A HISTORY OF TWO GREAT RIVER RUNNERS
IN THE BEGINNING THERE WAS BUS
THE DUSTY DOZEN AND THE GRAVEYARD OF THE COLORADO
Vernal, UT 1926—Prominent Vernal building contractor, Bus Hatch, enlisted his brothers and cousins to build a wooden boat and set out for the Green River, in what is now Dinosaur National Monument, to explore its mysterious canyons.
FRIENDS AND FAMILY MEMBERS THOUGHT THEY WERE CRAZY
It took a few tries to get the boat just right, but after some near-disasters, such as losing all of their provisions, the “Dusty Dozen,” as Bus and his group had been aptly named, found the right design.
Two more wooden boats were constructed, bringing the fleet up to a total of three. The boats were named, “What’s Next,” “Who Cares,” and “Lota Ve.” The latter was named after the daughter of Alton Hatch, brother to Bus, as Alton had financed the construction of this third boat.
Having conquered the Green River and Yampa River, the “Dusty Dozen” moved on to try other seemingly treacherous river canyons, including Cataract Canyon, known as the “Graveyard of the Colorado”.
This group had the distinction of being among the first one hundred people to attempt a descent of the Grand Canyon and also one of the first parties to complete a descent of the Middle Fork of the Salmon River in the Idaho wilderness.
HATCH RIVER EXPEDITIONS LAUNCHED!
AMERICA’S FIRST RIVER RUNNING COMPANY FORMED IN VERNAL
Vernal, UT 1929—Word of Bus Hatch and his crew of adventurers was getting around as more and more parties of surveyors, engineers, fishermen, hunters and just plain thrill seekers sought out Hatch to take them down the rivers.
He was also beginning to realize these people would actually pay him for his services and river running expertise and he could supplement his income as a carpenter and still do the thing he had come to love so dearly.
Thus, in 1929, Bus established Hatch River Expeditions, America’s first commercial river running company!
THE BATTLE FOR ECHO PARK
RAFTING SHOWCASES ALL THAT WILL BE LOST IF DINOSAUR NATIONAL MONUMENT DAMS GO AHEAD
1950’s—During the 1950s, one of the biggest conservation battles in the West erupted, when two dams threatened to flood the canyons of Dinosaur National Monument. David Brower, executive director of the Sierra Club, led the charge against the proposed dams and Bus Hatch guided him and many others down the canyons of Dinosaur National Monument.
Watch 62 Years, a short film by Logan Bockrath about Ken Brower’s 1952 river trip down the Yampa and Green with his father.
FIRST RIVER CONCESSION PERMIT IN THE COUNTRY GRANTED TO HATCH
Vernal, UT 1953—The first concession permit in Dinosaur National Monument, and what is believed to be the first river concession permit in the country, was issued to Bus’ Hatch River Expeditions in 1953. Permits for other rivers were to follow.
SEARCH FOR PARADISE
DON & BUS HATCH MAKE FIRST DESCENT OF INDUS RIVER IN PAKISTAN. ONE SOUL LOST.
1956—Bus Hatch was contacted by radio personality Lowell Thomas to navigate the Indus River in Pakistan for Thomas’ Cinerama film, “Search for Paradise.”
Bus and his son, Don, flew to Pakistan with a ten-man raft and a large pontoon.
The stretch of the river selected for filming had never been successfully navigated.
THE RAPIDS ON THE INDUS WERE BIGGER THAN ANY THAT BUS OR DON HAD EVER ENCOUNTERED
There were many anxious moments and one member of the film crew was lost in the turbulent waters. The film led to more exposure for the Hatch Family.
SAYING FAREWELL TO A RIVER RUNNING ICON
Vernal, UT 1967—Bus Hatch passed away following a long illness. Sons Don and Ted continued to run the family business until 1977 when they split Hatch River Expeditions into two companies with Don forming Don Hatch River Expeditions and Ted continuing to run trips in the Grand Canyon through Hatch River Expeditions.
UCLA STUDENT FINDS TRUE CALLING IN THE TWISTS AND TURNS OF GLEN CANYON
1962—In the summer of 1962, OARS founder George Wendt took his first rafting trip down the Colorado River through Glen Canyon. Awestruck by the phenomenal beauty of the canyon’s many narrow corridors, the 10-day trip left a lasting impression on him.
After this initial journey through Glen Canyon, he and his friends began exploring other western rivers. The more he saw, the more it became clear to him that he wanted to bring people into the wilderness and share with them his passion for wild river canyons.
