The glamping company Under Canvas has 11 locations near national parks around the country, and it’s about to open a 12th location near Looking Glass Rock in San Juan County under the new brand name “ULUM.” That will be the company’s second location in the Moab area; Under Canvas Moab, located along north Highway 191, opened in 2014. Under Canvas also recently entered into a lease agreement with the Utah School and Institutional Trust Lands on a parcel near Castle Valley, though specific plans for the parcel are unknown at this time.
Under Canvas describes itself as having “a mindful approach” to development: minimizing disturbance to landscapes and maximizing open space, using low-waste fixtures like pull-chain showers and low-flow toilets, and partnering with other brands that employ low-waste and conservation practices.
However, many Moab residents were chagrined when they learned of the Under Canvas/SITLA lease agreement near Looking Glass Rock in 2021. The unique arch feature is popular with climbers, rapellers and other outdoor enthusiasts, and many regular users feared the setting and experience would be marred by a luxury glamping resort within sight of the rock, regardless of whether that development is more sustainable than more conventional developments. A petition opposing the resort collected over 2,800 signatures, but that didn’t stop the development from going forward.
ULUM will open in March of 2023, an upscale version of the Under Canvas parent company.
“We trust that enjoying the outdoors doesn’t have to be at the expense of warm service, wholesome culinary options, upscale accommodations, or thoughtful design,” the resort’s website says.
ULUM Moab sits on 200 acres with 50 furnished, yurt-style tent sites. It’s accessed by a road that forks off from the access road to Looking Glass Rock.
Each tent has an evaporative cooling unit for warm weather and a wood-burning stove for cold weather; electricity; and its own shower and flushing toilet. Water is supplied from wells and the resort is connected to the electrical grid, though Under Canvas’ Chief Development Officer Dan McBrearty said the company will assess the feasibility of alternative energy sources in the future. Waste is processed in a septic system.
A separate building houses the lobby, lounge and restaurant. Other features include a “yoga deck,” hot and cool dipping pools, electric vehicle charging stations, and outdoor lounge areas and fire pits. A stay at the resort includes on-site activities like yoga, hiking or star-gazing; there’s also an “adventure concierge” to help book guided trips in the area—ULUM partners with area outfitters.
Sites at ULUM are listed at $549-$599 a night.
Months ago, SITLA opened a competitive bidding window on a parcel near Castle Valley and received one confidential application to lease the property. While details about the applicant were unknown, Castle Valley community members grew concerned, primarily about water. The town submitted a letter to the agency during a public comment period outlining its concerns.
“The town of Castle Valley has invested considerable effort into the study of our watershed and aquifers and has been working with Utah Division of Water Rights to close the aquifer to any further appropriations,” the May 24 letter says. It requests that SITLA not consider any applications that exceed two domestic water use filings.
Aside from water, Castle Valley leaders also listed wildlife habitat, wildfire danger, and emergency access to the property as impacts and concerns to be considered.
In a Nov. 30 letter to Castle Valley, Managing Director of the Surface Division for SITLA Chris Fausett wrote that the agency has accepted a bid from Under Canvas to lease the property.
“We believe Under Canvas can best utilize the challenging terrain on the parcel and address the concerns outlined in your letter,” Fausett wrote. “They will have a minimal footprint on the land and have a history of operating in a way that makes the land easily reclaimed.”
In an email to the Moab Sun News, SITLA Director of Communications and Legislative Affairs Marla Kennedy said that under the terms of the 30-year lease of the property near Castle Valley, Under Canvas will pay SITLA $165,000 a year plus a percentage of the royalties of their annual gross receipts. SITLA currently has two other similar leases with Under Canvas, one near Bryce Canyon and one near Lake Powell, as well as two more pending—the Looking Glass Rock location and another near Zion National Park.
“We anticipate each lease will generate approximately $200,000 to $250,000 annually for the Permanent Trust,” Kennedy said.
Money generated from SITLA lands goes into a trust for educational beneficiaries, including public schools.
The parcel near Castle Valley does not have any water rights attached to it, and Under Canvas will have to work with the Division of Water Rights to fulfill the water needs of the project, which, Kennedy said, “are anticipated to be relatively small.”
Kennedy also said that Under Canvas intends to work with Grand County and its various departments to implement the project; that both SITLA and Under Canvas “will continue to address all reasonable concerns regarding impacts to wildlife or wildlife habitat,” and that the company will work with local emergency response personnel to address access and response time concerns.
SITLA representative Bryan Torgerson will attend Castle Valley’s Dec. 21 town council meeting to answer questions about the lease and any proposed developments.
This past summer, many Moab businesses reported a drop in activity from previous years. Local tax sales revenues fell short of projections, and hotel managers have complained of low occupancy rates. However, McBrearty said that “Under Canvas Moab has enjoyed sustained popularity.”