Administrative and Operations Staff

Executive Director | Jory Macomber |

Jory grew up in New England, and his love of the outdoors began on hiking trips in the White Mountain National Forest. At age 14, he planned and completed a traverse of the NH section of the Appalachian Trail with two other teenage friends. As a teacher at the Holderness School in New Hampshire, he led over a dozen OutBack trips which are eleven-day winter camp trips with high school students. Since moving to Utah in 2014, he has taken up canyoneering and backcountry skiing. Professionally, Jory has served as the Associate Head of School at Holderness School (where he helped grow the outdoor education program), as the Head of School at Burke Mountain Academy and as the Executive Director of the Kimball Art Center. Outdoor education breathes in his heart.

Operations Manager | Dave Montgomery |

DMo web pic ADave 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.

Reservations and Contracts Officer | Michele Johnson |

A West-side Detroit Street that ended with a cul de sac and a 30 acre park provided endless exploration for Michele while growing up, and led to abundant questions, thoughts, and theories about flora and fauna. Spending her summers in Battle Creek Michigan with a gardening and fishing grandmother, taking Sunday family drives across the border to Windsor Canada to adventure in the outdoors, and camping trips just below the Upper Peninsula all led to Michele’s passion in scientific discovery and public health advocacy. From Detroit to Ann Arbor to Honolulu to Salt Lake City to the ultimate journey to Moab, Michele has experienced a diverse landscape of people, flora, fauna, and Joy. Prior to settling here in Moab, she was Director and Biosafety Specialist at the University of Utah in occupational and environmental health and safety as well as emergency management. Her professional career began as a specialist at the University of Hawaii in laboratory and agricultural health and safety. Michele received her BS in Botany from the University of Michigan and Masters in Public Health from the University of Hawaii. Always an advocate for making a difference in lives of our planet’s youth, she has followed the philosophy of “Each one reach one” and spent many years mentoring the young people in her life. Joy, inspiration, motivation, and solace come from: two savvy and witty sons, hiking in wild places, serving in the community, playing in clay to give rise to functional pottery, and nurturing her yard, mini-reef aquarium, and sassy succulents.

Education Director | Alexander de Moor |

A native of South Africa, Alex has traveled extensively before finding himself on the Colorado Plateau. He holds a Master’s degree in Geology and Geophysics and has worked as a professional geologist throughout Alaska and Canada. While trying to combine his passions of boating, teaching, and geology, Alex found CFI and the desert Southwest. He can now be seen animatedly talking about rocks on the river, on his bike, or with a fly rod in his hand to any and all that will listen.

Marketing and Communications Director | Brennan Patrick Gillis |

Brennan Patrick Gillis has always felt drawn toward the outdoors.  After studying creative writing and geosciences at Franklin and Marshall College in Lancaster, PA, he followed the call to Maine's 100 mile wilderness.  He worked for the Appalachian Mountain Club as the assistant manager of Gorman Chairback Wilderness Lodge in central Maine.  Afterward, he moved to Cape Cod to teach for the YMCA, then trekked cross country to teach for Slide Ranch, an educational farm north of San Francisco. He moved to Moab in March 2018 to start as an apprentice for CFI.

 Founding 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 a 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 the public. In 1986, she earned a master's 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.

 AmeriCorps VISTA Member | Alison Anders |

Alison fell in love with the outdoors growing up in Bellingham Washington. In the Northwest she enjoyed hiking, skiing, and mountain biking. She quickly realized how incredible Moab is when she moved here in spring 2020 to be a CFI apprentice, and when that was canceled due to Covid chose to stick around through lockdown. During the lockdown she worked remotely as a customer service agent for Mattress Firm, until she was able to help out with CFI's summer camp. "Providing a space for children to play and be curious during these tough times was one of the most rewarding jobs I've had." Alison is an artist and an environmental activist, and she focuses her photography on reflecting the beauty of the natural world.


Apprentice Naturalist Educators

Kami Bakken

Kami Bakken bio pictureKami grew up in the farmlands of Minnesota exploring an endless space of woods, rivers and lakes. Knowing she wanted to continue her exploration to the mountains, she moved to Colorado to study Human Dimensions of Natural Resources at Colorado State University. From there she developed a love for everything under the sun that let her explore the outdoors in a more challenging way. She’s explored much of the West through rock climbing, mountain biking, kayaking, backpacking, backcountry skiing and fly fishing. It has led her to positions with Rocky Mountain National Park as a Bouldering Ranger, an Outdoor Instructor with CSU’s Outdoor Program, a Sea Kayak Guide at Channel Islands National Park, advocating for climate change policy with Protect Our Winters, and now to Kami’s second home in Moab with CFI. When she’s not exploring the outdoors with others, you can find her eating breakfast burritos, reading a good book, or taking naps in hammocks.

