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(from the Zephyr archives) “ALL THAT CLAIMS to be MOAB IS NOT NECESSARILY SO” –Allan Greenwood

Recently in a back issue of The Zephyr I came across an obituary you wrote about the loss of one of your best friends. Sorry, it took me almost a year to read it. I enjoy The Zephyr immensely, to the point of reading each individual ad. However, I tend to stack up issues until I am in Moab, but unfortunately, on my map Moab is in a slightly different location than Rand McNally’s. But more on that later.

In addition to grieving the loss of your friend, I was struck by your mourning of the loss of Moab, the original town that got you here. Having watched it rather suddenly be replaced over the years with the New West Moab, I understand why you lament. However, being a fence sitter, I can’t, with all honesty, say that I feel your pain. I am often in Moab, up to ten times per year, but most of the year I am somewhere else. You see, Jim, I don’t have the courage to move to the original Moab. Nor do I have the impetus of an ex-wife hounding me, a lost job with no future or a criminal record to push me out of my present situation.

An example of another difference is that I lack the character to tell the New West Moab to go screw itself. As a nonresident, I like to quietly perch on a fence post and smile at whoever walks by, be they souvenir vender, overweight tourist, cowboy or biker. Although I have to admit that when I smile at the bikers, I am actually laughing at their funny costumes and shoes and pseudo-macho babble.

To you, I am sure I represent part of the blame for the demise of your Moab. I own a townhome in Moab. Note, I said townhome and not townhouse; I do not rent it out. Also it is in a residential neighborhood full of real Moab people. I wander in and backpack, hike or just plain bum around the area. Quietly, I mind my own business. Despite what you may be thinking, I am not a pretend Moabite or a faux canyon rat. I am not that cool. Instead, I see myself as a lesser version of you who, while I don’t reside full time in Moab, I do spend a significant amount of time in Moab, the real Moab.

Let me explain myself. In 1979, while in medical school (a life mistake despite my apprent success, but that’s another subject if not an entire book) my best friend and I randomly chose this area for one of our many quarterly-break backpacking trips. Usually, we went to the mountains since he had a real passion for the West and Colorado, but we were in the mood for something different. I enjoyed the mountains, but that was compared to Minnesota, which has wonderful lakes but is awfully flat. We had great experiences in the West, but I was only a tiny bit melancholy upon my return. I could never imagine the mountains as a place I would want to live out my life and scatter my ashes.

Then we went slightly south, southwest of our previous treks and arrived in Moab and the canyons. For me it was an opiate and I have been obsessed ever since. I returned a few more times before graduating from medical school, but remained in Minnesota. I told myself that someday I would return for good, live out my body and haunt the canyons.

However, like I said, I didn’t have the guts to pack it up and follow the advice of my soul. I chalked it up to responsibility for I had internship and residency to complete. Then came a life in anesthesiology to establish, marriage and kids, a home and cars, money and bills, etc., etc., etc. At the rate I was going I would soon be too old to move anywhere in the desert country except one of those God-awful retirement communities in Arizona, Florida without the humidity.

After a hiatus of about eight years, I came to my senses and realized that the taste of the forbidden fruit of the canyons was still on my palate. I still perceived myself as too responsible to chuck it all and move to Moab. There was a wife and kids that were more important to me than myself and they liked Minnesota. However, I wasn’t too old and sedentary yet to talk a friend into driving all night to Canyonlands for a pack in the desert. That was the early 90’s.

You can imagine my shock upon arrival. What you witnessed as a transition over the years, I saw as a sudden transformation. Moab was gone, replaced with hotel chains and enough restaurants to feed a town double in size, which it was judging by the license plates. It seemed there were bike shops everywhere, and for God’s sake some even served espresso.

We didn’t stop, but immediately drove to Squaw Flat Ranger Station to check in for a backpacking trip into the Needles. I was greeted by more of the New Moab. I needed a reservation, which wasn’t necessary in 1980. However, that didn’t matter because there were none available. The cancer in Moab had already metastasized.

