Dick McCallum


   In 1957, that summer, I went on my first Grand Canyon trip as a paying passenger.

   As it turned out, typical Georgie, she kind of eyeballed me when I got there. I was kind of a real tall, lanky kid. After the first day or so, I could tell something was going on, and she was getting me set for something. The fellow who was helping to run the triple-rig [three ten-man rafts tied together, also called a “thrill-boat”]—this was before the days she put any motors on them—had to leave that trip at the lower end. I think he was committed to a couple of weeks in the reserved armed forces. So I ended up running a boat out with Chet Bundy. That’s the first person I ever worked with down there, you know, on an actual boat.

   At the end of that trip, Georgie eyeballed him again and asked if he wouldn’t like to stick around for the summer, maybe learn a little more about the river.

   Thirty seven years later, he’s still here. Still learning.

   Ask people to describe Dick McCallum and the usual answer is “Mac? One of the nicest guys on the river...” Or anywhere else for that matter. He’s also one of the quietest. Do a trip with him and right away you find out he doesn’t say much. He doesn’t MISS much, but he doesn’t talk much either. Usually just a sentence or two at a time.

   He seems lonely in a way, a little distant from whatever group he’s in, and at first you wonder if maybe that isn’t because of the many changes he’s seen and how different it all must be now from back when he began. After a while you get the feeling that’s not really it, though. He was probably that way as a kid too. Which might explain why he ended up running a nonprofit company called Grand Canyon Youth Expeditions for as long as he did, and taking so many young kids along with him in the process; a solitary kid who lucked out a long time ago, he’s been somehow paying that back ever since.


   From 1957 through 1964, I worked for Georgie. In general, I would meet her up at Moab in May. Usually we’d do Cataract, Glen, Grand Canyon, and then depending on the business and the water level and things like that, we’d either go up and do another Glen Canyon, or possibly two Grand Canyons. By then, you’d be pushing into the latter part of July or August. Then it typified going to Idaho, doing the Middle Fork, the Big Salmon, Hell’s Canyon, or doing an exploratory. Georgie was into doing, going and investigating, doing other things too. She did quite a bit in Mexico—I went down there with her in the early sixties—and Alaska and things like that.

   If you worked for Georgie, you didn’t get paid during the summer at all, but she’d cover you for everything. And then at the end of the season, you’d sit down and have breakfast together, and she’d put down a stack of bills and say “Thanks, this is what I’ve got for you this year.” You might have a thousand bucks or eight hundred bucks or something after a season, in cash. And that would be it. That’s how it went.

   There was one time—we went through the season, we went to Alaska, did kind of an exploratory up there on the Copper River. We sat down to have breakfast in the airport, because we were all flying back, and Georgie said, “Well, Dick, we had a pretty good summer, but this is really expensive to come up here and do all this other stuff, and I don’t have any money to pay you. And, I don’t have any money to get you back, either.” So I spent a little extra time in Anchorage that year, figuring out how to get back.

   She was up front with me, but those were the times, that’s how things went. It was a little hard, you know, as a nineteen- or twenty-year-old to kind of understand some of that. But that was Georgie.

   Go into Expeditions—the store/warehouse that is Mac’s nerve center in Flagstaff—and somewhere on the wall you’ll find an old calendar photo with a wild looking snout boat plastered across the face of a big wave in Hermit. The boat has four single-oar rowing stations and a rear sweep mount. Two of the oars are manned by a couple of intent-looking characters in hard hats who turn out to be the Dierker boys, still in high school. Study that one awhile and you start to get a feel for the kind of energy the Youth trips had early on.

   For a quiet guy, old Neptune has definitely managed to round up his share of rambunctious kids over the years: Don Neff, the Dierkers, Mike Yard, Moody, Jim & Deb Hendrick, Gourley, Behan, Fritz, Dirk, Dugald, Dennis, Al Hayden, Tom Sheeley... the list goes on and on. Now even Martha Clark has signed up. The boats have changed but a certain spirit never has. Unchained exuberant YOUTH, if you will. Forever there in the bones of the company. All the more startling considering the outward personality of the man running the sweep on that one of a kind rig.


