FARMINGTON – As summer nears, the river is looking more and more appealing to those who enjoy water recreation, and that’s good news for Desert River Guides, a new rafting company that plans its grand opening this weekend.
Full-time fourth grade teacher and part-time river guide Ryan Dudgeon said she and her husband moved to Montana from Farmington, and while she got her master’s degree in archaeology and her husband, Cody Dudgeon, got his degree in education, the pair fell in love with river rafting and guiding.
When they decided to move back to Farmington to be closer to family, they realized there was nothing here like what they were leaving behind. But that sadness meant “opportunity” to Ryan Dudgeon.
“Once we moved back here, we saw an opportunity that was really lacking in Farmington,” Dudgeon said. “People are missing out, you know? It’s a really beautiful river.”
They decided to start the business in fall 2019. Then the pandemic hit. With COVID-19 restrictions in place, finding a permanent location was difficult. But the city saw the value in the business.
“We’re trying to bolster the economy with recreation,” Dudgeon said. “The city is awesome and they are renting us a recreation incubation idea location for three years to start to promote recreation.”
Dudgeon said the property is shared with a Jeep tour business to promote Jeep tours in Choke Cherry Canyon and the building is like a “base camp for adventure” with Jeep and rafting tours.
Desert River Guides travels both the Animas and the San Juan rivers, which Dudgeon said is perfect in the event of low waters or extended drought, because the San Juan is always flowing.
The business offers multiple floating options and durations, each with its own special features. The half-day floats include snacks and the full-day floats include a pull-over stop for a picnic lunch.
In the future, Dudgeon said they hope to expand into overnight trips. The main issue they face is finding good access points and speaking with landowners who are open to overnight camping with “no trace policy, with minimal impact on their land.”
But for now, Dudgeon said they are focusing on getting their name out there and kick-starting the business.
For that reason, the business is taking advantage of Memorial Day weekend and staging its grand opening. Floats in a raft on one of the smaller routes will be $20. Their location at 109 E. Pinon St. in Farmington will have music, food and drinks. Dudgeon said the Mac Wagon food truck will be there, and there might be an antique car show.
Dudgeon said her favorite thing about river guiding is seeing people’s outlook change after a float down the river.
“People are scared to get on the river, and then they do it for their first time, and it just changes their perspective. ... That is my ultimate favorite thing,” Dudgeon said. “Just watching people’s life experience change, even if it’s only a 45-minute trip, people come out of it with a different perspective.”