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"Cowboy Up" He Said


This short video was shot a few years ago when Garth retired, and might be of interest to those who have traveled the Grand Canyon. If you have met Garth, he had some sage advice... "You Lie, You Die", watch the video for context of that short saying that got the ladies attention.

It was the Spring of 1988 when I met the legendary Garth Bundy, a cowboy from the Arizona Strip turned ranch hand for the Bar 10 Ranch located on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon in Whitmore Valley. 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 great help and motored the J-Rig through many of the rapids- learning by doing, his smile after successfully navigating Hermit, Granite, Crystal -priceless to watch. Joe started the same year I had, but Joe had gone to work in the Grand Canyon and had no seniority and was still assistant boatman.

On the other hand, I had opted to work in Cataract Canyon, and my trainer was gracious to give me a lot of time learning the ropes, running the big water. I had spent the prior 4 years (1984-1987) running J-rigs down Cataract Canyon and rowing boats down Westwater and Cataract Canyon. The river had been the highest recorded water levels in over a century in 1984. This provided me a rich experience of motoring the J-Rig in water that not only rivaled but often exceeded the size of the Grand Canyon rapids on a good snow melt year.

Joe switched me out, and I motored to the landing pad for the chopper as 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 helicopter safety speech was being done as we approached the beach.

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. We quickly changed up our Plan A. 


Our original plan had been to dock our J-rig at the Helicopter pad 15-20 minutes before the chopper would land with new guests for the lower Grand Canyon trip. 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 and 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. These tight timeframes and logistics kept the guests engaged and on schedule, but Garth Bundy woke up 20 minutes too early this day, and he was working hard and fast, a ranch hand with a work ethic that started at the crack of dawn and would last late past sunset.

The guests who had spent the night enjoying a dutch over 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 Bundy was the choreographer of this operation of getting guests to and from the river safely - his expertise rain or shine. Garth started unloading guests and their bags as Joe and I scrambled to get our guests caught up so the chopper would not have to sit and spin blades, wasting time and fuel.

Garth's leadership showed up like a well oiled machine with many years of experience under many various weather conditions. 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. 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.

Garth meant business and took his duties of loading guests into the Helicopter -seriously. Garth was known for his saying "You Lie, You Die"... as he added up the total weight of guests and cargo to be flown down into the Grand Canyon. 

Without missing a beat Garth would smile from ear to ear, look women guests in the eye, and ask how much they weighed. He would make notations on a little pad of paper to compensate for women who had understated their real weight shown.

Garth was really good as sizing up weight of a guest and would not embarass anyone who fudged, instead he would smile, add up his estimates and arrange and balance the load in the helicopter with seating arrangements. His saying "You Lie, You Die" was his way of helping people know, how important their honest weight was logged so the chopper would not be overloaded. 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. For a few flights, Garth would just then sit, and wait for the chopper to return, and these short moments I looked forward to hearing one of his tall tales. He was a unique addition to the experience guests had and Garth Bundy a cowboy to be remembered- they stopped making them like Garth many years ago.

I would leave the river family (WRE) for a few decades to raise up 4 children and be away from the river. When my Plan A for life changed to Plan B, then C, then D.

I approached Western to see if I could create media content - to capture and share stories of my new found friends I would meet on the river. People come and visit the Grand Canyon for many varying reasons. Adventure, Thrill, To Find Peace, To Rest, To Heal, To Rebuild Relationships, To Strengthen their Family Bonds. Heart to heart interviews afforded me insights into many lives and preserving their stories have forever touched my life.

Garth retired a few years ago, his absence at the ranch, his colorful jokes, and his good nature are missed, yet life lessons from Garth.... Cowboy Up, Get Er Done ... has helped me when I face challening times off the river and in normal life. 

Garth tells it best in his own words in this video.


Western River Expeditions had encouraged Tony Heaton to build out a ranch for transitioning guests in and out of the canyon in the early 80's. With a strategic land purchase, Tony took a chance on Westerns offer and would build a lodge for guest exchanges in and out of the Grand Canyon. Building a ranch in the Arizona desert, no small task and Tony needed a right hand man, a cowboy who could live simply and weather hardship and do so with a smile. Garth Bundy was that man.

