When Payson resident Jeff Wiles speaks of the Elderhostel and Edventures programs offered through Yavapai College, one is keenly aware he is a man who loves his work, and that Lake Powell has a very special place in his heart.
"There is no place on the entire planet like Lake Powell," Wiles said. "There are dinosaur tracks all over, Indian ruins, petroglyphs, petrified wood."
With a college major in geology, beginning at St. Josephs College in Renessear, Indiana and later at Northern Arizona University, Wiles' official title is geologic field liaison. But geology is not his only area of expertise. He is well versed in history, archeology, Southwest water issues, flora and fauna and kayaking, and those are subjects he delights in expounding upon when taking groups on hiking trips to such places as the Grand Canyon Peach Springs, the Hopi Reservation and Sedona.
Wiles is licensed through the United States Coast Guard as an officer in the U.S. Merchant Marine, and as such he pilots the large houseboats that ply Lake Powell.
"I can't describe the place," he said. "It's beyond description. World travelers have said it's the best they have seen. Cliff after cliff, after butte, after mesa, and the lake just winds through it all."
He said one of his drivers described the houseboat trip as being like a roller coaster. He was overwhelmed by the glorious beauty of the area, and the next second he was in terror that they would smash into a rock or a wall. The walls of which he speaks are the narrow canyon walls through which the boats pass.
"I enjoy that," Wiles said. "There's a thrill to that. This is your job and you're doing it well. If you get into that canyon, with inches to spare, you're good. I like maneuvering the craft."
Because the guides are knowledgeable experts in their fields, Wiles said that people involved in the programs know what they are looking at.
"When someone rents a houseboat, they don't know where they're going or why," he said. "We take them to places other people would never dream of going, and we're never lost."
At first, Wiles said everyone asks to see Rainbow Bridge.
Rainbow Bridge, he said, was discovered in 1909. At Rainbow Bridge, they talk about geology and history and about Zane Grey, who, Wiles said, "was there early on. The book ‘Riders of the Purple Sage' was set there.
"The book ‘Rainbow Trail' is a sequel to ‘Riders of the Purple Sage.'"
Wiles has been involved in Elderhostel programs since 1988, and through Yavapai College since 1993. When not involved in Elderhostel and Edventures programs, he makes his home in Payson with his wife, Becky, and their sons, Zane and Reid. The Wiles have been residents of Payson since 1993.
The Edventures program is for those 18 and older, and the Elderhostel program is for those 55 and above. A companion of any age can accompany an Elderhostel guest. There is also an Intergenerational program for grandparents and grandchildren and a family program.
For those interested in the Elderhostel, Edventures, Intergenerational or family programs, write to Yavapai College, 1100 E. Sheldon St., Prescott, AZ 86301 or call (928) 717-7630.