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Earth Notes: Ancient Wayves, Modern Tours

San Juan River
Ancient Wayves
River and Hiking Adventures
San Juan River

Navajo and other Indigenous peoples have inhabited the Colorado Plateau for many lifetimes, but you wouldn’t know it by looking at the region’s tourist economy. Less than 1% of registered river guides in the United States are Indigenous. The first Navajo-owned river guiding company on the Navajo Nation is working to change that.

It’s owned by Louis Williams, who had his first rafting experience at age 18 on southern Utah’s San Juan River. The trip didn’t take him far from home in miles, but it opened a new life pathway for him.

On that early river trip, Williams learned how to read the river, and how to pick the proper rowing techniques for currents. He strengthened his relationship with the environment. And he decided he wanted visitors to experience how to connect with the natural world through a Navajo lens, just as he learned through rafting.

Williams founded an outfitter called Ancient Wayves in 2020 to offer rafting, hiking, and photography tours of the San Juan River and Bears Ears areas. It employs guides who are Navajo, Hopi, Zuni, and Ute.

For many clients, it’s a first opportunity to learn about the Colorado Plateau from an Indigenous point of view. Williams and his crew share Native plant names, and stories about their ancestral ties to the area. Trips often wrap up with traditional foods like blue corn mush, roast mutton, and “three sisters” meals featuring corn, beans, and squash. The take-home message is: visitors can best learn about a place from those who are at home there.

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