Work in the adventure sports industry usually does not lie along the career path for workers in the insurance business. But Don and Denise Oblak are not your usual insurance company employees.
“A lot of people don’t realize we came from an insurance industry background. So naturally we would then go into river rafting,” laughed Denise Oblak.
The two first met at an insurance meeting that Don Oblak was holding in Phoenix “and the rest is history,” Denise Oblak said.
After leaving the insurance world, the couple decided to move to Moab to start their own business. The only problem was that they could not decide what type of business they wanted.
“When we came here we looked at a few different opportunities: a B&B, a sporting goods store, another raft company. But it just wasn’t the right fit,” said Don Oblak. “I still remember laying in bed looking up at the ceiling and going, ‘What are we going to do?’”
Don Oblak had been a private rafter for years, so in 1991 the couple finally decided that they wanted to start their own rafting company.
Canyon Voyages Adventure Company was born.
“Our first location was where Eklecticafe is now. Our retail space was the size of a postage stamp,” said Denise Oblak. “We were able to get a Daily permit so we started out just running Dailys.”
The “Daily” is a mild river rafting route on the Colorado River that follows alongside State Route 128.
Then in 1993 the pair was able to buy a range of rental equipment from another company in town. With the acquisition Canyon Voyages Adventure Company was able to start offering Westwater Canyon trips as well.
Westwater Canyon is a portion of the Colorado River near the Colorado and Utah stateline that features intermediate rapids.
The new equipment also meant that new space was needed to house the rental section of the business, so the Oblaks leased a property across street.
“We knew that we needed to combine the locations,” said Denise Oblak.
Their search eventually led them to the old Phillip 66 gas station that now houses Canyon Voyages.
“We walked through this place and the roof was falling down,” said Don Oblak.
But the size of the property meant that they would be able to bring the guide and rental portions of the business back together and have more space for retail. So they bought the building and did an extensive remodel.
“There was a lot of rehab,” said Denise Oblak.
The gamble paid off. The growth in business that got Canyon Voyages looking for new space continued in their new location.
“We have had a couple years that have been flat but no real declines,” Don Oblak said. “The first year (we operated) we took down 800 people in guided trips. Now we are well over 8,000.”
To deal with the increasing number guests Canyon Voyages Oblak keeps on five year round staff to take bookings, get data for the coming year, and send out information. In-season the number of employees swells to around 27.
A company that started out only offering Daily trips now offers guided raft trips down tours down the Daily and Westwater. Canyon Voyages also offers kayak trips on the Daily and in Labyrinth Canyon on the Green River. It also offers stand-up paddle board trips.
“The Daily trips are definitely our biggest seller. We get so many families with little kids and they want the experience but they don’t want the huge white water,” said Terry Fearing, a Canyon Voyages’ employee who has worked for the company for seven seasons. “You get a little bit of excitement with the rapids but not too much.”
Canyon Voyages also offers rentals for all of their river equipment as well as rentals for any camping gear that you might need, Don Oblak said.
“Our biggest thing is helping others have fun when they are in Moab,” Don Oblak said.
Don and Denise Oblak both believe that it is important for businesses to be involved in their local communities. To that end they have both previously served on the boards of different Moab-area organizations, such as the Moab Area Chamber of Commerce.
“We try to support the community, whether it’s donations or other things that people need and we really feel that in turn the community supports us,” Don Oblak said. “They send us a lot of business.”
And though Canyonlands Voyages Adventure Company’s business keeps growing, its owners are not sure if they want to expand any further, but they are sure they aren’t retiring anytime soon.
“Helping people to have fun has not gotten old,” Don Oblak said.
Our biggest thing is helping others have fun when they are in Moab.”
Canyon Voyages Adventure Company
8 a.m. to 8 p.m. everyday
211 N. Main St