Our town has that way of getting under one’s skin. Its energy, vibe and solace have a unique manner of adopting souls. Even if a person doesn’t live here year-round, or remembers a time when he or she stayed for even a few days or seasons, Moab provides a heart’s nest for many.
A big chunk of our town’s work burden is carried on the backs of seasonal laborers who paddle rafts, wait tables, change bed linens and greet customers. For those of us who cater to the tourist scene, our jobs are eased a little when students come home from college and join the workforce. Prior to schools’ end, many business scramble to cover bases with limited staffs during the lengthy spring break time before classes are out. When finals are over, young folks from here and far come to Moab and get right to work. When they leave in August, Moab will have stolen pieces of their hearts, and many businesses owners will have to redouble their efforts to fill staffs into the autumn.
One of my cousins is visiting this week that grew up in Santa Fe, Durango and Denver. Her professional life was spent in Boise, and she is now retired and living in Idaho. But she came home to Moab this week to feel warmed by the sun, red rocks and memories of days gone by. We cling to a branch of the family tree wherein our parents, grandparents, and two generations prior to that made homes here. In the summer times when she was a kid and out of school, she came to Moab with her folks to visit and help the family that remained here, and those times have been etched into her native identity.
When my cousin and I made plans to get together this week our activities were based around some of her personal homecoming desires. “My afternoon is free on Monday but in the morning I’m going to Park Avenue and Delicate Arch,” she said. And I understood that she probably wanted to make those visits by herself, with her own feelings and ghosts, to pay homage and enjoy a walk down memory lane. This place is instilled in her heart, as it is in all of my extended family whether they live here or not. That afternoon we laced up our hiking shoes and went to Fisher Towers, swapping stories and making up for the several years since we’d seen each other. Our legs were as tired as our voices by the time we finished the nearly five-mile round-trip.
Whether people are drawn to our town or our country, it’s undeniable that Moab is a product of our canyons and our lands — our public lands — that allow so many of us to do so many different things on them. We are connected to the land in so many different ways, whether it is survival and life’s work, or recreation and life’s play.
Many Moab old-timers scratched out livings in the mines that were leased from the federal government on public lands. Many others then and still graze cattle on our vast deserts and mountain range to make a living, largely on government-issued permits. Many other folks are living off the land today, due to our tourism assets. The big users now are recreational outfitters who have the privilege, by federal permission, to pay a small portion (usually three percent of their intake) of their income to provide tourism services across our countryside. Guided tours for Jeeps, bikes, rafts, mountaineers, Hummers and horses are all permittees. We are still living off the land here in southeastern Utah. Tourism has had a more widespread impact to our public lands than older, more traditional users, and in that process, has become a home of sorts to the multitudes of people who have been guests here, and whose hearts have been stolen by its beauty.
Welcome home, visitors, students, old-timers and new. Whether you are from here or far away, Moab is your nest too.