   She was a very, very strong person, and kind of hard-headed and a little stubborn. But at the time she needed to be, just to stick her foot in the realms of guiding.

   It was during a time when basically there was a lot of prejudice toward a woman even being down there, so you had the feeling if you worked for Georgie, you know, you were on one side, and if you were on the other side... This all changed later on, of course, as everybody got older. It all kind of changed. But originally, she had to be very committed to what she did.

   I think Georgie was in a little different place, anyway. First of all, she was an outdoorsperson, but she was also a city person. She lived in a lot of big cities, she was very, very attuned to people—maybe more of her interest was funneled into having fun with people, than the adventure of going through the Canyon. Even when she first got started ith Harry Aleson swimming the river and things like that, while she was going through some really difficult places herself, some of her really emotional places, because of the loss of her daughter....right away, she kind of switched over into this place of “the family.” It was more of a party atmosphere, which was real interesting, because during the time that I got started, we would be down there with fairly large groups, twenty to twenty-five people. And if you did run into anybody else, they would be smaller groups, maybe a lot more serious in nature about conquering the Canyon. And all those aspects (chuckles), compared to Georgie’s... we would be down there in her big boats and going by everybody when they were portaging around the rapids or lining their boats, or doing something. She just took it in a little different way, I guess, the whole adventure.

   You actually remember going by a Mexican Hat trip where they were portaging?

   Oh yeah!

   And you guys were waving?

   Right. So, you know, it’s hard to tell how that felt to, say, the passengers on their trip. I know how it felt to the passengers on our trip. ...I think you’d have to talk to Gaylord. I think the financial aspects of doing those kind of trips were a little staggering. The money just wasn’t happening. I mean, they swung clear the other way. But there are reasons, probably: for those folks, probably watching Georgie go down and be able to haul these larger groups with relatively lesser amounts of equipment and guides and the simplicity of the inflatables and stuff, the simplicity of the G-rig... It was big (chuckles), but it hauled a lot of people and it went through the Canyon and they didn’t have to portage or line. It just worked, you know. It was Georgie White’s “share the expense” River Trips. And that’s what it was. I think the first trip I went on was a sixteen-day trip, it was three hundred bucks—which was quite a bit of money in those days, but nothing compared to, say, what people were paying to go with anybody else. It was very, very oriented to the rich. And she was the first person to kind of open it up to just the average public.

   For a time there he was Georgie’s main crew member. He and Georgie would run the thrill boat on the little rivers, or split it into singles at stretches like the Middle Fork. She’d take the big G-Rig through Grand, while McCallum and a hearty volunteer (usually a fireman from L.A.) would bust a gut trying to catch up in the thrill boat. A couple years into it a youngster named Ron Smith came on board and started to be a regular along with Mac. Together, they actually began to get a handle on running that crazy little boat. They came to be friends in the process, and being young and exuberant, they started to get ideas. In 1964, as the gates of Glen Canyon Dam were closing, they built hard-hulled boats of their own and took off from Green River Lakes in Wyoming to make a documentary on running the whole dang thing one last time. Three months later they had to quit fairly high up in the Canyon so Mac could get back to school. But out of that trip came the will and the notion to start a company of their own. The next year, Grand Canyon Expeditions was born.

   In 1970 they decided to split the sheets and Mac, who’d been running a lot of Outward Bound trips, went on to form Grand Canyon Youth Expeditions.


   I can tell you a few Georgie stories. There are run-ins with people that you really remember. The encounters were very infrequent—even in the mid-sixties when Ron and I were together—you just didn’t see many people down there. I can remember seeing Martin down there in his hard boats and his dory, along with. . . . I don’t know if it was P.T. Reilly or not, in another type of hard boat—kind of on a private [trip]. I remember being down there with the jet boats on the up-run. That was in the early sixties. I remember them driving the boats up on the beach at Elve’s Chasm, because they were all punched full of holes and stuff, and letting the water run out. And seeing Bill Belknap and Buzzy and Doc Marston. Georgie and Doc Marston, they didn’t do very well together. I can remember (laughs) all the flaring of tempers and information that went on. You don’t forget things like that.

