One of NAVTEC Expeditions boats navigates the Colorado River. Pictured here, a specially designed watercraft to make the most of the white water. Photo courtesy of NAVTEC Expeditions

To say that the Colorado River runs through John Williams’ veins is not an overstatement. For more than 100 years, Williams’ family has explored, developed and defined many of Moab’s canyonlands and its waters.

John’s often revered grandfather, J.W. Williams, Moab’s first doctor, began the family’s love for Moab in 1896 – he was known as the father of Arches National Park for his commitment to the park’s development. And, John’s parents founded Tag-A-Long Expeditions, a river and wilderness tour company, in the early 1960s – “the river is in our blood,” said Williams.

Williams ran his first commercial river trip when he was 16. That was 50 years ago, and he is still in the water.

“Back then you didn’t need a boatman’s license to run the river,” said Williams, who bought the American River Touring Association (ARTA) Moab operation in 1987 and began NAVTEC Expeditions, a land and river adventure tour company.

“We are committed to a minimum impact to land, river and sea. We have a long family tradition of protecting the natural world. There’s no Johnny Come Lately here – we’re the real river deal.”

When Williams began NAVTEC, he did so under one condition – he had to build his own boats. Thus, NAVTEC, which stands for navigation technologies, is one of the only companies, in Moab or anywhere, utilizing a Williams’ designed Rigid Hulled Inflatable Boat (RHIB). The boat’s design is a combination of raft and motorized craft, “a very competent craft,” according to Williams. These types of boats have been used by naval aviators for decades, but rarely in the commercial rafting business; Williams adapted them for white water river running.

Williams said that utilizing the RHIB allows for extraordinary maneuverability in any water. NAVTEC’s use of the boats has provided specialized river contracts opportunities – scientific, motion picture and search and rescue – because of the boat’s capabilities.

“We bring the best design and construction to our guests’ outdoor adventures.”

Beyond the NAVTEC boat fleet, the company’s knowledge of the surrounding land and water is unparalleled, according to Williams. The majority of NAVTEC Expeditions staff is experienced river guides and outdoor adventurists who have been with the company at least three years.

“It takes a few years to become proficient at the craft of river running,” said Williams. “You not only have to guide the boat, but you guide the guests as well. From the geology, flora and fauna to their experience in the water.”

One recent customer, Cynthia Shortreed, captured her river experience on a thank you postcard sent to Williams following her visit to Moab and trip with NAVTEC Expeditions. The postcard hangs with a collection of other notes of gratitude and kudos in Williams’ office.

“I’ve been on six rafting trips and my day with you tops them all,” wrote Shortreed.

Each year, NAVTEC Expeditions runs approximately 1,000 trips by jeep and raft. The company is familiar with routes in Cataract, Labyrinth, Meander and Westwater Canyons as well as the Dolores River and Fisher Towers areas. Trips can vary from a half day to five day excursions and are priced from $37 for youth and $47 for adults to $935 for youth and $1045 for adults for the multi-day trips.

The jeep excursions range from a half day in Canyonlands National Park to multi-day adventures in the national parks and elsewhere in the surrounding desert.

“There are so many place to go. Moab’s beauty is way beyond the park boundaries,” said Williams.

This year’s lower water levels only slightly impacted NAVTEC Expeditions. Williams said it was the lower than usual Euro to Dollar exchange rate that really caused a dip in the summer’s business, but NAVTEC remained popular throughout the season.

“We were busy, really busy, in July and August is looking good,” said Williams.

Williams is at the office every day by 6:30 a.m., ready to run the river for the next guest seeking a Southwest adventure. And, at 65, he has no plans of slowing down, or even retiring.

“Retirement scares me. Besides, if I wasn’t working on the river, I’d still want to be on the river.”