Southern Utah News Articles
New ownership at Dreamland Safari Tours
Almost 20 years ago, Dreamland Safari Tours was founded as a small outdoor tour company in Kanab, Utah, with one vehicle and an owner who loved to show people around the area.
A second owner grew the business until this spring when Paul Gagner and Sunny Stroeer bought the hiking and camping tour company.
Paul and Sunny believe tourism in Kane County is naturally positioned for growth over the long term, and they focus on quality over quantity with tours limited to five passengers per vehicle. Paul and Sunny would love to see Kanab build a stronger awareness among the active outdoor travelers, and to see Kanab continue to grow as a destination instead of simply as a gateway to Zion, Bryce and the Grand Canyon National Parks.
Paul grew up in the Bay area of California, hiking and camping with his family. Paul loved to climb from a young age and served as a climbing ranger at Grand Teton National Park.
After being an executive with several major outdoor equipment and apparel companies, he realized that he didn’t want to spend the rest of his life in a corporate office.
Sunny grew up in Germany and says she was a bit of a ‘couch potato’ until she went to college. When she started graduate school, she discovered running and climbing.
While earning an MBA at Harvard Business School she fell in love with ultra-distance trail runs and rock climbing, and soon realized that a corporate career path wasn’t for her.
After a few years of working as a strategy consultant and paying off her student loans, Sunny quit her job to move into a van and roam the American Southwest.
That’s when she met Paul, who was equally ready to leave behind his desk job and live on the road to explore the American West in a camper van. A van served as the couple’s home for a year and a half as a mobile base camp for many rock climbing, canyoneering and mountain adventures.
Paul and Sunny camped and explored their way throughout the Colorado Plateau, an area that they instantly fell in love with. At first they had no specific intention of settling in Kanab, but knew that they wanted to live somewhere on the Colorado Plateau.
One of the couple’s first hikes in the Kanab area was Kanab Creek all the way to the Colorado River in the western reaches of the Grand Canyon, and then back up to the Esplanade as an extensive 75-mile, nine-day backpacking loop.
It was an epic adventure and cemented Paul and Sunny’s love for the Kanab area. Half a year later, they returned to Kanab and discovered that Dreamland Safari Tours was for sale. It was as if Kanab and Dreamland found them.
Paul and Sunny’s vision for Dreamland Safari Tours is for it to be a magnet for visitors who are looking for “active human powered adventure.”
The majority of Dreamland’s tours involve hiking, with distances ranging anywhere from an easy one-mile walk to challenging cross-country hikes of 10 or more miles.
Some tours require easy scrambling. Other tours involve more driving than hiking, resulting in a choice for guests. Guests not only experience and see some of the most stunning landscapes in the country, but also leave with a sense of awe, knowledge and appreciation for the natural, cultural and fragile beauty of the area.
Taking over the helm of Dreamland in the time of COVID did not come without challenges for Paul and Sunny. Within days after the ink dried and the business deal closed, they had to suspend tours for almost two months. Dreamland was among the first local tour operators to suspend operations for the pandemic.
Kanab residents, business owners and the previous owners have all been very supportive. Crowd funding and grants helped Dreamland make it through the shutdown.
The slowdown also gave Paul and Sunny the opportunity to make positive changes for the outfit’s internal operations. Focusing on do-it-yourself projects to create work for Dreamland’s guides while running guided tours was out of the question, they transformed the office and shop into a welcoming place to receive guests.
Recent improvements include a water bottle filler and offering books and maps of the area for sale. A comfy couch allows guests to relax before and after their tour.
Now that Kane County is in the COVID green phase and Dreamland is able to welcome tour guests again, all vehicles are disinfected after every tour and all employees wear masks inside the vehicles and when social distancing is not possible or practical.
Guests also have the option to book a private tour with the entire vehicle reserved for a single group of up to five people who already know each other.
Future plans are to add more tour destinations, and to increase the size of Dreamland’s vehicle fleet, resulting in opportunities for more guides to work for Dreamland. Paul and Sunny want their company to be one of the best places to work in Kanab.
Dreamland Safari Tours offers a variety of tours throughout Vermilion Cliffs and Grand Staircase National Monuments, as well as Toroweap at Grand Canyon National Park, not only in English, but also in German, French and Spanish. Dreamland is all about the people and the experience.
Paul and Sunny don’t just sit back and manage the company. They join the other eight friendly and knowledgeable guides in customizing a tour to match the interest, ability and pace of their guests. Tours include The Wave, Peekaboo Canyon, White Pocket, and Willis Creek, just to name a few.
In addition to Dreamland, Sunny also runs a micro-business that specializes in mountaineering and expeditions to high altitude mountain peaks for women only, called AWExpeditions.
Sunny is a vocal advocate for gender equality and women empowerment, which is why AWExpeditions offers expedition scholarships for women looking to break into the male-dominated sport of big mountain climbing.
Last year, the Summit Scholarship program received hundreds of applicants for four $5,000 scholarships. For more information, go to awexpeditions.org.
As the sun was going down and we were wrapping up our interview, I asked what their favorite Dreamland tour might be. While all of the tours offer an outstanding outdoor experience, Paul said his favorite is White Pocket, with its amazing and varied rock formations and views.
Sunny likes the flexibility of the “Guide’s Choice,” which allows the guide to provide a truly memorable and unique experience in the area.
For more information be sure to check out dreamlandtours.net, or call (435) 644-5506. Visitors can also find Dreamland on Instagram, Facebook and TripAdvisor.