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"Cowboy Up" He Said

This video was filmed and edited a few years ago when Garth Bundy retired. Garth had a positive impact on me as a young river guide, and then years later when I came to film Western's videos for their website. When his retirement was announced, I asked Western River Expeditions, in combination with Bar Ten Ranch if I could use Western's video resources and a bit of time to interview Garth and highlight his life. Western River and the Bar Ten Ranch have a long history together, so they immediately obliged. This video is our combined tribute to Garth Bundy at the time of his retirement:

Meeting Garth Bundy: For decades most folks would only meet Garth for a few whirring seconds before boarding the helicopter at Whitmore Wash in the Grand Canyon. Although brief, the meeting was memorable. He'd ask every individual their weight in order to tally the grand total load on each helicopter ride in or out of the canyon. After asking their weight he would follow it up with the terse but sincere phrase "You lie, you die". His memorable warm smile, his white cowboy hat, his brush-popper cowboy flair shirt with pearl snaps, and the look in his eye told you in an instant that this stranger wasn't asking about your weight out of strange curiosity, but to get a serious job done. Garth's authentic cowboy way always broke down walls, and it would happen in an instant, for every individual river guest, every trip. Garth was part of many people's river trips, even if only as punctuation to the end of their photo albums.

Some guests who had opted for the 4-day lower Grand Canyon trip with a stay at the Bar Ten Ranch the night before the river trip, may have learned a little more about Garth, a talented and friendly cowboy from the Arizona Strip turned ranch hand (and helicopter logistics manager) for the Bar 10 Ranch located on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon in Whitmore Valley.

For me personally, I met Garth in the Spring of 1988 as a river guide. Garth has provided me perspective on "Cowboying Up" when life challenges come our way.

My assistant Joe and I had successfully navigated the upper 6/7 day river on a single boat trip, Joe had been a great help and motored the J-Rig through many of the rapids such as Hermit, Granite, Crystal, and Lava Falls. It had been a difficult trip for me, learning the rapids as we went. As I motored the nose of the J-Rig gently to the beach at Whitmore Wash, Joe started to unlash the tarps covering the gear and he then began to instruct guests what the processes would be for getting them to the ranch, the plan was to unload in the 15 or 20 minutes we still had before the chopper would arrive. But sometimes "Plan A" has to turn into "Plan B".


The thumping sounds of the incoming helicopter echoing off the canyon walls coincided with my last nudging of the outboard throttle as the J-rig tubes gently touched the shore. "Incoming Chopper" Joe yelled above the drone of the boat motor. Joe jumped off the J-Rig and quickly tied up the boat at the Whittemore exchange point. The chopper was 20 minutes early. This short amount of time would allow a group photo to be taken and to say goodbye to all our new friends we had made over the past week.


As the pilot gracefully landed the chopper, out stepped Garth Bundy. He hollered above the winding down of the helicopter rotor and motioned me to approach the chopper. With a sparkle in his eye and a smile to match, I met Mr. Garth Bundy. He extended his well-worn hand, gave me a firm steeled grip handshake, then hollered - you must be Mark... It's nice to meet you... "Let's get er done.. we are a bit early" 
.

The Bar 10 and Garth ran a time-sensitive operation as each minute the chopper was running was a cost. The guests who had spent the night enjoying a dutch oven dinner and sleeping in covered wagons at the Bar 10 had been anxious to get to the river this morning. The pilots had been fed a great breakfast of pancakes, bacon, and eggs and our trip was first on the list of other exchanges to be done. An early start with calmer air and cooler temperatures helped them with weight allowances and smoother rides.

We scrambled to make up for the early arrival.

Garth choreographed the operation at the helipad. Cowboys adapt, cowboys weather hard living conditions, when the storms come, they often ride into the storm. I was intrigued by this man Garth Bundy. 

Without apologetics, Garth would smile from ear to ear, look guests in the eye, and ask how much they weighed - an especially uncomfortable question for the women. But he had a job to get done. He would make notations on a little pad of paper, perhaps making his own calculations to compensate for the fudgings of some. "You lie, you die" he'd say to everyone.

He would smile, add up his estimates and arrange and balance the load in the helicopter with seating assignments. When the air warms up, the choppers capacity for transporting cargo diminishes. Loading the chopper was both an art and a science. Once Garth had an accurate accounting of cargo and total weight of those flying out he would report to the pilot. With a thumbs up, the pilot would take off and fly up to the Bar 10 Ranch.

Between flights Garth would sit on a rock and wait for the chopper to return. In these short moments between flights, I always looked forward to hearing one of his tall tales. I was fortunate to see Garth a handful of times that summer. He always remembered my name. That was impressive as he moved thousands of guests each year.

Years later, after having raised 4 children as a single dad, I found myself with the chance to meet Garth (and the Grand Canyon) again. This time as a videographer for Western, I stepped off the helicopter and was instantly greeted by an ear-to-ear smile and Garth calling me by name saying, "Mark, it's good to see you again!" I was blown away. The young river guide in me facing "learn-as-you-go" challenges, and years of the same as a single dad warmed instantly to Garth's smile, firm cowboy handshake, and the "cowboy up" attitude he just lives every day. He's a hero to me.

I hope this video tribute to Garth can help rub a little grit into your everyday struggles and challenges. We could all use more grit, and a lot more smile, just like Garth.

Mark

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Blog Author Photo
Mark guided for Western between 1984-1989 in Utah and the Grand Canyon. As a videographer, Mark has helped produce many of Western’s videos.
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