Executive Director – Karla VanderZanden
Karla grew up on a small farm in western Oregon as an only child of older parents. The nearby woods that fringed the fields her family leased for their wheat became her haven. She began outdoor education as a high school assistant in Washington and Multnomah Counties Outdoor Schools for 6th graders (Portland area). Later, she fell in love with river-rafting in college at U of Oregon where she earned a B.S. in Recreation/Outdoor Education and an Elementary Education teaching certificate. She learned she could use the river as a classroom for nature studies and to promote active civic engagement. At 27 years old she was a member of a nine person team that completed one of the first river running descents of Karnali River in western Nepal on a 55 day expedition, aka “American Himalayan Whitewater Expedition of 1981.” They had no film crew, no radios and of course no cell phones. Karla also worked as naturalist at Aspen Center for Environmental Studies for 3 years where she created elementary level curriculum and teacher training program, taught adult courses, community education in Winter Ecology, and led snowshoe walks for public. In 1986, she earned a master degree in Natural Resources from Utah State University. She had moved to Moab in 1980 to work for BLM as River Ranger on the Green River, and later, three years on Westwater. She started CFI in 1984 with co-founder Robin Wilson, who died of cancer 1991.
Operations Manager – Dave Montgomery
Dave grew up “in the woods” of New England, with a strong attachment to the outdoors – hiking & skiing mountains, canoeing rivers & lakes, and climbing cliffs & peaks. He also had a predilection for environmental causes and activism. After college, he moved out west to climb & ski the “big” mountains. Soon after, he began a career in environmental activism, working with Greenpeace across the US and Canada. This eventually led to a few years of marine/ocean based work in such places as Antarctica, New Zealand, South America, and the Persian Gulf. Upon returning back to the US he transitioned into field biology, living and working in the Grand Canyon and northern Arizona. Then it was back to sea, working aboard an eco-tour ship sailing from Newfoundland, down the eastern seaboard, through the Panama Canal, along the west coast of South America, and ultimately back to Tierra del Fuego and Antarctica. He eventually found his way to Moab in the early 90’s – drawn by the canyons and desert – and set down some roots. He’s lived here ever since, with occasional sojourns in the form of self-support long-distance bike touring in New Zealand, Baja, and along the Great Divide. He’s worked in the bicycle industry, with tour companies, in music & stage management, and graphic design. He’s also been self-employed as a luthier and woodworker. His background and experience in logistics and operations management brought him to CFI in 2013, where he looks forward to helping people learn about, and connect with, the beauty and wild nature of the Colorado Plateau.
Head Guide/Naturalist – Allyson O’Conner
Growing up in Southern Indiana, the woodlands and diverse wildlife in my own backyard inspired my interest in the natural world. Canoeing the Blue River in Indiana was my first “swiftwater” experience. Well acquainted with the green hills of the Midwest road biking and hiking in my younger years, it wasn’t until college that I started venturing to the mountains and deserts of the West. My first raft trip in Desolation Canyon on the Green River at the age of 19 sparked my interest in the subtle beauty of the desert world and extended river journeys. Being very involved in the outdoor program at Indiana University, where I graduated with a degree in Public Health, I continued to boat in the East until I made my way out West after graduation. Western rivers and the canyon country around Moab have become a new home. As a Naturalist-Guide for CFI for the past 4 years, I have gained so much appreciation for desert rivers and plan to continue getting out in the field between duties as CFI’s Marketing and Registration Coordinator. I love exploring this unique place with kids and adults alike and am happiest with oars or a paddle in my hand. In my free time, I enjoy biking, boating, hiking, skiing, and taking time to savor the special moments on the river’s edge and exploring the Southwest’s stunning landscapes.
Guide/Naturalist – Jessie Cubberly
Jessie is from Olympia, Washington, and despite having relocated to the desert, the mossy forest is still her first home: for it’s the place she first discovered herself in the wild, among trees and chickadees. For Jessie, experiencing the outdoors has always been rooted in imagination and mystery—wonder and story-telling, so she spent her time at the University of Washington studying the intersection of language/literary arts with environmental sciences. While in Seattle, Jessie worked for the parks department as a naturalist, developing and implementing programs to help the public connect to the wilderness in their own city parks and back yards. She is thrilled to be here, exploring canyon-country and its many secrets with the CFI family!
