Everyone’s amigo, Miguel Valdes, passed away following a heart attack on Monday, May 2. A much-loved figure in Moab, he charmed everyone he encountered with his infectious enthusiasm and positive energy.
“He was like Mr. Positive, super happy all the time,” said longtime friend and sometime co-worker Jason Taylor. “He called everyone amigo and he meant it.”
Taylor said that Valdes always had new ideas and was constantly encouraging others to follow their dreams.
“He would come up to you on the street and start talking a mile a minute, just go, go, go,” Taylor said.
A Moab resident since 1999, Valdes quickly settled into the area’s outdoor culture. He worked for river outfitters and Poison Spider Bicycles, and sold advertising for the Moab Guest Guide, becoming a familiar face around town.
River guides remember Valdes as one who could put a positive spin on every situation.
“(The wind) could be blowing like crazy upstream and you could still hear Miguel’s laugh,” veteran guide Lars Haar said. “What a guy. Everyone who knew him had their lives touched by him in some way.”
Valdes also left his mark as co-founder of the Main Street restaurant that bears his name, Miguel’s Baja Grill. Longtime friend Mike Estenson said the restaurant’s recipes were all handed down through Valdes’ family from their native region in Baja California, Mexico.
“It took a lot of experimenting to get the margarita recipe right,” Estenson joked. “A lot of time was spent in the kitchen on that one.”
Estenson said that Valdes loved to cook, entertain and have people in his home.
“Miguel always said, ‘Mi casa es su casa,’” Estenson said. “But when you came into his kitchen, you had crossed the border, and then you had to speak Spanish.”
Valdes was born in Loreto, Baja California Sur, on Jan. 7, 1957. His father owned a restaurant called Don Luiz’ and Valdes learned the art of fine Mexican cooking at an early age. He also developed a great love of the outdoors and a passion for sharing the Baja land- and seascape with others.
He guided sea kayaking and whale watching tours off the coast of Baja and in the off-season, he would take his skills to Alaska and Canada. He also started his own guiding business.
He met the love of his life, Carrie Hackford of Roosevelt, Utah, in Loreto. The two married and moved to Moab, where they raised two daughters, Jessica Carmen, now a sophomore and pre-med honor student at the University of Utah, and Michelle Marie, a junior at Grand County High School.
“He was always talking about his daughters,” Taylor said. “He loved them so much and was so proud of them.”
In his fifties, Valdes developed a passion for cycling – both mountain biking and road riding – and he could be seen riding all around town, as well as on the trails.
“He got incredibly fit,” Taylor said.
Moab Classic Bike owner, and designer and builder of Blaze bike frames, Pierre Chastain said that he never would have made it without Valdes’ steadfast support.
“He was always the guy standing right behind me telling me I was going to succeed,” Chastain said.
Chastain said that Valdes was “one of us,” and that he would always come and hang around the shop and spread his energy. He said that he and the crew always engaged in weekly Wednesday rides, and that he wanted to rally everyone and do a ride in Valdes’ honor.
“I’m going to miss the hell out of him – he was a true friend,” Chastain said.
Chastain said that in addition to being such a good friend and positive influence on everyone around him, he was also a dedicated family man. It doesn’t seem fair, he said, that someone with such a great marriage and two wonderful daughters should be gone so soon.
“He was doing everything right,” he said.
Carrie Valdes said that her husband’s philosophy was one of helping others, and that was the yardstick by which he measured his life’s legacy. She said that Miguel was an organ donor and that his final wish was to help others.
In addition to raising his two daughters, she said, one of her husband’s proudest moments was when he became a U.S. citizen in February 2006. Friends and family gathered for a party where he cooked and made margaritas, and from that day on he often addressed his friends as “compañeros,” or countrymen.
Chastain, who admitted to still being in shock, said he is struggling to find some meaning in the loss and is looking for answers in how Valdes lived his life. He said that Valdes always had a plan, was always doing something, and that he was trying to draw strength from his positive spirit.
“The message is to be here now, and just do it,” he said. “Miguel would have liked that.”
Friends remember Miguel Valdes, co-founder of Miguel’s Baja Grill, for positive influence on others
He was like Mr. Positive, super happy all the time … He called everyone amigo and he meant it.
A celebration of Miguel’s life will be held on Monday, May 9, at 4 p.m. at the Grand Center, 182 N. 500 West. Please wear bright colors and come with your favorite memory.