Scott and Leticia Bentley [Photo courtesy of Leticia Bentley]

When Scott and Leticia Bentley opened the Lazy Lizard Hostel in Moab in 1987, the couple were just looking to earn a little extra cash. They never expected the hostel to become a full-time job, said Scott Bentley, who was working as a part-time handyman at the time.

“We thought we’d get a few people a night,” he said.

For the first three years business was slow – there weren’t as many tourists back then. These days, 60 to 70 people a night sleep in bunks inside the hostel’s dormitory, a converted two-story house at 1213 S. Highway 191. A house next door that the couple built and used to live in, is now part of the hostel. There are also private rooms and eight cabins on the one-acre property. Down the street are two houses that are available for large groups to rent.

“We’re really busy now,” with 11 mostly part-time employees,” Scott Bentley said.

On any given day outside the hostel office, you might find a couple of Colorado rock climbers at the picnic table talking with two young women from China. At another table, a German family with a child might visit with a middle-aged couple from Illinois. It’s also not uncommon for guests to be playing guitars while another person adds the sound of percussion via a plastic bucket.

Inside the hostel, several different languages are spoken in the kitchen, where travelers talk about what they have to contribute to a communal group dinner.

About half of the guests are from Europe and Asia; the other half comes from neighboring states or Salt Lake City, Scott Bentley said. Occasionally, he becomes well-acquainted with the travelers who choose to stay for a couple of weeks – most often mountain bikers or rock climbers who come in the spring or fall, he said.

Denali Daniels is a well-traveled 57-year old who took the name “Denali” after working at Denali National Park in Alaska for two years. This is his third time returning to the Lazy Lizard where he has stayed off and on since March, while exploring the Moab area.

“It’s a fantastic place to meet other people doing what you enjoy doing,” Daniels said. “It’s a one-of-a-kind place in many ways,” with its mix of bunk beds and small private rooms.

Daniels said he enjoys cooking pancakes from scratch in the morning, and sometimes, if he’s around he’ll make supper as well for his fellow travelers. He often meets someone with whom to hike or go exploring for petroglyphs.

While some hostels bill themselves as “youth hostels” – that’s not the case at the Lazy Lizard, where you’ll find travelers of all ages, Daniels said.

Scott and Leticia met each other in 1984, after Scott attended a guitar festival in the mountains of central Mexico where he ended up staying six months to learn how to make guitars. Shortly before he left the country, he was introduced to the guitar-makers’ cousin, Leticia, a school teacher. Bentley returned to Mexico the following year and the couple ended up marrying. Scott Bentley brought Leticia and her young son back to his hometown of Moab.

In Moab, Leticia volunteered at Head Start, where she enrolled her son Saul, so they could both learn English. Her son quickly changed his name to Danny because he didn’t like the way Utahns mispronounced his name, she said. Leticia later earned a Utah teaching certificate and taught middle school and high school. Eventually, she founded the Moab Valley Multicultural Center, where she continues to work as outreach and program director.

At least a half-dozen couples met each other while staying at the Lazy Lizard Hostel and eventually married, the Bentleys said.

“One couple came back for several years in a row for an anniversary trip,” they said.

A hostel employee met a girl from Australia and ended up moving there with her, he added.

Occasionally, because of Moab’s affordable housing shortage, people come hoping to stay long-term, or permanently.

“The normal maximum length of a stay is two weeks,” Bentley said. “Sometimes a person can stay longer if there are no conflicts.”

However, “permanent people are there for a different purpose” (than the travelers). They don’t always mix well, although sometimes they do,” the Bentleys said.

Because it’s affordable, various agencies have also occasionally paid for their homeless or mentally ill clients to stay at the hostel – something that Bentley discourages because it’s “bad for the business” when the locals bum cigarettes or food from the international travelers, he said.

When the Bentleys opened Lazy Lizard, they were simply looking for a way to earn a little money when jobs were scarce and they had three sons to support. They managed to acquire a loan to buy the property when “real estate was cheap,” Scott Bentley said. Luckily for them, the mountain biking and tourism boom was starting to happen about the time they opened their doors.

“We were in the right place at exactly the right time,” Scott Bentley said.

Scott and Leticia Bentley’s labor of love going strong after 28 years

“It’s a fantastic place to meet other people doing what you enjoy doing. It’s a one-of-a-kind place in many ways.”