Any worthwhile relationship has a courtship in which there are some memorable trials and tribulations as the two parties get acquainted. And so it was when my love affair with Moab began as a college freshman on an uncharacteristically rainy evening in October 1989.
We had set out from Boulder, Colo., with our suspension-less mountain bikes having heard rumors of rideable oceans of sandstone that undulated for mile upon mile through the Utah desert. By the time we exited at Cisco (now Danish Flat), the evening had turned dark and very wet, but we were undaunted. (Over dozens of trips in the ensuing years we would loyally approach Moab via Cisco – shunning the relatively uncool Hwy 191 with its straight lines and wide, safe roadway, in exchange for the adventurous feel of the River Road whose awesome scenery expanded as you dropped in from the high desert and followed the path of the Colorado River).
For reasons long forgotten, I was at the helm of the late-model Chevy Astro van that belonged to my friend Jim. There were four of us in the vehicle and somewhere near the s-curve over the railroad tracks in Cisco, one of the guys asked me to turn on the interior dome light. Being unfamiliar with the Astro’s dashboard I inadvertently hit the headlight switch and instantly plunged the world – that had been hurtling by at 60 mph – into total darkness.
Trying, but failing, to reverse whatever switch I had turned off, instinct intervened and I slammed full force on the brakes and thankfully came skidding to a stop just barely into the tumbleweeds at the road’s edge. Shaken, but none the worse for wear, I found the headlights, told the guys not to worry, and we resumed our journey.
Strangely, we’d been told that a great place to camp was the trailhead at Negro Bill Canyon. In those days, it seemed you could pull over just about wherever you wanted, pitch your tent, light a campfire and enjoy the desert.
We parked in the small, and now muddy, parking area at the trailhead and set about the chore of setting up camp in the cold rain of the late evening. Little did I know the night was going to get even more strange.
I quickly set up my tent just feet from the parking area, figuring we’d be up and on our way early the next morning. Two of the guys opted to sleep in the Astro and the other set up his tent nearby. Once in my sleeping bag, the pleasant sound of the rain lulled me to sleep in no time.
Never having been a good sleeper, at some point during the overnight hours I awoke. Opening my eyes I found that there was a bright light shining on my tent from the direction of the parking area. This seemed really odd – and inconsiderate.
I waited a few moments, hoping that whoever was operating this flashlight or headlight would turn it off. Clearly they could see that they were shining it directly on my tent.
But, when it didn’t turn off I started to get annoyed and finally decided to yell out to whoever was out there.
“Hey, could you turn that light out – trying to sleep in here.”
No response. I’m starting to think all sorts of things – like, who is this jerk that in the middle of the night would shine a light on a stranger’s tent? I tried again, this time louder and more agitated.
Now I’m left with no choice but to confront this lunatic. I unzipped the rainfly, and poking my head out into the night come face to face with the offending source of light.
Incredibly, the night sky had cleared and hanging beautifully low in the sky was a nearly full moon. Wow – I had just been yelling at the moon. I was the lunatic – literally – a word derived from the word ‘luna’, meaning moon.
The next day would dawn bright, clear and warm – and my first visit to Moab was filled with the wonders of the desert and the trails, and of time spent with dear friends.
In the more than 20 years since that weekend, I’ve returned countless times, I got married here (just up the road from the Negro Bill trailhead), bought a house here. And now, I live here and have embarked on the adventure of starting a newspaper in this town I’ve grown to love.
Even after all these years – while so much has changed, one thing remains the same – Moab, I’m still crazy about you.
Andrew Mirrington is the publisher of the Moab Sun News.