Moab Happenings Archive
Return to home

Business Happenings - May 2004

Tag-A-Long Expeditions
452 North Main Street
Moab UT 84532

Tag-A-Long Expeditions 40th Anniversary
The town of Moab has history of Ute occupation, Mormon settlement, mining booms, mountain bike magnet and inspiring National Parks. Relative to this history is the forty year existence of Tag-A-Long Expeditions.

The founder, Mitch Williams, was born to Moab’s first doctor. The doctor, ‘Doc Williams’, was sixty years old when his youngest son Mitch was born. Doc lived to 103. Doc traveled cross-country by horse to attend the ill and injured. Occasionally, his patients included a member of the Wild Bunch Gang. He was instrumental in lobbying for re-designation of Arches National Monument to Arches National Park. In Doc’s retirement he walked in the desert, hitching rides back into town. He never did drive a vehicle. Mitch was well aware of the intricate canyon systems through his father.

In 1964, land was set aside to create Canyonlands National Park. Mitch understood visitors would be intimidated by this remote land and offered his local knowledge of the area to navigate the backcountry. At first, drivers would “tagalong”, following Mitch’s lead. Soon visitors preferred to ride with Mitch to enable them to hear more stories about the region. By the 1970s river outfitting was growing from the legendary journeys of Grand Canyon adventurers of the previous decades, like Utah’s own Norm Nevills of Mexican Hat, Utah, and Bert Loper of Green River, Utah.

Mitch and his wife Mary were so personable, thankful European visitors invited them to their home places to return the hospitality and this developed a successful trend for Tag-A-Long Tours. European travelers sought Tag-A-Long for guided experiences in Canyonlands National Park. Technology had developed telex in the early 1980s, which existed in city centers, but not in rural places like Moab. A company in Portland accepted the reservations from Europe for Tag-A-Long and noted the popularity of the raft, jetboat and land tours. In fact, the Portland people were interested in buying out Mitch when he and Mary decided to retire.

Enter Robert Jones and Paul Niskanen. When ‘Bob’ Jones became owner/operator, he varied the name to Tag-A-Long Expeditions. He had to learn the river skills from the employees. While the building remains as an historic caliper, an astonishing landmark for visitors returning with new generations in tow and a classic boomtown construction among the modern new comers, the gear is continually updated.
A custom raft, affectionately called the Super J was designed to provide the comfort and durability of a raft and attain the speed near that of a jetboat to enable as short as one day Cataract Canyon river trips. This 95 mile journey requires six days to row it and a motorized raft to undertake fewer days. More commonly enjoyed are four day Cataract Canyon raft trips. The longer the river trip, the more refreshing is the experience as you depart the clamor of the populated planet.

Self-bailing rafts made the scene in the late 1980s. Many companies clung to the ‘bucket boat’ as new fabrics were failing the designs of inflated floors. Then the boat maker Maravia had charismatic J.J. McCloud selling and he repopulated the boat stacks of Moab. More commonly in Utah, river stretches are rowed by the river guide. Fact is: Utah has lengths of flatwater integrated with the rapids. Many visitors may anticipate a river trip seen in a Mountain Dew commercial. This is not an alpine environment with gradient so muscle is applied to make way downstream. After making this clear, Tag-A-Long Expeditions does offer paddle trips.

Touring kayaks have been added to the inventory of canoes offered for outfitting self-guided flatwater river trips. Tag-A-Long offers jetboat shuttle services and gear rentals to canoeists paddling to the heart of canyonlands and jetboat shuttle services to well-conditioned mountain bike riders able to tackle 20-60 mile rides. The jetboats are astonishing as are the guides who maneuver them. You only have to look at the history of craft like the steam powered Major Powell who lost the propellers on a gravel bar in 1891.

The steamer Undine punched a hole in the haul on the maiden voyage and eventually capsized in riffles above Moab in 1901. Another attempt for commercial boating was in the City of Moab. It ran on gasoline and two propellers. It first stuck on the railroad bridge for two days below the town of Green River. It stuck on many gravelbars and could not negotiate the swift current of The Slide on the Colorado River to up-run to Moab in 1905. It turned back, spending two days on the same gravel bars and was abandoned at the San Rafael River. A man salvaged the City of Moab. Renamed it Cliff Dweller. Altered it to a steam powered stern wheeler and still no success. The Ccliff Dweller wound up cruising the Great Salt Lake. There was lull, but by 1925 there was an oil boom and the Moab Garage ran boats for 6 or so years hauling oil company equipment on a barge powered by a Ford engine and some other craft with outboard motors. The sandbars remain a challenge for operators and are never to be underestimated.
Air conditioned Ford Excursions and crewcab truck round out the fleet for land tours.

Land tours into Canyonlands National Park access beautiful vistas, walks to petrified wood, rock art , ruins, arches, overlooks and arresting points of interest. These tours generate conversations to showcase the knowledge of the Tag-A-Long Guide.

And while, Tag-A-Long was the last company to adopt stoves for meal preparation on the longer trips. It was due to increasing fire bans over the years. An open fire to boil water, flip pancakes, grill succulent meats was part of the atmosphere of a trip with Tag-A-Long Expeditions.

Whether a four hour tour, day trip or camping for days in canyon country, guided raft, jetboat and four-wheel-drive tours by Tag-A-Long Expeditions will draw the visitors closer to understanding the intricacies of the region. The Forty years of intense focus on this region makes a significant difference in the quality of your trip. You are in Moab, so stop at the office at 452 North Main Street, let our friendly office personnel introduce you to the myriad of possibilities for activities during your visit to Moab, Canyonlands and Arches National Parks and the surrounding hinterlands. You may also telephone 259-8946.
Return to Archive Index
return to home
Return to home