Imagine that you found a job at a company unlike any other with co-workers whose camaraderie is as ardent as that of a mob, a friendly river mob. A few weeks or days before the season is about to start the news that the company has sold reaches you.
More than 20 Tag-A-Long Expeditions employees found themselves in that position last spring. Guides scrambled about town with their river logs and licenses in hand looking for an outfitter that would employ them without starting them at the bottom as “daily” guides. Many of them found a proper nest at Navtec, whose history interlaces with Tag-A-Long.
In 1964 Mitch and Mary Williams, the original owners of Tag-A-Long, started a 4x4 tour service in which customers would tag behind the guides in their own Jeeps. Soon their venture branched out to include river trips. These were some of the first successful efforts in transitioning Moab from a mining economy to an outdoor tourism destination.
“I was deeply involved in my parent’s business early on while I was still in high school. I did the payroll and the hiring, as well as going to Europe on sales trips with my mom,” said their son, John Williams.
Those early efforts to promote Canyonlands and Arches tourism while overseas sparked a great deal of intrigue in the European community, who up until that point had mostly heard of the Grand Canyon. French and German media outlets tagged along on trips and reported back about the natural beauty of Moab and the surrounding areas. The European niche would come in handy during the last couple of months of every season when most American tourists returned to school and work.
In 1982 Bob Jones and Paul Niskanen took over the company. “I had the opportunity to own one-third of Tag-A-Long, but I turned it down because I didn’t want to go into business with somebody else,” Williams said. He later opened Navtec.
Jones was the type of owner to partake in the excitement inherent to the job. He guided countless Cataract Canyon trips, many times straying from the line to smash into the Brahma, a monster among the big waves in Big Drop 3.
“I really enjoyed being out there in the canyons and sharing the wilderness experience with the customers. I thought that’s what the business was about,” Jones said.
After 50 years of operation, Jones and Niskanen put the company up for sale. A single buyer did not arise, so it has been selling in parts. The jet boats went to Canyonlands by Night, the licensing and rest of the gear to Adrift Adventures, and the remaining lot is in current negotiations with Moab Tour Company.
“The business did not fail, Bob and his partner just wanted to retire, that’s all,” said Cory Antes, Tag-A-Long river manager.
Antes worked as the last boatman in the company during the 2017 season. After five years with the company and the support of other talented river runners, he braved the challenges of Cataract Canyon alone until August when the company was finally put to rest. Antes also added a parting gift, a Tag J-rig, so that a symbolic part of the company will float on.
“I would consider working there as a trial by fire, a kind of meritocracy where you were given a fair chance to prove yourself and should you fail, a path to improvement,” said Sean Nadji, river guide.
Within the guiding community Tag-A-Long had an old-school reputation where guides patched and built their own boats, made autonomous trip decisions, and braved high-water levels in June that most other companies stayed away.
One of the unique services that will be missed is the Confluence shuttle. Customers were able to rent canoes and camping gear and self-guide their own 50-mile flat water trip down Meander Canyon to the Green River confluence. A jet boat would pick them up at the agreed time and bring them upstream to Moab. Only Tex’s Riverways still offers that service.
“I’m going to miss Tag-A-Long, it’s the oldest river company in Moab, and it’s a sad thing to see it go,” Antes said.
If you’ve taken a trip with Tag-A-Long before, hold onto the hats and the mugs with the logo; they are now valuable memorabilia. As the Main Street sign fades to rust and is taken down, there’s a chance to remember it all for a brief moment over coffee.