Adrift in Utah

Once upon a time, I turned my back on the town of Moab.

Blame bad luck or blind ignorance, but roughly 15 years ago, I stumbled into the nearby burg just in time for the annual Easter Weekend jeep extravaganza. I should have immediately flipped a U (and flipped a bird) at the city limits. Instead, I absentmindedly eased my Toyota pickup into a flock of Bubbas, driving my rusty old SR5 – complete with camping gear in back, hardtail klunker on top and an Allman Brothers bootleg blaring up front – into a swarm of hundreds of four-wheel drive vehicles creeping through downtown in parade formation. The following morning showed few signs of improvement. After a bad breakfast at Arches Diner and a bonus case of runs (my final meal of biscuits and gravy, I promise), I found myself pedaling up Amasa Back with a dozen jeepers from Day 1. In between portages around their Rock Crawlers, dodging redneck barbs about my spandex shorts and stopping for frequent emergency B&G-induced rest stops, I actually managed to get a little riding in.

When the weekend was said and done, my pocketful of greenbacks was history, my bike had been ridiculed more than ridden, and I swore my longstanding love affair with Moab’s trails and surroundings was over. About that same time, Schwinn put the word “Moab” on a bike, Nike put it on pair of shoes, BF Goodrich stuck it on a set of tires and Samsonite even christened a garment bag with the four letters.

And so I started looking elsewhere for my desert fix, identifying random squiggles on maps and pushing deep into the canyons of the San Rafael Swell and the empty quarter west of Blanding. Following nameless urges to nameless landmarks, I’d drive across dozens of miles of washboard and traverse places with names like the Mussentuchit Badlands and the Moroni Slopes. At the end of the road, I almost always found magic hiding in those forgotten folds. When asked if I’d ridden Slickrock on my recent desert trip, I’d huff back. “Ha! Moab,” I would say, doing my best Everett Ruess imitation. “I haven’t set a boot in that tourist trap in years.” Luckily Abbey Disorder is a temporary ailment, easily cured by a small dosage of indoor plumbing, repeated exposure to bottled microbrew and the injection of newborn offspring into the desert rat’s life.

Way back in the early 2000s, I finally shook off my inner Ed and boomeranged back to the uranium boomtown. For added effect, I made my return in high season and agreed to a family-style getaway, grudgingly committing to a hiking trip along the fabled infant path. I also submitted

to spending the night in the affordable confines of a “cabin” situated in an RV park. Fittingly, the wood-paneled modular was still on wheels. In spite of it all, I still fell back in love with that awkward girl with the unfortunate name of Moab. In fact, I was back the next weekend and have made dozens of additional trips since.

It turns out that Moab is about more than canyons of Wingate sandstone, great slickrock and singletrack and shorts in February. Sure, the riding’s great, and my Colorado Plateau addiction does require constant feeding, but I also love that bizarre little burg for other reasons. As much as I miss shivering in the base of a canyon and heating bulgar over a white gas flame, I’d much rather cap a day in the desert off with a glass of “Utah’s coldest beer” from a frosty mugs at Woody’s. After all these years, I can finally see beyond the jeep squirting motor oil on sandstone; past the Dutch tourists hiking Devil’s Garden with their umbrellas; and through the gents cruising the Utah backcountry complete with sidearms and coveralls. What can I say? I’ve matured.

Sadly, this year has been different. For the first time since Clinton was in office, I missed a spring trip to Southeast Utah (last year, the Sands clan clocked six prior to June 1). Forced home improvements coupled with the most cataclysmic winter in Moab history kept me from crossing back into my beloved Beehive State. Before I knew it, the blessed middle season – when it’s actually possible to procure a Sand Flats campsite as well as a table for dinner – had come and gone.

But all hope is not lost. Though trailhead parking spots and vacant singletrack are currently as slim as Teabaggers at the Rainbow Family Gathering, times are about to change. There’s nothing quite like getting the mercury back into in the 90s to soften up the crowds and restore some of that traditional Moab charm.

Plus, a familiar friend will be paying a visit to the old stomping grounds here in a couple short weeks. You guessed it, Moab Mogfest – “four-and-a-half fun-filled days of off-road jeeping adventure, technical chats and training, and a group BBQ!” – is virtually en route. It just so happens that the Allman Brothers bootleg, the Toyota pickup and I have a vacancy in the calendar. A little time in parade formation might be just the ticket for this overdue reunion.

– Will Sands



In this week's issue...

January 25, 2024
Bagging it

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January 26, 2024
Paper chase

The Sneer is back – and no we’re not talking about Billy Idol’s comeback tour.

January 11, 2024
High and dry

New state climate report projects continued warming, declining streamflows