With four successful Alaskan travel businesses behind him, Marty Behr, president of National Parks Revealed (NPR), set his sights on the national parks of the lower 48. After two years of extensive traveling, inspecting accommodations and meeting with local experts—and discovering a disconcerting fact, that young people were increasingly favoring electronics over the natural world—National Parks Revealed was born. The company specializes in customized wilderness travel to 37 parks in 14 states for active, upscale travelers and their families, with a particular focus on nature-based activities to engage children.
The deeply experienced and passionate guides are a hallmark of NPR tours, and Behr personally met many of them during his travels. “I know that who we meet on our travels stays with us a lot longer than what we see. And these locals have become ‘the secret sauce’ in the success of the trips we create,” Behr says. Below, get to know two of NPR’s expert guides, Wayne Ranney and Dr. Keith Watts.
ANDREW HARPER STAFF (AHS): What spurred you into guiding as a profession?
WAYNE RANNEY (WR): I simply refused to settle for an ordinary job and seemed to migrate always toward anything with adventure, freedom, exploration and service. I was lucky to have landed at the bottom of the Grand Canyon (as a backcountry ranger) when I was barely 21 years old and that single experience set me on a path of hiking, river-running, sky-gazing, and the exploration of our national parks. It changed my life and I just kept at it. In a sense, I refused to grow up.
KEITH WATTS (KM): Fate! In 1991, I met Lisa Varga, who was rafting down a wilderness river in Arctic Alaska where I was doing geological field studies. Falling in love at first sight, we were married the next summer and had to choose between her home and business in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, and my career as a tenured professor at the University of Alaska in Fairbanks. I always loved Jackson Hole, so I quit my job and moved there.
For a geologist, the Tetons and Yellowstone are one of the best geological classrooms on Earth. I began guiding for the Teton Science School in 1995. In 2000, I started my own business, Earth-Tours–Explore Wyoming; later, I established Earth-Tours–Explore Southern Utah to share Utah’s ”Mighty Five” national parks and other special places. I have worked with National Parks Revealed since they were established and they have become my main source of bookings. When I was a kid, my forest-ranger father taught me much about nature, knowledge that I now share with my guests.
AHS: Where is your favorite spot in the Grand Canyon?
WR: There are so many! But if I had to choose just one, there’s an area down at the bottom of the canyon near Phantom Ranch, where only a few intrepid hikers can scale a very steep slope that shoots 1,000 feet straight up. It is a phenomenal approach finishing in a mini slot canyon. And then, it just opens up into the most amazing view—a broad world of smoothly eroded sandstone with a huge length of the Grand Canyon serving as a backdrop. I love it! It turns out that I was the person who came up with the name that stuck for this place, Utah Flats. So it’s a pretty special place for me.
AHS: What’s your favorite spot in the Yellowstone area?
KW: Great Fountain Geyser. Erupting only a couple times a day, you have to be lucky to see it in action, but it is truly spectacular! If you are very lucky, a “superburst” of water can erupt more than 200 feet into the air, creating a wave of water that crashes over sequential terraces. Unlike Old Faithful, you are able to be right next to the geyser and share the experience with only a few other lucky tourists and a handful of geyser-gazers who know when and how it will erupt.
AHS: In your opinion, what’s the most essential item to bring on a trip?
WR: A positive attitude. With that, any problem could never turn into tragedy.
KW: A sense of adventure! And a camera! Landscapes, geysers, hot springs, waterfalls, wildlife, and your enthralled family—so many memories to record.