Lena Connolly

lena connolly staff photoLena grew up in Burlington, Vermont, where she has spent much of her life exploring the idyllic landscapes of the Northeast. When she was in high school, she attended two semester schools (The Conserve School and the Woolman Semester School), where her love for environmental and experiential education first blossomed. After graduating from high school, she spent a summer working for Camp Woolman, leading backpacking trips through the Sierra Nevada. Lena spent her freshman year of college at the College of the Atlantic in Bar Harbor, Maine, where she studied human ecology. She then transferred to the University of Vermont to earn her BA in Environmental Studies and Studio Arts. During Lena's junior year of college, she spent a semester exploring the Colorado Plateau with the Wild Rockies Field Institute learning about the natural, cultural, and political history of this region. Through this experience, Lena became captivated by the Colorado Plateau and is very excited to bring her love and knowledge of this region to the CFI community. Lena has also been making art her whole life and believes it can be a powerful communicative tool for environmental topics. Last year, she wrote her senior thesis, which explored the emerging concept of the Anthropocene through art-based environmental communication. Since graduating in the spring of 2020, Lena spent six months working on a small farm in Boulder, Colorado and has since moved back to Vermont for the winter season. Lena is ecstatic to be working for CFI – a position that encapsulates many of her passions in life for exploring, outdoor trips, experiential education, and the Colorado Plateau.

Samara Rosen

Samara Rosen staff photoSamara first fell in love with rivers in California. Her early kayak days in the front of her mom's boat morphed into a full-fledged career as a river guide. Amidst the river guide community, she realized there was a special relationship between those who spend time with the river and those who fight to protect it. This realization turned into a year-long college thesis and life-long fascination. Her results led her here to Canyonlands Field Institute, where her secret mission is to facilitate experiences that inspire you fall in love with rivers too.


Victoria Yee

Victoria grew up in the suburbs of Maryland and spent most of her outside time playing soccer. To her, the Southwest Desert was hot and desolate. Then she moved to Utah. She worked a year in Wilderness Therapy followed by two more years of desert work and wanderings. She now knows she had it backward. Well, mostly. This land is scorched, but very much alive. Today, Victoria lives in awe of the desert. She earned a B.S. in Environmental Science and led trips for the Adventure Program at the University of Maryland. She is grateful for solo adventures and finding a home within the outdoor community. In her free time, she scrambles on rocks, jumps from book to book, and dreams about the smell of campfire, juniper, and creosote.

Mollye Zahler

Mollye grew up playing in the Redwoods of California's Central Coast. She moved to Seattle to study biology, and left with a deep appreciation for sunshine, plants, and K-12 educators and students. She has worked as a research scientist, data analyst, outdoor educator and conservation crew leader in Washington, Colorado, California, and Idaho, and is super grateful for the chance to live and work in South East Utah next. In her free time she relishes the opportunity to read science fiction, paint watercolors, run around in the forest, and breathe fresh air.

Returning Naturalist Guides

Coming Soon!

Guest Naturalist Guides

Brandi Atene

Brandi Atene bio picYa'at'eeh! I grew up in Navajo Mountain, Utah. I am Navajo of the Bitterwater clan born for Towering House clan. Herding sheep on the weekends and during break from school. The landscape in Navajo Mountain paved the way for my love for the outdoors; rock climbing, sleeping outside with cousins, hiking down to Lake Powell to cool off and try and catch some fish. All this without “proper” gear, just the clothes we wore and a water bottle with crackers.

I attended High School in Tuba City, AZ and college at Kansas State University in Manhattan, Kansas. I majored in Architecture, Planning and Design. I played basketball at both schools. A walk on at University. I also ran Cross Country in High School. I coach basketball at the Jr High and High School level. I also donate my time as an official at local youth basketball tournaments.

Aside from my athletic abilities, I love the outdoors. Hiking, camping, fishing, and also being on the river.

I grew up around all kinds of animals. Cats, dogs, chickens, sheep, horse, and cows. Grandparents kept me involved with the livestock. Started with Redwood Llamas in Spring of 2018 for a weeklong hike with Canyonlands Field Institute for their annual Rainbow Bridge Trek. Something about being cut off (electronically), from the rest of this modern world is soothing. Hearing the sounds of nature; animals, wind, casual chats with friends and family. My son always tells me, “Just us, outside, having fun, is the way it should be”, I agree.

Elizabeth Bercel

Elizabeth Bercel bio pictureOriginally from Arizona, Elizabeth found her appreciation for the outdoors through exploring Sonoran desert washes and marveling at summer monsoons. After studying Ecology & Evolutionary Biology, she has used her degree throughout the years to gain experience in Wilderness Therapy, Environmental Education, and Ecological Restoration. First working as a guide for CFI in 2016, she is excited to return to canyon country to continue sharing her love of wild places and connection with others.

Evan Smiley

Evan grew up in a small town in Connecticut’s rural suburbia, catching frogs, riding bikes, and hiking surrounding state’s highpoints with his family. He went to the University of Connecticut, worked with the outdoors program as a trip leader, and graduated with an Environmental Science degree. After school, he and his buddies biked across America, coast to coast. Since then he’s worked on a trail crew in Colorado, as a bike mechanic in Connecticut, in a conservation corps in Idaho, and on a small farm in California. Having worked on and with the land, Evan is excited to start working with people to foster a deep appreciation for this wonderful area.

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.

Eric and Charlene Atene

e and cEric 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.