Meet Natali Zollinger, Utah & Colorado Rafting Guide
Natali Zollinger is one of our top river guides in Utah & Colorado.
Working primarily in Dinosaur National Monument, she gets to enjoy the Yampa River, Green River through the Gates of Lodore, Split Mountain 1-day trips and many more. Zollinger has a spunky personality, mountains of geological knowledge, and sheer flower power on the river. Get to know this easy going Utah native in our regular series of guide interviews.
What water level do you enjoy rowing most, and what makes Utah watersheds unique?
I think the coolest thing about Utah, is that you have a scale of Class I to Class VI all within a 150-200 mile radius. You have extreme desert where there’s very little vegetation, to the Gates of Lodore where it’s a narrow stretch with clear water and tons of wildlife so you can kind of pick and choose. What’s really great about being here in Utah is starting in one place, and through your whole season you bounce around to different rivers and then come back to that same place. You can go from Cataract Canyon to Westwater, to Desolation Canyon to the Green River, to the Yampa River to the San Juan and meet a lot of different people because they’re choosing that adventure. When you’re always on one river, you’re seeing that same group of people, but when you’re bouncing around from a lazy river to a Class V river, it’s cool to see the variety in people.
What does the job mean to you?
The biggest thing for me is meeting a bunch of people and being able to have a lot of conversation that provides you with connections all over the world. It’s really cool to say that you have friends all over the place and that you’ve all shared a connection on the river. What keeps me going is running a rapid and having the adrenaline completely fill me up, there’s nothing better; it’s free drugs, it’s awesome! I think that’s what keeps me going as well as just being very physical all day and having that challenge and just working really hard, being at the end of the day completely exhausted — it (weirdly) helps me keep going.
What individual thing would you say inspires you the most?
I had a brother pass away approximately 12 years ago, he was an outdoor enthusiast who loved and seeked adventure; he was an extremist. When he passed away, I vowed to myself that I would live the life that he would’ve lived. So when I’m on the river or when I’m out hiking, climbing, biking, (things like that), I just consider him and think that he’s with me and we’re both able to do what he would’ve done if he were alive. We both live his life, it’s kind of cool.
What’s something you can’t leave home without?
My flowers [laughs], I’ve got a bouquet of flowers that I started doing my second year [guiding], and it sits on the front of my boat – it’s a maiden head. And it’s progressed from a bouquet of bird of paradise to a bouquet of carnations to — a couple years ago — changed to poppies. I’ve found that poppies are my power flower! And also turquoise [shows her turquoise pennant]; I always make sure to wear turquoise on the river.
Can you share a story where you’ve had a unique interaction with wildlife while on the river?
‘Skunkito bandito’ got us one night. We’re sitting there asleep on the boats, and the skunk travels up to the cooler and hops off on one of the guides — checking him out, looking him in the eye — until the guide was fed up with it. So we got out our water guns, so next time we’d be ready. An hour later he comes over and we get the water guns and squirt him, but he flips into the front of my boat and gets into the front hatch! I then open up the hatch, and there’s this pink sphincter looks right at us, we thought he was going to spray, but he didn’t, he was scared. Then I got a stick and tried to get him out, but he kept nuzzling up against it like a cat. I realized he probably didn’t know how to get out, so I made him little steps. He then went up to shore, so we went back to sleep, but woke up with him still there only to find that he pooped all over the front of my boat. We tried to wash it out, but the poop just went to the sides and into the back. The next day my whole boat stunk, and since we were in an eddy, the whole boat next to us stunk, too, so we got shunned a couple miles back from the rest of the group because we smelled so bad [smiles].