   Probably one of the funniest things—it wasn’t funny at the time at all, but now it’s real funny when I look back at it—and I’ve told this story before: the Boy Scouts from Beverly Hills.

   She used to do a lot of charter trips up in Glen Canyon, particularly when it got popular and people knew about it. So one year we had a whole group of Boy Scouts from Beverly Hills. What would happen on the Glen Canyon trips, they’d meet them in Richfield, Utah, and we’d transport them in the back of a cattle truck or something. It’d take all day long to get to Hite from Richfield. So Georgie had some drivers to pick them up and bring them in. Anyway, they got all these kids from Beverly Hills. There must have been twenty-five of them or so. So they got them to Hite, and these kids arrived with this mountain of clothing and stuff that had to be put into—I guess she must have been furnishing waterproof bags for them. Anyway, they had so much clothing that none of it would fit into their bags. And their moms had packed them a change of white underwear for every day.

   So Georgie started sorting. We built this mound of clothing. After the mound was made, she told them that there wouldn’t be any way to get their clothing transported to the end of the trip or anything, so she was going to have to get rid of all this clothing. So she ignited it (laughs) and burned up all this extra clothing, kind of in this little ritual. This, of course, was appalling to everybody...

   For years in the winters, he taught high school. He’d gotten into river running with a different assumption than the subsequent generation. When Mac started, you still had to have a real job too. Or something. Maybe he just wanted to be a teacher. (Maybe he knew he was going to need recruits and was looking for them even then.) Whatever it was, he’d been following a certain bent all along. During the years with Ron Smith, his inclinations had carried him into trips with Outward Bound. When Smith and he decided they’d rather be friends than partners, Mac just kept on going.

   It’s kind of like, you know, why be a schoolteacher? You’d like to give something to kids, you’d like to give something to somebody else. So that had a lot of romance to it. It wasn’t particularly... that’s what makes some people click, you know. That’s what makes them tick. I wanted to bring kids back and have them feel what I had felt, which had a tremendous impact on my life. And I wanted them to be involved, I wanted them to start feeling really good about themselves and participating. So GCYE, we built these tandem oar rigs. This was the only way I could figure out to get everybody involved, because they’d trade off and stuff, and have this really action-oriented trip and feel like they were a part of the trip. Don’t ask me why nobody had thought about (laughs) the paddleboat. Like on our trips now, we run paddleboats all the time. It’s like a second generation of youth boats, and you can actually get more people participating, they feel they’re a part of the trip, and that’s what a lot of people look for today.

   But anyway, that’s what Susie and I went after in 1970—building our own little company, more or less around the youth boats and the youth experience. Also running a few motor trips, actually, during that time, just to bring money into the company. Always trying to get a scholarship program going, trying to—in a nonknowledgeable way—build another Outward Bound School, but never having the money or wanting to take the risk to invest all kinds of money in something as elusive as what we call now the user-day system. One thing happened that kind of… None of the history or the size of GCE came over to this other company. So I was sitting there being told we would be able to expand, but we were never allowed to. All of this is a very complicated issue. A lot of things were said verbally.

   By the Park?

   Yeah. Now I do everything on paper (laughs) when I have to deal with the bureaucracy. It doesn’t… And again, on second thought, it doesn’t matter, because I couldn’t be happier, being small. I like being small, I like the personal nature of a small company. I kind of tried to go the other way. I’m much better where I am now. In the long run, it’s worked out just fine. I couldn’t see that for a long time. I’d always felt kind of beat up.

