Joe Omundson

Winter in Moab brings relief from the heat and a chance for fun times in the snow. What it doesn’t bring might be even more significant: tourists and work.

Year-round residents often struggle to pay the bills in winter, counting on summer savings to get by. Perhaps it’s a modern embodiment of humanity’s age-old struggle to harvest enough provisions to make it through the barren season.

For those who can make ends meet, the upside is having a chance to slow down, take some time off, connect with other locals, and travel to destinations such as Corona Arch and Main Street without wading through crowds of tourists.

Of course, in recent years the winter lull has steadily become shorter and less pronounced. The restaurant where I work used to close for several weeks in the heart of winter. Now it stays open. Most people are glad to have the extra work, but I do wonder about the impact of losing this chance to catch our collective breath from the hustle and the crowds.

I love the way winter makes the town feel calmer and more intimate. What’s challenging for me, as a member of Moab’s vehicle-dwelling population, is enduring the cold.

Two winters ago I lived in a Volkswagen Rabbit hatchback and I had no money. It wasn’t easy. Sleeping wasn’t the hard part — with enough blankets I was able to stay warm despite a 15-degree Fahrenheit temperature inside my car.

Lacking a warm place to exist during the rest of my waking hours was the hard part, and I’d spend a good chunk of my days at the library, grateful for the available warmth from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m., cursing Sundays for closing this comfortable space. I still had to spend at least 13 hours in the cold each night, and I could only reasonably expect to sleep for eight or nine of those. Another hangout I frequented, a secret coffee house which was unlocked 24 hours, saved me on the occasions when I couldn’t sleep at night, nor stand to lie awake in bed another hour. But I didn’t want to push the boundaries of this hospitality.

It’s not that there were no warm businesses I could have visited in the evening. It’s just that without much money, I couldn’t afford to constantly buy food or drinks in order to hang out in a restaurant or bar. Besides, it’s not a home. How could I relax, recharge and take care of my personal needs in such a public place?

I was amused that I had been so hot in the 108-degree weather just a few months prior, only to find myself living in such a frigid enclosure. Imagine if you took a giant freezer, put it out on the street and decided that it was a good place to spend your time. That was basically my life.

My friends asked me to house-sit for two weeks and it was a massive relief: heat, kitchen, shower, running water, toilet, Wi-Fi, a real bed and two cats. What a royal life! Then in January, I took off for Arizona as I tend to do.

The next winter was easier. I had upgraded my hatchback to a minivan and I had a job, so when it got too cold in the minivan, I rented a room at the hostel for five weeks. Having the option of escaping the cold any time made things a lot easier. The minivan was a good compromise between a camper and a daily-driver.

This year my home has grown again: I’ve purchased a 23-foot shuttle bus and I’m turning it into a custom RV. By the time I’m done, it’s going to have insulation, a furnace, solar energy, a functional kitchen, water systems and everything else I could want in a comfortable home.

My bus isn’t insulated yet, though, so I’m trying to get that done before winter arrives. I estimate it will cost around $850 to complete. I’m hoping to stick around longer this year without renting a room because I’m earning money to repay the modest loan I took to buy the bus. Heat retention will be critical if I want to live here and maintain my sanity at the same time.

Winter has always been a time to develop creative, cooperative methods to ensure survival, so I see it as a great time for housed-people to form symbiotic relationships with us mobile-dwellers. We make good house-sitters and would likely be willing to exchange a lot of help in return for an extension cord and a space heater.

Joe Omundson has walked thousands of miles, from Mexico to Canada, and has roamed everywhere in between. He is a content producer at Recovering from Religion and blogs at

“What’s challenging for me, as a member of Moab’s vehicle-dwelling population, is enduring the cold.”