Fortunately, I was resourceful and moved further south finding a canyon in the Cedar Mesa area. Although busy, it didn’t require advanced reservations. (Sadly, it now does.) In our chosen canyon we were able to find solitude and peace while tasting sandstone, the forbidden fruit of the canyon country. 1979 had returned.

I have been back dozens of times and seen the further degradation of my Garden of Eden. But I have come to realize that nothing can stay the same, not even the stone of this country, for it is the millennial changes in the sandstone that have given this area its beauty. Maybe the changes we witness won’t be so bad after all. If I believe that, maybe I too am a degradation of the past and I can now call myself a New Western Moabite.

No, that is not true. I still search for my Lost City of Gold; only it is not a city built of the yellow metal, symbol of monetary wealth, which I seek. That city I found on the banks of the Colorado River near Arches and Canyonlands National Parks. Don’t tell anyone, Jim, but I have found it and it still exists out there. Admittedly, it has receded over the years. However, if you really have the desire, it can still be entered.

What I found isn’t nearly as “valuable.” It contains a substance similar in color, but much grainier and too abundant to be hoarded by a greedy few. In fact, sometimes it isn’t even yellow, but pink and mauve and tan and brown. Unlike gold it tarnishes. I have found examples coated in ebony varnish and streaked in purple and green and burnt orange. However, it is still gold, for when the sun sets it glistens and shines and makes me believe that I am the wealthiest man alive.

Here is the point I am trying to make. Your Moab, and my Moab, is still there. It was never gone and it has not really changed. What you have seen change is what I call the easy Moab, the gold that sits on the surface for anyone to find and pocket. It is the town that runs along Highway 191 and one block either side. The people that search for gold there are the same ones that come to The New West Moab once in a lifetime or every few years, but certainly never more than once a year. They want easy gold like a slickrock rim with more traffic than an urban interstate, or a 4WD road never more than a day’s drive from a motel bed and a bar, or a hiking trail with plenty of cairns because getting lost can be inconvenient.

The Moab you lament is a vein of gold, the mother lode. You have to realize that it is buried and I will admit sometimes deeply. But it is there and always has been. It is a buried treasure deep inside of you and me. And when in the right place, at the right time and in the right frame of mind, it shines and glows and shows off its wealth.

What we want isn’t in city limits and never was. The change you bemoan is not the degradation of a town, but the change in yourself. The loss you mourn was inside of you, something you had in the past that has slowly slipped away over the years.

That may sound depressing, but here is good news. The gold is still inside of you. All you have to do is go out into a secluded canyon and not be afraid to look for it. Don’t tell me that you can’t, because I do it all the time. I drive past Denny’s and the Holiday Inn Express and in less than a mile they can’t even be seen. I thumb my nose at the fast food and espresso coffee and plan lunch by myself on a ledge halfway down a deserted canyon wall. (If anyone should happen by they are usually on top or at the very bottom.) It is amazing how many times the only sound I hear is the ringing in my middle-aged ears; no cars, no obnoxious tourists, no even-more-obnoxious conquerors of the wilderness.

What I am telling you is that Moab is not a place, but a state of mind. As long as you have your mind you can always find Moab, the original Moab.

Returning to why I read The Zephyr and your friend’s obituary so late. I mentioned earlier that I only read The Zephyr when I am in Moab. Despite my frequent trips to Moab and always having your paper close by, I am in the New West Moab. When going to the real Moab I forget to bring it along. I end up not reading it believing that it would be sacrilegious to do so in any place but the real Moab. In the New West Moab and Minnesota I can read The Times Independent. I apologize for my lack of timely loyalty and will remember to always carry it with me when I go to the real Moab.

One last bit of advice, when going down Main Street, remember that you are not in Moab. As a wise man once said, “All that claims to be Moab is not necessarily so.”

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