Gavin Heaton, son of Tony, now operates the Bar 10 with his wife Andrea and their children and some youth they hire to help with cooking, horse and ATV rides, Skeet Shooting and Ranch operations.

Last fall, I had a chance to go to the Bar 10 and wanted to tell the untold stories, Gavin and Andrea were gracious to let me interview them - this video forthcoming and will be worthwhile to watch.

The Bar 10 ranch experience can be tacked onto the back end of a 6/7 day trip or a guest can spend a night at the ranch getting to know others who will join with them prior to the 3 day rafting trip.

In this soon to be release video Gavin and Andrea Heaton share a little about their lives, the sacrifices and blessings that they have experienced while raising their family in perhaps one of the most isolated and remote locations in the lower 48 states.

Western is most grateful for the Cowboy Spirit of those who enrich the experiences of our guests river trips.

Last fall I caught up with Garth and spent an few hours with him at his home in St. George, checking in, reminding him that he and his wife had made a difference in the lives of many. We had a nice visit. Garth played his harmonic for me. He is slowing down a bit, but still has the handshake of a cowboy and the twinkle in his eye and a love for life.

His smile at the end of this short video, the smile of a life well lived, a compassionate and kind man, an honest cowboy who worked hard and has faced life challenges with resolve, grit and courage. With humor, and compassion and being surrounded by good people of like mind, most of life's storms can be weathered.

With the world being reset and things in commotion, I have had my thoughts turn to the Bar 10 Ranch, Garth Bundy, Gavin and Andrea- who all know the meaning of "Cowboy Up". 

In this retirement video, we were able to get Garth up on a horse, perhaps his last ride, the stormy sky looked a bit gloomy, and foreboding. Garth rode off into the sunset and although retired, the handshake is still firm, the sparkle in his eye and smile still runs from ear to ear. This old river guide in me appreciates seeing Garth still cowboying up. I too hope to have a bit more cowboy in me and those I love who have to "Cowboy Up" in these trying times, we can do it together.

Glimmering rays of sunlight peaking through the dark clouds as Cowboy Garth Bundy saddled up one last time. 

The Bar 10 Ranch is gearing up for business as the global reset resolves. Perhaps a few days at the ranch would help bring peace to some of you reading this. I know when I can get to the ranch, there is a peace out on the Arizona strip that helps me remember that which is important and separates out, winnows out, those things in life that encumber peace. 

Hope to see you on the river.

Hope you will share your stories of resiliency with us. 
Life is better when shared with compassionate friends - together we will get through this and remember Cowboy Grit. Saddle Up. Let's Get Er Done.

Author note:

[I would leave river guiding for about 20 years, raise 4 children, experience a divorce and then return seeking employment so I could be a "mostly stay at home" single dad. Western was my family, Garth became an extension of that, and an example of "Cowboying Up". I returned to the river as a film producer about a decade ago, I had not seen Garth since my last trip down the Grand in 1989. As I climbed out of the helicopter to do a lower Grand Canyon trip, Garth smiled from ear to ear, and without missing a beat.... "Mark, its good to see you" I was blown away by his sharp memory. 

The world is a better place with Cowboy ethics and hard work and honesty being the centerpiece of their souls. Cowboy up, we will get through these challenging times together. 

Spring is just around the river bend.


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Blog Author Photo
Mark guided for Western between 1984-1989 motoring J-rigs in Cataract Canyon and the Grand Canyon, interspersed with rowing rafts down Westwater and Desolation Canyons. Mark produces video and social media content for both the Western brand and Moab Adventure Center. He has been heard to say "Being able to interview guests and share in their experiences, seeing these trips through their eyes - has been an incredible opportunity. Being able to interview and preserve stories of our guests has changed my life. Learning from those who have traveled with Western has been in a way a sacred experience- I have shared both laughter as well as tears with those I have interviewed. This past summer a guest summed it up this way 'River trips provide a chance to "reset", to delineate the important from the 'not so important', and I would agree with that sentiment. To those who have shared their stories, their hearts with me- you have forever touched my life in beautiful ways for which I am most grateful." There is no place Mark would rather spend a week than floating down Desolation Canyon with those he loves.
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