Thursday, July 20, 2017


This is the most beautiful place on earth.

There are many such places. Every man, every woman, carries in heart and mind the image of the ideal place, the right place, the one true home, known or unknown, actual or visionary...

- Opening lines of Desert Solitaire by Edward Abbey

Every place you visit sticks with you in some way. Sometimes it's a specific thing -- the fo Sometimes it's negative (I have no need to return to Beijing) and sometimes it lingers (twelve years later, I'm still thinking about Saint Petersburg).
od, the people, an experience, a building.

And sometimes, you find yourself browsing the job listings, looking for a reason to stay.

I first stopped in Moab on my way back from Oregon. As it turned out, two nights in the desert were perfect for a body and soul to recover from a week and a half on the road. Sadly, my second stop was two full years later, a mere pit stop between the Grand Canyon and Denver for lunch and a stretch.

They were only tasters, but I knew I wanted to return.

Bear with me, now. I've been struggling to write this piece for the last month because quite frankly, I don't know how to convey exactly how awesome the trip was.

I suppose I'll start from the beginning.

In the middle of May, my brother called. He had a road trip in mind immediately following his graduation in Denver and he wondered if I wanted to go along. "I'm headed to Moab."

Now, we'd talked about doing this for years. As I am perpetually in flux right now, I said sure, provided something crucial didn't come up. Heck, I was even going to be in Denver for that graduation.

Lo and behold, June arrived and I found myself prepping for a return to the desert.

The trip to Denver was a story in itself; there were three carloads coming from the general Hills region, but none of those would return with the same occupants. My parents and I left at midnight, a mere ten hours before Shorty's graduation. After a long, dark drive, a surprisingly entertaining and interesting ceremony, some family time, and then some much needed sleep, Shorty and I packed up a car and aimed west.

Moab has a population of around 5,000 (depending on my source, it seems) and sits along the Colorado River at a convenient break in the banks. It grew up as a trail and river crossing in the middle of the desert, then as a uranium mining town. Eventually, the mining moved on to potash (potassium salts) and two national parks were established -- Moab is the nearest town to both the hugely popular Arches National Park and the quiet and lovely Canyonlands National Park. Now, Moab draws a large portion of its revenue from the tourists, mountain bikers, hikers, and truckers that pass through.

This was a trip that would require liberal application of the two big travel rules.

Rule One: Take your time.
Rule Two: Talk to strangers.

We arrived late on a Friday, the heat of the day finally starting to dissipate while we searched for a campsite. As popular as the area is for outdoorsy types of many persuasions, we weren't exactly surprised when that search took a bit longer than we would have liked. There are numerous BLM campgrounds along the Colorado River; everything east of town was filled. We threw around ideas that would have put us out in the open for the hundred-degree days, but in the end our patience paid off -- we found a half-full campground southwest of town (where I'd camped before) and claimed a site that was fully in the shade by 6PM and partially blocked from the wind.

Next, dinner. Moab Brewery is a go-to for both of us, and we headed directly there. From that, it was a search for water (provided by an obliging city park) and we crashed for the night.

That first morning, Shorty headed for his mountain bike trails (because he's nuts) and I aimed for town. My first stop was the tourist center at the main crossroads because there were many things I didn't know and several maps I wanted to have in my possession. By the time I left, I'd made use of their wifi, met a native South Dakotan who happened to run the place (we can always find each other), learned where to hike and where to find water, and picked up a whole stack of maps from the silly to the serious.

After this, it was time to explore.

The city has a great network of bike paths that allow you to get around on two wheels pretty efficiently. While they get used by plenty of visitors, they're also commuter paths for the locals; I spent the better part of two days using these with my (new to me) bike without ever having to hurdle anything or worry about cars. It also gave me access to things I'd missed before -- city parks I had no idea existed (including one right on the river with a bouldering playground), fun views, Milt's.

The bike path gave me opportunities to ask more questions, too. I learned about Moab Cyclery, where they have a shower that you can use for $5 that doesn't come with a time limit. I learned that the wind we were experiencing wasn't entirely normal. I learned more shortcuts through town and where the locals go to stay cool.

The next three days flew. There was more biking, some exploration of Canyonlands, and so many more conversations.

There are stories about the swimming hole...

And this time, there was a real feeling of settling in. We changed campsites and moved to the Sand Flats Recreation Area, but we allowed ourselves to indulge in the town itself ... and like so many places, it only got better and better. By the end, it wasn't just the parks and trails that had me. It was the people, the attitude, the pace -- which was perhaps why I found myself browsing the help wanted ads as I drank my coffee on the last full day.

Oy. I'm not doing it justice. The full truth is that Moab could be multiple posts all its own, whether I'm talking about my enjoyment of National Parks or the fun camping innovations we discovered or my lessons in nighttime photos with my phone.

And of course, the specific trails and the things I need to go back and try. (No skydiving yet. Next time...)

More than anything, this was an oasis at an oasis -- the city in the desert, and a vacation in the midst of a lot of upheaval. It was a week of head-clearing heat and removal from the things that kept reminding me of what I didn't have.

And nothing beats a few nights in a tent to remind you of what you do have.

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