Guide/Naturalist – Kate Spenser
Originally from New Hampshire, Kate was raised on a steady diet of family camping and canoe trips all over New England. This set the stage for her adventure loving personality and took her off to college in Fort Collins, Colorado. Though she received a B.S. in Biomedical Sciences, Kate learned her passion lies simply in being outdoors… and getting others to come with. She has backpacked and climbed throughout Argentina and Colorado, guided sea kayaking tours in the frigid waters of Prince William Sound, and now has made her way back to the Red Rocks of Utah, a place she holds near and dear to her heart. When not teaching kids about this beautiful desert, Kate can almost certainly be found riding her bike (or board) around town, watching the stars or playing music with friends
Apprentice Guide/Naturalist – Emily Coletta
Growing up in Sonoma County, California, you get used to the faint smell of manure. When people come to visit you, and say that it stinks, you are surprised. When people are awed at how green the fields are, at the white and black cows, at the trees that turn the blue of distance just after sunset, you are not surprised. Emily Coletta had the honor of growing up in such a landscape, and of coming into adulthood surrounded by the kindred folk that such a landscape engenders. For her higher education, Emily traded rolling oak woodlands for the redwood spikes of University of California, Santa Cruz where she received degrees in Environmental Studies and Anthropology. After graduating, she worked as an environmental interpreter in the surrounding CA State Parks. Most recently, travels across Europe by train, bike, and foot have given ever more colors and sounds for Emily to savor. If in seeking to describe oneself, one must turn to everything else, these landscapes and people have written themselves into her. Emily remains sincerely curious as to how the blues and greens and reds of Canyon Country will leave their impressions.
Apprentice Guide/Naturalist – Jordan Swenson
Jordan experienced a typical suburban upbringing in Northern New Jersey. She partook in many of the characteristic activities of the area during her youth: yearly pilgrimages to New York City, weekend visits to the Shore, and “stomps” in the swamp after a good rainstorm. But between the chaos of the city and sweltering traffic jams to the shore, swamp stomps quickly rose to Jordan’s preferred childhood leisure activity. Soon the outdoors became not only a pass-time but a passion, leading her to choose Environmental Studies as her major at Gettysburg College. After graduation Jordan decided to head west and see all the biology, geology, and environmental science she had learned about for four years. She spent a year and a half living and working in Yellowstone and Glacier National Parks where she realized the joy of helping others discover her own backyard. Canyon country seemed like a logical next step in this slow-paced tour of the American West. Jordan is very excited to explore the Colorado Plateau and pass on the appreciation and awe of the outdoors she was given when she was young.
Apprentice Guide/Naturalist – Brandon Lamb
Brandon comes to CFI from “Wydaho,” or where the Tetons meet the Snake River Range on the border of Idaho and Wyoming. He spends his seasons as a horse packer and trail crew leader until the cottonwoods turn yellow, and snow flies in the Targhee National Forest. When winter comes you may find him teaching skiing, or on a backcountry skin track. His educational background is from the University of Montana, and Idaho State where he earned a BA in Creative Writing with an emphasis in Outdoor Education. Learning natural history, new outdoor skills, and sharing adventure are his passion. While exploring canyon country he hopes to visit the Maze, and encounter the ghost of Ed Abbey. Ravens and Collared Lizards are his latest obsession. He looks forward to a season of learning, teaching, and exploring the Colorado Plateau.
Apprentice Guide/Naturalist – Ryann Savino
Originally from the granite-clad foothills of Northern California, Ryann was raised on summer days at the river and family camping trips in the Sierra Nevada. She earned a B.A. in Environmental Humanities from Whitman College in Walla Walla, Washington where she wrote her senior thesis on the Green River Watershed and her family history held within its silty flow. With a minor in anthropology, Ryann is passionate about people and place, stories and legacies. She first came to Southeastern Utah in 2012 via canoe and returned in 2013 as an AmeriCorps VISTA for Epicenter, a non-profit in Green River. She believes preservation of land is inextricably tied to the preservation of its stories and is thrilled for the opportunity to live, work, teach, and learn on the Colorado Plateau with Canyonlands Field Institute.
Development Coordinator, Vista/Americorps – Evan Kieber
Growing up in South-Central Pennsylvania, Evan developed an appreciation for outdoor education early on, being a regular attendee at county parks programs. In college, he spent a summer in New Zealand and Australia as part of an experiential learning study abroad program where he got to experience and learn about a large variety of landscapes and ecosystems while hiking, camping and scuba diving. This trip, in particular, instilled in him a desire to work towards ensuring that future generations have the opportunity to experience nature in the way that he has and preserve our wild landscapes for generations to come. Evan graduated from Penn State University with a degree in Geography and is excited to spend the next phase of his life in beautiful canyon country working towards making environmental education accessible to all children, regardless of income or background.
