Regan Dale has been guiding river trips in Grand Canyon since the early-1970s. In that time, the legendary dory guide—and former OARS Grand Canyon Dories manager—has been on the leading edge in the evolution of the river trip. From disorganized floating camping trips without basic amenities—like tables—to today’s operations where steak and ice cream aren’t uncommon riverside fare, Regan Dale was a force behind many of the advancements.
“When I first started working on the river, we didn’t have coolers, we didn’t have tables, we didn’t have chairs, we didn’t have a water purifier, we didn’t have tents,” Regan says. “All these things have evolved.”
Regan became manager of OARS Grand Canyon Dories shortly after famed conservationist Martin Litton sold the company to OARS’ founder George Wendt in 1988. George and Regan agreed that trips needed upgrades and changes were implemented almost immediately. From the type of boats to the way guides packed and prepped, everything about oar-powered Grand Canyon river trips transformed.
Early on as a manager, Regan helped design and acquire new inflatable self-bailing rafts that could handle increased loads and big coolers. He worked with West Coast boat builder Wing Inflatables. The price was high, and George kept a close eye on the overhead and questioned Regan about the cost. But ultimately the whole OARS Grand Canyon fleet became Wing boats—many of which are still in use to this day.
“George was great. I really liked George,” Regan says. “He didn’t micromanage me at all. He trusted my opinion. We got along great. He was a good friend. He and I were really close.”
There were other places in the operation where the OARS founder was more involved. OARS introduced the now signature chair-circle in the early 2000s. That came as a directive from George himself.
“He and a bunch of friends had done either a Lodore trip or Salmon River trip and they all had chairs,” Regan remembers. “They sat around talking in a circle every night. He came off that trip and said, ‘Regan, I think we should have chairs.’ I said, ‘Absolutely. If you want chairs, we’ll get chairs.’ I was all for it. But the guides were not happy at first. It was just another thing they had to carry. I said, ‘Well, I’m sorry, but this is the direction we’re going.’ And we did. Every passenger now has a chair. It’s a great social event. OARS started that in Grand Canyon and every other company followed suit.”
The changes under Regan’s management continued with new tents, tables, new cooking equipment, new toilet facilities, water purification, heavy duty dry bags and upgrades to dory construction. The evolution didn’t stop with gear. Regan organized the Grand Canyon Dories Flagstaff warehouse, which was new to the company at the time, so crews could pack and unpack quickly. At one point, the warehouse was handling around 150 trips in a year-round schedule, including close to 100 science and research trips.
“It took a while to convince [George] sometimes that we needed to spend the money to make his trips better,” Regan says. “But he almost always agreed and it worked. OARS became the gold standard in Grand Canyon that everybody else is trying to catch up to.”
Photos: Regan Dale guiding a Grand Canyon trip in 2022 – Dylan Silver; Regan Dale in his early days of guiding – John Blaustein; Regan Dale guiding a dory in Grand Canyon – John Blaustein; OARS’ signature chair circle – Josh Miller