History of Canyonlands Field Institute

Outdoor education for over 35 years

The Canyonlands Field Institute was born in the summer of 1984 when like minded co-founders Karla VanderZanden and Robin Wilson realized their dream of providing adventures with an educational purpose. Robin and her husband, Bates Wilson, had been thinking about turning their Professor Valley Ranch into a place for inspiring connections to nature when Robin met Karla. It only took one year for them to come together and create the Canyonlands Field Institute.

Karla and Robin hit the ground running with the help of friends such as Ken Sleight, Tim Graham, and Tom Till. This dynamic team created a variety of hikes and seminars on natural history, human history, writing, and art. As a hub for these educational adventures, Professor Valley Field Camp was established on BLM land adjacent to Robin’s Ranch.

In 1991, Robin Wilson died, leaving behind a legacy of persistence, inspiration, and joy. The organization continued its impactful mission with her memory as motivation.

Over the following years, the Canyonlands Field Institute became a leader in the Adventure Education industry. Through river running, hiking, and educational retreats and seminars, CFI has exposed thousands of desert goers to the magic of this area.

In 2014, Professor Valley Field Camp was moved from BLM land to private land in the heart of Professor Valley. Despite the operational obstacles of moving the facility, CFI saw this change as an opportunity. Currently, Professor Valley Field Camp is home to permaculturally inspired desert landscaping, pollinator gardens, and a perennial creek filled with macroinvertebrates.

Today, CFI is nationally known for its educational rafting trips, field study programs at Professor Valley Field Camp, and specialized adult trips that explore topics of local flora and fauna, archaeology, and Navajo culture. Despite its humble beginnings, CFI exposes hundreds of learning to quality outdoor education every year. CFI hosts school and youth groups, summer camps, professional development apprenticeships, Adult Adventure Seminars, Private Group Trips and dedicates thousands of dollars to underwriting diverse outdoor experiences.

True to Robin and Karla's vision, we encourage people of all ages to experience wild nature directly. We reject increasing technological connection in favor of emotional connection and stride toward our roots as humans, pursuing the core of who we are.

Leave your devices at home, grab your guidebook, and join us in the wild!

Thank you for supporting our vision of connecting people to nature.

Canyonlands Field Institute (CFI) is a 501(c)( 3) nonprofit outdoor education organization and licensed outfitter located in the red rock country of Moab, Utah. CFI operates by permits in partnership with the National Park Service, Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Forest Service, States of Utah and Colorado, and the Navajo Nation.