YAMPA RIVER NEAR MISS
MASSIVE DEBRIS FLOW CREATES WARM SPRINGS RAPID: WEST’S LARGEST
June 10, 1965—While on a Yampa River rafting trip in Dinosaur National Monument, George Wendt and a group of rafting enthusiasts narrowly escaped a massive debris flow and witnessed the creation of Warm Springs Rapid, which is now considered one of the West’s biggest. Read More.
Knowing he was fortunate to have survived the historic flash flood, this event stuck with George throughout the years. Right after that fateful Yampa trip, George and friend Bruce Julien met up with Ted and Don Hatch for a commercial Grand Canyon rafting trip. It was George’s first journey down the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon and he knew immediately he wanted to run it himself so he spent the next several summers running every river he could to gain experience.
GOOCH-WENDT AND THE BEGINNING OF OARS
1967—Finally, in the summer of 1967, George got his chance to do the Grand Canyon (he was teaching middle school math at the time, which afforded him the luxury of having summers off). He set out with a small group, including fellow teacher and river runner Ed Gooch who brought his experience of rowing for river icon Georgie White to the trip. It was a private trip, but they called themselves “Gooch-Wendt.”
By 1969, their private trips turned into professional trips, and George’s dream of taking commercial passengers down river came to fruition. The two friends established Gooch-Wendt Expeditions and began running outfitted trips on the Colorado and San Juan Rivers in Utah, the Stanislaus, American, and Merced Rivers in California, and the Rogue River in Oregon.
Shortly thereafter, the company was selected as the first exclusively oar-powered rafting operator in Grand Canyon National Park, and was renamed OARS (Outdoor Adventure River Specialists).
It wasn’t long before George quit his job as a middle school math teacher and devoted himself full time to running river trips. In 1972, George and his wife, Pam, took over full operations of OARS and in 1974, moved the company to the small California town of Angels Camp, just miles away from the popular Stanislaus River, where they began offering more 2-day California trips in addition to their multi-day expeditions throughout the American West.
STANISLAUS CANYON LOST!
1983—Despite a hard-fought battle and one of the most controversial dam projects in American history, the spectacular Stanislaus canyon was drowned beneath New Melones Reservoir. Rather than close the doors and relocate, George took that loss as further motivation to look elsewhere and expand OARS’ trip offerings on other rivers throughout the U.S. West. Not only that, the loss of “The Stan” became the galvanizing force behind his involvement to help get California’s Tuolumne River federally designated as Wild & Scenic. Read More.
GRAND CANYON DORIES FOUNDER PASSES TORCH TO GEORGE WENDT
1988—Martin Litton, a fierce environmentalist and founder of Grand Canyon Dories, turned to George to carry on the legacy of dory trips in the Grand Canyon. Martin knew George as a longtime conservationist who like himself had fought to help protect the Grand Canyon from dams in the 1960’s and had now been guiding oar-powered commercial river trips on the Colorado River for nearly twenty years. George happily signed on, and in 1988 Grand Canyon Dories became part of the OARS Family of Companies.
RAFTING COMES TO FIJI
1998—By the late 90’s, OARS had expanded beyond river trips to offer guided sea kayaking, hiking, and multi-sport adventures all over the world. In 1998 Nate Bricker, OARS’ general manager, proposed a venture on the Upper Navua River in Fiji and with George’s support, Nate and Kelly Bricker set up Rivers Fiji to offer low-impact commercial whitewater rafting trips on the Upper Navua River. By the fall of 2000, Rivers Fiji—together with nine local land-owning clans, two villages, a logging company and a government entity —would establish the Upper Navua Conservation Area, providing long term protection for the river and providing indigenous communities more than $1 million through lease payments, trip fees, guide pay and financial contributions. Watch the film, River of Eden by Pete McBride.
DON HATCH RIVER EXPEDITIONS JOINS OARS FAMILY
2007—Following Don Hatch’s death in 1994, his widow, Meg Hatch, continued to run Don Hatch River Expeditions until 2007 when she turned to George Wendt to carry on the Don Hatch Legacy. In 2008, with blessings from the National Park Service, Don Hatch River Expeditions became a part of the OARS Family of Companies.
OARS FAMILY OWNED AND OPERATED SINCE 1969
Despite its ongoing growth and the many accolades for the family-owned company, OARS remains true to its conservation roots. One trip at a time since the company’s inception, in partnership with its guests, OARS has contributed more than $5 million toward the protection and preservation of the environment and to various conservation initiatives in the areas where it operates.