Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Joy Staveley Interview - Flagstaff Convention and Visitors Bureau

A conversation with Joy Staveley, President of Canyoneers, Inc.

Give us some background on Canyoneers and your history with the company.

Canyoneers began in 1938 as Nevills Expeditions when Norman Nevills organized and led the first commercial trip down the Colorado River through Grand Canyon in small wooden rowboats called cataract boats. Norm and his wife Doris died in a private plane crash in 1949, and after that two of his boatmen, Frank Wright and Jim Rigg took over the company under the name of Mexican Hat River Expeditions. My husband, Gaylord, was a passenger on a 1956 river trip with Mexican Hat Expeditions. He told Frank he'd like to run some trips for them. Then, much to Gaylord's surprise, Frank offered Gaylord a partnership in the business! After the end of the 1957 season, Frank offered to sell his remaining interest in the company to Gaylord who accepted enthusiastically. In 1970 Gaylord put the small wooden rowboats aside, switched to the larger, rubber pontoon rafts, incorporated, and changed the company name to the present day Canyoneers.

I met my husband on a Canyoneers river trip in 1978. I was a passenger on a week-long river trip, and he happened to be on the trip escorting a writer who was doing a Grand Canyon story. Gaylord and I met in camp the first night out on the river. Halfway through the trip he told me he was going to marry me! I thought that was a "boatman's line" and didn't really believe him. The trip came off the river on a Saturday. I flew home the following Sunday. Monday morning, Gaylord phoned me at my work in Beverly Hills, Calif. and asked if I would meet him in Phoenix for dinner that night! I was a vice president and office manager for Coldwell Banker Escrow. I asked one of my staff if she would drive me to the airport so I could catch a flight to Phoenix that evening. After dinner, Gaylord officially proposed to me and I accepted! We were married a month later on the South Rim of the Grand Canyon overlooking the part of the Canyon where we first met. So you see, it was love at first sight for both of us. That was 32 years ago.

After about six months, I began working in the office with my husband and gradually started to learn the river running business and the politics of working under the National Park Service. I've done pretty much everything in the company except pilot a raft and fix a motor! I've handled reservations, purchasing, inventory control, bookkeeping, passenger orientations, equipment maintenance, river and warehouse operations and even Washington, D.C. lobbying. A little over a year ago, with my husband spending much of his time writing a book on Grand Canyon river running history, he transferred the title of President of Canyoneers to me while he remains Chairman of the Board. We really do make a great team!

What makes a Grand Canyon rafting trip so special?

There's really nothing quite like a Grand Canyon rafting trip. You can take a full or partial canyon trip (3 to 21 days) using either a motorized raft or a smaller oar-powered raft. But no matter the craft or the length of the trip, you will enjoy spectacular scenery, exciting rapids, great side-canyon hiking, beautiful waterfalls, natural pools and springs, Indian ruins, amazing archaeological sites, marvelous wildlife (big horn sheep, deer, ring tail cats, beaver, blue heron, the Canyon Wren, and so much more!) great camping on big sandy beaches, huge and hearty outdoor meals, brilliant starry skies, friendly, professional guides and great geology, history, archaeology, botany and biology lessons from your boatmen and women. And you get to enjoy this great outdoor wilderness adventure vacation in the Grand Canyon-one of the 7 wonders of the world! This is a World Class whitewater rafting trip.

What is your favorite part of a rafting trip?

My favorite part of our rafting trips is the scenery. There is nothing quite like seeing the Grand Canyon from the bottom, on the river. People come for the thrill of the rapids, but I think it's the scenery that stays with them for a lifetime.

Tell us about Flagstaff's connection to the rafting community.

Flagstaff has long been known as the base for numerous Grand Canyon rafting companies. Half of the Grand Canyon rafting companies, including Canyoneers, have warehouses in Flagstaff and many Grand Canyon river guides call Flagstaff their home. This is just natural, considering that the South Rim of Grand Canyon is just an hour and a half drive from Flagstaff. Flagstaff is an outdoor adventure community with longstanding ties to the Grand Canyon.

When you're not working, what are some of your favorite things to do in Flagstaff?

Most of my time is spent working. I am involved in a number of small business organizations in Flagstaff and at the State level and serve on several boards, so I don't seem to have much spare time. I used to enjoy skiing at Arizona Snowbowl when I was younger. Now I really enjoy taking advantage of some of the great lectures held at the Cline Library at NAU and taking in events at the Ardrey Auditorium when I can. I always enjoy taking my two German Shepherds out for walks, or just jogging by myself in the clean Flagstaff air under our spectacular blue skies. Dinner out with my husband at some of Flagstaff's fine restaurants is always a pleasure, as is our tradition of Sunday breakfasts at Brandys!

To learn more about Canyoneers, visit

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