Program Intern – Gemma Wallace
Growing up in the woods of upstate New York, Gemma developed a love for the wilderness at an early age. She crossed the county to attend Whitman College in Walla Walla, WA where she graduated with a degree in biology. During her undergrad career, Gemma spent her summers working on research projects in marine physiology studying how animals adapt to harsh ocean environments, from tide pools to deep ocean trenches. Now she is excited to shift gears from the ocean to canyon country desert. Gemma loves teaching others about the natural world, and she has worked as a teaching assistant and tutor for several science classes. She was also an active member of Whitman’s outdoor program and enjoys climbing, hiking and backpacking in her free time. Gemma is passionate about environmental and outdoor education, and she greatly looks forward to sharing her enthusiasm for the Moab area with others during her time at Canyonlands Field Institute.
Guest Guide/Naturalist – Kate Niederehe
Kate grew up in Olney, Maryland about 20 miles north of Washington, DC. where her roots to becoming a naturalist were planted with her first job working a backyard birding and nature store. She started her migration westward and earned a B.S. in Rehabilitation Psychology from the University of Wisconsin – Madison and was a member of the Hoofers Outing Club. After college Kate tried several different careers, but upon returning from her first thru-hike of the John Muir Trail in 2008, she realized the value the outdoors can play on personal wellbeing and was inspired to find work in outdoor education. Since then she’s worked high/low ropes courses, wilderness therapy, experiential education, and environmental education programs. Kate started as a Program Intern in 2010, served as an Americorps 1700hr placement in 2011, and has been a Naturalist Guide with CFI since. She has become passionate about getting people outside, being active and connecting with the landscape around them. Outside of work Kate enjoys backpacking, thru-hikes, any outdoor adventure, spending time with her dog, ceramics and cooking.
Guest Guide/Naturalist – Dave Malutich
Dave was born and raised as an only child in a small town tucked in the pines of north-central Wyoming. His love and appreciation of nature developed early on his many adventures into the woods and mountains of his backyard. But, after graduating high school, he was eager to branch out and see what the world had to offer. For a change of scenery, Dave began college in New Orleans, LA, but soon realized he needed to find his passion. With some time away from the university lifestyle, Dave had his first formal introduction to the world of outdoor education and extended wilderness expeditions on a semester Outward Bound course in the Big Bend country of Texas, Copper Canyon in Mexico, and the Boundary Waters Canoe Area of Minnesota. After that, he knew he needed to pursue a career in the outdoors. After earning a BS in Environmental Studies from the University of North Carolina-Asheville, the West was calling his name, and he returned to Wyoming to work as a Wilderness Ranger for the US Forest Service and as a community organizer for a wilderness advocacy non-profit. Dave first came to CFI in 2010 as the Field Camp Caretaker and Cook and immediately fell in love with the Colorado Plateau, and he has been coming back ever since, continually learning and taking on new roles. In his seasons away from CFI, Dave enjoy exploring new landscapes, spending time with family and friends, playing music, cooking good food, watching sunsets, and learning new outdoor skills. And he is really excited to help you experience the wonders of canyon country.
Guest Guide/Naturalist – Nicky Haroldsen
Nicky was born and raised in Salt Lake City, Utah where she lived until she moved to Flagstaff, Arizona to attend Northern Arizona University. After graduating with a degree in Parks and Recreation Management with an emphasis in Outdoor Leadership she moved to Moab, Utah. Following her passion for running rivers and sharing her love for the outdoors with others, she found a good match in Canyonlands Field Institute. Between trips and various other jobs around the country and around the world she often made her way back to the red rock deserts of her native Utah and eventually put down roots here. In addition to running rivers she enjoys hiking, biking, gardening, yoga, and spending time with her partner, hound dog, chickens, ducks, and bees.
Guest Guide/Naturalist – Meghan Montgomery
Hailing originally from Colorado, Meghan spent her childhood romping through the forests of the San Juan Mountains and exploring creeks and rivers throughout the west. A strong background in the outdoors and interest in the natural world prompted her to pursue adventures in ecology and environmental issues throughout the west. Meghan obtained Bachelor’s degrees in Environmental Science and International Affairs from the University of Colorado at Boulder, where she focused on sustainable agriculture and water politics in the Middle East and the American West. After working on trail crews in Colorado and in conservation in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina, Meghan is excited to bring her passion for the natural world, love of geography and healthy sense of adventure to the Canyonlands Field Institute.
Guest Guide/Naturalists – Eric and Charlene Atene
Eric and Charlene, both Navajo, have been guest guiding on CFI trips for years. Eric has always been attracted to the outdoors, ever since he was a teenager. And he has been working for CFI for much of that time, doing river trips and wilderness trips with pack stock provided by Rainbow Bridge Outfitters, the company he and Charlene own. Charlene grew up in Mexican Hat, Utah and when she is not out in the wilderness is a librarian at Monument Valley High School.
