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 themhad
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. Thats 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
wouldnt like to stick around for the summer, maybe learn a little more about the
Thirty seven years later, hes 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. Hes also
one of the quietest. Do a trip with him and right away you find out he doesnt say
much. He doesnt MISS much, but he doesnt talk much either. Usually just a
sentence or two at a time.
He seems lonely in a way, a little distant from whatever group hes in,
and at first you wonder if maybe that isnt because of the many changes hes
seen and how different it all must be now from back when he began. After a while you get
the feeling thats 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, hes 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 wed do Cataract, Glen, Grand Canyon, and then depending on
the business and the water level and things like that, wed either go up and do
another Glen Canyon, or possibly two Grand Canyons. By then, youd be pushing into
the latter part of July or August. Then it typified going to Idaho, doing the Middle Fork,
the Big Salmon, Hells Canyon, or doing an exploratory. Georgie was into doing, going
and investigating, doing other things too. She did quite a bit in MexicoI went down
there with her in the early sixtiesand Alaska and things like that.
If you worked for Georgie, you didnt get paid during the summer at all,
but shed cover you for everything. And then at the end of the season, youd sit
down and have breakfast together, and shed put down a stack of bills and say
Thanks, this is what Ive 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. Thats how it went.
There was one timewe 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 dont have any money to pay you. And, I dont 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, thats 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 Expeditionsthe store/warehouse that is Macs nerve
center in Flagstaffand somewhere on the wall youll 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
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 peoplemaybe 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 Georgies... 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
And you guys were waving?
Right. So, you know, its 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
youd have to talk to Gaylord. I think the financial aspects of doing those kind of
trips were a little staggering. The money just wasnt 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 didnt have to portage or line. It just worked, you know. It was
Georgie Whites share the expense River Trips. And thats what it
was. I think the first trip I went on was a sixteen-day trip, it was three hundred
buckswhich 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 Georgies 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. Shed 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, whod 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 infrequenteven in the mid-sixties when Ron
and I were togetheryou just didnt see many people down there. I can remember
seeing Martin down there in his hard boats and his dory, along with. . . . I dont
know if it was P.T. Reilly or not, in another type of hard boatkind 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 Elves 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 didnt
do very well together. I can remember (laughs) all the flaring of tempers and information
that went on. You dont forget things like that.
Probably one of the funniest thingsit wasnt funny at the time at
all, but now its real funny when I look back at itand Ive 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, theyd meet them in
Richfield, Utah, and wed transport them in the back of a cattle truck or something.
Itd 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 intoI 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 wouldnt 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. Hed 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, hed 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 theyd rather be friends than partners, Mac just kept on going.
Its kind of like, you know, why be a schoolteacher? Youd like to
give something to kids, youd like to give something to somebody else. So that had a
lot of romance to it. It wasnt particularly... thats what makes some people
click, you know. Thats 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 theyd trade off and stuff, and have
this really action-oriented trip and feel like they were a part of the trip. Dont
ask me why nobody had thought about (laughs) the paddleboat. Like on our trips now, we run
paddleboats all the time. Its like a second generation of youth boats, and you can
actually get more people participating, they feel theyre a part of the trip, and
thats what a lot of people look for today.
But anyway, thats what Susie and I went after in 1970building 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 toin a
nonknowledgeable waybuild 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 doesnt
And again, on second thought, it doesnt matter,
because I couldnt 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. Im much better where
I am now. In the long run, its worked out just fine. I couldnt see that for a
long time. Id always felt kind of beat up.
The Park was in a
They had been caught by something that they
werent prepared to really manage yet. What happened was not fair, it was not
well-managed at the time. I dont feel good about it. But thats all over.
Thats a done deal. The only thing that maybe isnt 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, Im
going to be first in line with Grand Canyon Youth Expeditions! I wouldnt mind giving
it a shot. Well see. Its not a big problem with me now, other than its
important, just to me, personally, to watch and see what happens. Its a very old
idea with a lot of history.
Well why...? I guess we better not even get into what they might have
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 todayparticularly 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 thereparticularly
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. Its 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 didnt 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!) Its
hard to fathom knowing Glen Canyon intimately, then watching it go. Hard to fathom a time
in Grand Canyonand Mac talks about these things toowhen there were no tamarisk
trees and the beaches were huge when the water was low (and gone when it
wasnt). 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
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
probablybut they were really tuned-in to wanting to see this and having this
adventure. Now theyre inexperienced; theyre 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 didnt used to be quite
as important, because the people didnt 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
its 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
ones life. It wasnt 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
Im 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. Im 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, its
going to be a very, very special time of their life, and they should just enjoy that
period for what it iswhether it lasts a couple of years or thirty, because
theyll always be able to reflect back to it. I think thats kind of where
Im at, even though I spend much of my time behind the desk because of the
bureaucratic demands that come my way nowthats a part of the racketI
still have this place I can reflect back to. Its a very romantic place. Its 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, theyre
still over there. I occasionally hear from some of them.