Nikki Cooley

Nikki Cooley

Co-Executive Director

Fifth World Discoveries

Flagstaff, AZ USA

If you've ever been on white water in a rapid, there's only one way through: down. I've broken my oar, I've flipped my boat--but I've made it out OK. That's my analogy for life.


By Roadtrip Nation

Nikki Cooley

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My road in life has taken me all over.
Grew up with her grandparents on a Navajo reservation with no running water or electricity.
Her move to high school was hard; she was bullied and her grades suffered until she found softball.
Found counselors who encouraged her to push herself and give college a try, just for a year.
She finished her bachelor's and master's degrees in forestry at Northern Arizona University.
Has worked all kinds of jobs, from sheep herder to McDonald's to Colorado River guide.
Her first time rafting was also her first time on a boat and her first time in the Grand Canyon.
She's now the first Navajo woman to get a Colorado River guide license.
Says: Push yourself and listen to the people who tell you you're going to do great things.
Keep following my journey


High School
Forestry, General
Northern Arizona University
Wildlife, Fish and Wildlands Science and Management
Michigan State University


Co-Executive Director

I foster stewardship and understanding of mother nature through outdoor guiding and youth mentorship.

Career Roadmap

My work combines:
My work combines:
Action Sports
Environment & Nature
Teaching / Mentoring

Day to Day

I work numerous jobs including teaching college and career preparation to middle and high school students to at-risk, 1st generation college, and low income students in Northern Arizona, but I moonlight as a commercial and non-profit river guide. I help develop activities that focus on mentoring and guiding Native youth and adults to be environmentally and socially responsible using traditional tribal knowledge.

Skills & Qualities Beyond School

I was the first Native American woman to receive a Colorado River Guide License. Getting certified as a river guide is necessary in this work. Be passionate about learning from others and sharing your own cultural knowledge.

Advice for Getting Started

Here's the first step for high school students

Make a list of pros and cons for the "right" and the "left" paths in front of you in order to help you figure out your first move. You need to remember that nothing has to be forever. The more things you experience the better it will be for you.

Recommended Education

My career is related to what I studied. I'd recommend the path I took:

Forestry, General
Wildlife, Fish and Wildlands Science and Management


The Noise I Shed

From Myself:

"I'm not sure if I can do this."

Challenges I Overcame

First-Generation College Student
Drugs / Addiction