Guest Guide/Naturalist – Xandra Odland
Xandra grew up in New York State, where she spent summers sailing and wandering around barefoot in the outdoors. Much time was spent hiking and adventuring with her family in New York, Michigan and New Mexico. After spending her senior year of High School in Mulhouse, France, she attended the University of Albany in New York. Although her studies focused on Anthropology and Psychology, she ultimately decided that the most rewarding experience had been teaching children and adults how to sail on the Hudson River. After completing a NOLS Rocky Mountain semester, she stumbled upon YMCA Camp Orkila, where she taught Outdoor Environmental Education and Expedition Sailing. In pursuing her desire to learn cool things outdoors and share them with others she has made her way to Moab to become a part of the CFI family.
Guest Guide/Naturalist – Spenser Williams
Spenser Williams, originally from Port Jefferson, New York, has lived in Arizona and most recently Maine, before coming to Utah. A fondness for new experiences took Spenser to three different colleges before ultimately earning a degree in Natural History from Prescott College, in Prescott, Arizona. An explorer and naturalist at heart, Spenser enjoys being outside and moving, and he believes teaching and learning are both done best in interactive and hands-on environments. Some of Spenser’s favorite activities include mountain biking and skiing, and he can often be found making animal noises from the branches of a tree. Interested in wildlife and landscape conservation, Spenser has written a book entitled El Lobo: An Ecological Fable, a piece of creative non-fiction describing the ongoing Mexican wolf reintroduction in Arizona and New Mexico. Spenser is excited to once again be amidst the “big mountains” of the West, and is looking forward to a season of “re-wilding” the children with CFI.
Guest Guide/Naturalist – Rebecca Martin
Rebecca came from Vermont to the Southwest in the spring of 1988 guiding a combination adventure/cultural programs involving Grand Canyon hiking, Rocky Mountain backpacking, a San Juan River trip and Navajo Mountain service/cultural exchange. Along with backcountry guiding and running a construction company together with her husband, Rebecca loves tending her garden, orchards, and flock of free range laying hens. Her passions include changing lives through experiential learning/community service, wild lands and spectacular landscapes, focusing on cultural diversity, archaeology, Native American shared experiences, photography and the power of silence. Rebecca has a Master’s degree in Intercultural Administration, specializing in Cross-Cultural Training and Advising, and an undergraduate degree in Perceptual Psychology and Cultural Anthropology.
Guest Guide/Naturalist – Joel Tuhy
Joel Tuhy has been a full-time resident of Utah since 1980, and of Moab since 1992. He and his wife Cathy, married in 1982, have two grown sons. Joel earned an M.S. degree in 1981 from the University of Idaho. He is a self-described amateur naturalist, and his greatest interest and specialty (to the extent that he has one) is plants. This interest extends to relationships between plants and their habitats, which leads to companion interests in the geology, soils, weather, and even (for crying out loud) animals of the Colorado Plateau. Joel enjoys photography and prefers to use film with manual camera bodies and lenses. His favorite subjects are wildflowers, rising or setting full moons, and repeat views through-the-seasons of Moab-area scenes.
Guest Guide/Naturalist – Tamsin McCormick
A native of Zimbabwe, our Director and Board Secretary, Tamsin has lived in the Four Corners states of the US since 1977. She holds Bachelor, Master and PhD degrees in geology, and has been teaching college courses in geology on the Colorado Plateau since 1993. She has served as a naturalist guide on river and land-based trips since 1994 and joined Plateau Restoration as a Board Member in 1996. Tamsin is currently Adjunct Faculty at Utah State University in the Department of Environment and Society and Department of Forest, Range and Wildlife Sciences.
Guest Guide/Naturalist – Shawn Crawford
Shawn has lived a full and varied life. For twenty years of his adult life he worked in the construction industry in varying capacities from day laborer to vice president of design and construction, overseeing the construction of hotels throughout North America and the Caribbean. Upon the birth of his only child Alta, and with the support and encouragement of his wife, Shawn took what was once an avocational activity, hardshell kayaking, and turned it into the vocation of boatman. Shawn now has twenty five years or so on the river, in locations throughout the Pacific Northwest, Interior West and Southeastern United States. Shawn’s collegiate education includes undergraduate studies in Philosophy and graduate studies in Humanities. When not reviewing the philosophical works of Martin Heidegger or Zen philosopher Dogen, Shawn is either making plans for, or enjoying, his next river trip with his wife and daughter.
Guest Guide/Naturalist – Brad Hanson
Brad hails from Klamath Falls, Oregon but is at ease pumping his own gas from his time spent working on farms and ranches. He is an Outward Bound and Peace Corps alumnus who is equally at home on a basketball court or a swift river. Brad’s passion of the natural world and living in it spills over into all aspects of his life. One day he aspires to have a self-sustaining homestead.