MOAB, UTAH: DESERT OASIS DESPOILED

On our recent trip to Glacier National Park and Yellowstone we stopped in Moab, Utah with a lot of mixed feelings. Forty years ago when we lived in Utah, Moab, Dead Horse Point, Arches National Park and Canyonlands National Park were our favorite places. We visited them often and as much as we could.  Moab was a sleepy little river town peopled by laid back river rats, denizens of the desert, and a lot of very nice folks.  We really didn’t spend much time in town, though, because we camped out in tents on the desert floor waiting for the sunlight to slice into the canyon making the slick rock and desert varnish shine. We also anticipated the distant morning call of the canyon wren, birds hopping around our camp site, and lizards and snakes seeking coolness under boulders. Exploring Canyonlands required a four-wheel vehicle and an adventurous spirit, but Arches was a wonderland of trails, canyons, and striking rock formations including the name-sake arches. One of our most memorable hikes was up the steep narrow trail to a rock window through which you could see a smooth rock terrace with Delicate Arch perched on the edge of the abyss and the glistening La Sal Mountains filling the horizon.  With a little trepidation you could sit under the arch. We and our small children spent a half day there by ourselves, pleased with our hike and awed by the breathtaking scene.

Since our long-ago visits, Moab has been “discovered” and turned into a Mecca for dirt bikers and river runners. We had heard that Moab had grown and changed a great deal, so we were a little nervous. But we were not prepared for what we found.  The main street had been widened with lots of traffic signals, and the streets were filled with still-shiny four-wheel drive vehicles with expensive composite kayaks strapped on top or $5,000 dirt bikes strapped on back or both. The cars created traffic jams, and one could only wonder why they were in town instead of the desert or beside the river. Above were giant billboards advertising this or that outfitter, and the streets were lined with overpriced motels and cutesy restaurants featuring local specialties like steak and lobster (lobster in the Utah desert??), pizza, tired-looking Italian, and more than one easy-to-forget Mexican restaurant.

We decided to forego Arches because we didn’t want to have our memories destroyed, and we didn’t want to see a parade of people shuffling in lock step up the narrow trail to Delicate Arch in the same way I imagine the current traffic jams on the final pitch to the summit of Mount Everest.

We did revisit two of our favorite places, and we were pleasantly surprised. The twenty-two mile drive to the Big Spring Canyon Overlook in Canyonlands was virtually isolated except for three separate bands of pronghorns. When we arrived at the overlook, there was practically no one else there, and the various hiking trails assured that the few who were there would not get in one another’s way. The view from the rim evoked an uncontrolled gasp, and it just got better as we walked along the edge of the sheer cliff. At one point we could just make out the ridge identified as Dead Horse Point, all the way across the huge chasm created by the confluence of the Colorado and Green Rivers, 15 miles or more away. There is no exaggeration to say the place is as spectacular as the Grand Canyon.

Big Spring Canyon Overlook, Canyonlands

Nearly 40 years ago we made a camping trip along the edge of the river with friends. One of them was an artist who later did a show based upon our trip. A painting of hers remains a prized possession. Here is a detail from that painting in contrast with one of my recent images of the tributary San Juan River near Blanding, Utah.  You can see that nothing much has changed in forty years.

Colorado River by Ruta Dreimanis, 1973. Oil and fabric on masonite (detail)

San Juan River near Blanding

On our way out of Moab, we took a 20 mile side trip to Dead Horse Point, a Utah State Park so-named because of the legend of horses that perished while being constrained to the narrow peninsula by a gate. The park now boasts a modern visitors center, but just a short stroll down a well-marked path gets you away from anyone else. The view inspires another involuntary gasp. Again, nothing much has changed. You can judge for yourself by comparing a painting we purchased from another artist friend about the same time (We still marvel at how or why we paid as much as we did in those days of training) with one of my recent images.

Dead Horse Point by Denis Phillips, 1973. Oil on canvas

Dead Horse Point in 2012

This is mostly a food blog, so I struggled with what to write about Moab food in light of there being nothing of particular note there. Instead I decided to describe the perfect trail-side lunch for a hike in the desert. I have included a recipe for Gorp. No one uses that name anymore because it has been replaced with the term, “Trail Mix”, by aggressive retailers. Be assured, though, that any hiker above a certain age will know exactly what you are talking about with Gorp.

A perfect desert trail lunch including gorp

THE PERFECT TRAIL LUNCH FOR A DESERT HIKE

  •  1 sleeve of saltine crackers
  •  1 tin Kipper snacks
  •  1 can Vienna sausages
  •  1 plastic bag  Gorp

RECIPES

Gorp

Ingredients (you may use any or all, or choose something else of your own)

  • 1 cup salted peanuts
  • 1 cup mixed fancy nuts
  • 1 cup salted pumpkin seeds (pepitas)
  • 1 cup sunflower seeds
  • 1 cup raisins
  • 1 cup M&M candies (CAUTION: under no circumstances use chocolate pieces, as they will melt into a huge mess in a back pack and 105® day temperatures in the desert
  • 1 cup dried apricots (or pack separately)
  • 1 cup dried apple slices (or pack separately)
  • 1 cup rolled oats

Mix together and pack either in a single large plastic bag or in smaller quantities in individual bags

Remember to pack out everything you brought in, like cans and plastic bags, but bring an odor-resistant container for the cans or you will smell like a kippered herring for the rest of the trip. Be sure to then secure the trash in either an animal-proof container or pulled up off the ground on a line until you are ready to pack it out.

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5 Comments

Filed under Food, Photography, Recipes, Travel

5 responses to “MOAB, UTAH: DESERT OASIS DESPOILED

  1. I wouldn’t worry too much about what your blog should be about – the places you have access to are simply amazing – I’ve been to the Rockies – but only at 33,000ft!

  2. I think this is my favorite post yet. Looking at that desert hike lunch mix brings back a lot of memories!

  3. Nice writing, loved reading it! 🙂

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