   The Park was in a… They had been caught by something that they weren’t prepared to really manage yet. What happened was not fair, it was not well-managed at the time. I don’t feel good about it. But that’s all over. That’s a done deal. The only thing that maybe isn’t a done deal now is special populations are back on the forefront again, and there are companies that would like to have a special permit for a special populations trip. It would be very interesting to see if they come up with a special allocation for special populations. If they do, I’m going to be first in line with Grand Canyon Youth Expeditions! I wouldn’t mind giving it a shot. We’ll see. It’s not a big problem with me now, other than it’s important, just to me, personally, to watch and see what happens. It’s a very old idea with a lot of history.

   Well why...? I guess we better not even get into what they might have been thinking...

   You do the best you can. We had to have some management. For me, the last years of the Glen were a real reminder that I can always reflect back on when places have management problems like the Grand Canyon today—particularly the rim areas of the Grand Canyon. They are having tremendous impact problems now, and management headaches. Glen Canyon in its last years had some interesting problems, in that all of a sudden, everybody in the country became aware there was going to be a dam there—particularly through the voice of the Sierra Club at the time. So there was a big influx of people down there in the Glen to see the last days. It got trashy, it got overused. It’s always reminded me of a place that was not being managed, that needed to be managed pretty quickly. But at the time, it was a foregone conclusion it was going to be gone anyway, so it didn’t matter, is what it amounted to. So it was an emotional time for me in that I was young enough that I stepped in and one of the most beautiful places I had ever seen in my life was already doomed. And that was sad. That was a very sickening feeling to me, inside, to lose a place like that. But there was nothing you could do, it was a goner.

   What a difference a decade makes. Or two. Or three. (Or four!) It’s hard to fathom knowing Glen Canyon intimately, then watching it go. Hard to fathom a time in Grand Canyon—and Mac talks about these things too—when there were no tamarisk trees and the beaches were huge when the water was low (and gone when it wasn’t). High water was 127,000 not 30,000 and you cleaned up dinner by loading your cans and bottles with rocks and winging them out in the river. Mac got that job because he had the best arm. The kitchen table back then was a blow-up wading pool and everything but eggs was out of a can and if you wanted an egg then you just went over and cooked it yourself.

   The people who came out first already had a lot of outdoor experience, they were real attuned, knew what to expect, were prepared for the worst, expected the worst probably—but they were really tuned-in to wanting to see this and having this adventure. Now they’re inexperienced; they’re coming out of a much more complicated society, and a much more complicated work place. And I think as a guide you need, you have to have real people skills. Your people skills didn’t used to be quite as important, because the people didn’t need as much then as they do now. I would say a lot of the people now are coming on a vacation of this type to kind of quote “recharge themselves” in order to go back to a very, very complicated world. So it’s almost like being in the therapy business, in a lot of ways. I think as a professional guide, you can do your job at a more healthy level if you can accept that as a given, that you can allow these people a real comfort zone for a couple of weeks so they can go back to wherever they came with new energy.

   Being a guide is kind of a tricky little thing right now, in terms of one’s life. It wasn’t as tricky for me. I just stepped into this, and then as I stepped through it, I stepped into a place where I could actually own a company. And then I’m just going down the road. Now, for a young person coming into guiding, you can get some of the same feelings and energy of working with people, being with people, some of the adventure. You can get some of these same things, but the ability... To insert yourself into guiding, and then pull yourself back out into another stream of life is much more difficult. I’m always finding myself saying, when some young person comes in and is wanting to get into the business, I find myself telling them that no matter whether they do this for a year or two years or ten, or in my case over thirty years, it’s going to be a very, very special time of their life, and they should just enjoy that period for what it is—whether it lasts a couple of years or thirty, because they’ll always be able to reflect back to it. I think that’s kind of where I’m at, even though I spend much of my time behind the desk because of the bureaucratic demands that come my way now—that’s a part of the racket—I still have this place I can reflect back to. It’s a very romantic place. It’s a real special place.

   I definitely have an emotional attachment to the Grand Canyon. It got me out of L.A. It opened a new world. My buddies that I grew up with in high school, they’re still over there. I occasionally hear from some of them.

Lew Steiger