Family-owned and operated river running outfitter OARS launched its newest dory, Cathedral in the Desert, on its inaugural run on the Colorado River through Grand Canyon on August 6, 2021.
In 1969, OARS became the first exclusively non-motorized rafting outfitter authorized by the National Park Service to run trips on the Colorado River through Grand Canyon. Today the legendary outfitter caters to active travelers of all ages and abilities with more than 75 unique itineraries worldwide. Each year the company contributes to regional conservation organizations around the globe via voluntary donations and annual fundraising events, and in partnership with their guests, OARS has contributed more than $5 million in donations and fees toward the preservation of the environment and conservation initiatives.
Cathedral in the Desert was built in honor of late OARS founder George Wendt and keeping with the long tradition of naming dories after wild places lost or compromised at the hands of man, the boat is a special remembrance of George and the place that sparked his calling.
“My father spent the late-1960s periodically exploring Glen Canyon and its tributaries by raft and folboat, as the rising waters of what would become Lake Powell inundated the red rock alcoves and slot canyons,” said Tyler Wendt, president of OARS. “He was deeply affected by the environmental loss happening before his eyes, drowning some of the most dramatically beautiful places on the planet under hundreds of feet of stagnant water.”
Since the completion of Glen Canyon Dam more than 50 years ago, the Cathedral has primarily remained hidden underwater except during a few occasions when reservoir levels dropped more than 100 feet due to severe drought conditions. “After the drowning of Glen Canyon I experienced a profound sense of loss and with it came the realization and sense of urgency that places like this need to be shared, preserved and protected for future generations,” George later shared. “It became my calling to deliver people into the wilderness and generate excitement for these wild places.”
In a 1994 interview by Lew Steiger for the River Runners Oral History Project, George revealed that if he had his choice he’d name a dory, “‘Cathedral in the Desert’ — one of the beautiful amphitheaters in the Escalante that was impacted, flooded, by Glen Canyon Dam…one of those places that has been very special to me over the years.” Now that dream has become a reality.
“It seems timely that the newest dory in the OARS fleet, lovingly crafted by Sean Bothman in honor of George Wendt, is making its first voyage through on the Colorado River as the natural wonder of Cathedral in the Desert is re-emerging from the low waters of Lake Powell,” said photographer Amy S. Martin (whose images are used here with permission from OARS).
“For me it has been special to be a part of this thing that is the dories,” said Sean Bothman, Captain Chongo’s Kompositorium Dory Repair Extraordinaire who handcrafted the custom dory. “They are boats that stand for the places that we love and the places that we have lost. I am grateful to my friends and mentors. The boat rows well, too.”
–Lead images by Amy S. Martin, courtesy of OARS