and Denise and it has kept them not only afloat, but thriving. The building that originally housed Canyon Voyages had about 800 square feet of space and soon became too small to house their expanding business. Once they had jumped on the opportunity to acquire a Westwater permit, which allows them to run trips along an excitingly treacherous section of rapids, they needed to consolidate their organization and did so by purchasing their current location, formerly a gasoline station (whose only remnants are the exterior restrooms).

Don and Denise employ around twenty people, including the river guides, kayak instructor, retail staff and themselves. Despite the different skills everyone has, the common traits they all share are friendliness and professionalism. The staff knows the river running trade well and there is no better place to go to inquire about gear, plan rafting trips or learn how to maneuver kayaks. Don and Denise avidly welcome everyone, from novices to experts, from locals to international tourists.

Denise has even taken French lessons to be able to greet a wider range of visitors and wish a heartfelt bon voyage before a trip. Canyon Voyages has often had a native German speaker on board for those who feel more reassured by gute reise, expressing the same send-off for a good trip. Regardless of what language is spoken, the trips are always wonderful.

As for the variety of trips offered, there is something for everyone, including visitors who want to do more than just paddle. One and two day adventure trips include four-wheeling, biking and hiking as well as the expected river trip. And the backcountry land tours skip the river altogether. Of course, the most popular trips Canyon Voyages offers are the ones navigating the Colorado and Green Rivers.

Rentals and retail gear available in the beautiful storefront also allow experienced paddlers to plan their own excursions. And for the not-so experienced, Canyon Voyages offers ACA certified kayak instruction so anyone can learn to “roll” through this rock country. They are currently developing kayak touring trips which even novices will be able to enjoy.

Another big draw to Canyon Voyages is the amazing array of top-of-the-line gear and fashionable outdoor wear. The bright airy store carries Columbia Sportswear, Chaco Sandals, Woolrich and other well known outdoor brands. They offer a large array of trendy, yet functional, styles such as swimsuits, shorts, jackets and footwear in adult and kid sizes. They also offer boating gear brands such as NRS, Dagger and Lotus Designs for all river running equipment, from life jackets to helmets to boats.

My experience with Canyon Voyages has come full-circle. The other night, my husband and I were having dinner with friends who were planning their upcoming nuptials much in the same manner as we did. When they started mulling over ideas for taking their friends on a river trip, we immediately recommended Canyon Voyages and recounted our outstanding experience. Not surprisingly, our friends response was, “Oh yeah, someone else just recommended them too.”

Canyon Voyages is located 211 N. Main Street and can be reached at (435) 259-6007 or (800) 733-6007 or email: Check out their website at

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