It's like a river trip where the red rock flows in standing waves and the "put in" is at Ray's Tavern in Green River, Utah. Ray's is pretty much a portal into that other world. You're never much further than a burger and a brew away from emerging as part collared lizard and part kangaroo desert rat.
The morphing game is always afoot. You drop in and fall through geological time and a prism of color -- from the Jurassic to the Triassic and beyond. Eons have seen to it that you bump into some and walk up and over and under others. Old friends from Entrada, Carmel, and Navajo to Wingate, Chinle and Moenkopi smudge tattoos on knees and elbows -- canyon badges flaunted with pride.
Having negotiated a gig as shotgun-seat navigator for an early-'70s Parkite on holiday from Bordeaux and lookin' for a road trip south, I figured, with the short three-day window availability and all, Moab probably made more sense than most. Not that the jewel of Grand County doesn't have an issue of two of its own.
Not all of them are negative, however. The "Vortex" field that comes into play just shy of Grandview Point Overlook up in Canyonlands' "Island in the Sky" country is just such an example.
I'm not saying it is necessarily a hub of paranormal activity but when you enter that zone of triangulation where you can lay eyes upon the Henrys, the Abajos, and the La Sals with only a slight twist of the head, ghosts of Moab past begin asserting themselves at an alarming rate.
Whether or not the phenomenon is due to the laccolithic quality of the mountain ranges in question is up for speculation. With only five such geologic oddities in the entire southwest, Sleeping Ute Mountain near Cortez, Colorado, and Navajo Mountain down on the Big Rez being the others, one must wonder.
In our limited sphere of the pre-Slickrock Trail '70s, Moab mostly meant Arches, Canyonlands, and Dead Horse Point, but, as our red rock world expanded outward, forays upriver to Fisher Towers, Castle Valley, Negro Bill Canyon, and Onion Creek and down river to Corona Arch began to take on a certain amount of cachet.
Flashbacks from those days tumbled across memory lobes one after the other. The days when Moab was one big "vacancy" sign returned -- the days when Smokey saw it as being even more boring than Heber. The days when only two bars, "Poplar Place" for the counterculture and "Woody's" for the rednecks, provided locals with libations. Although I belonged in the former, I found the latter much more to my liking.
Although I never overtly summoned these flashbacks, there did exist a mitigating circumstance that probably should be mentioned. The evening previous, following a wonderful repast, I ingested a rather robust quantity of swirled bourbon-caramel-gingersnap ice cream at a local purveyor and, I must admit, as the sun moseyed westward, the ever-changing colors appeared even more hauntingly beautiful than usual.
It could have been the always-scrumptious Mahi-Mahi tacos at Miguel's Baja Grill, I suppose, but the surrealistic timeline really didn't lend itself to that. No, the obvious culprit had to be the accidental overdose of bourbon-caramel-gingersnap. Luckily, as is often the case, I dripped a few million micrograms onto my T-shirt or I might have made the Moab Times-Independent police blotter.
Although pre-ice cream ambles to Landscape Arch, Delicate Arch, the Windows, Turret Arch, Double Arch, Balanced Rock, the mouth of Park Ave and downriver along "Wall Street" for a peek at the climbers provided the normally vast amount of eco-blissing, the following day in Canyonlands had more of a shimmer to it.
Suffice to say, from following the melting cairns around the 4-mile Dead Horse Point rim-loop trail to gaping into the pulsating abyss of Upheaval Dome, the mesa top proved to be a quite worthy romp.
It was actually nice to get back into the Parks themselves. For many years, including treks elsewhere along the Colorado Plateau, the National Parks around Moab were very seldom in our crosshairs. There was just too much else out there. Especially during the "boating years" from the mid-'80s to mid-'90s when Lake Powell and Flaming Gorge seemed to rule the roost.
Even with the crowds, Moab is still a fun place. Even with the looks my "Hayduke Lives!" T-shirt got from the ATV zealots. Even with my right knee sounding more and more like the Baja Marimba Band, there are still good times to be had. Just make sure you got a cool hiking partner who knows the way to the ice cream parlor.
Jay Meehan is a culture junkie and has been an observer, participant, and chronicler of the Park City and Wasatch County social scenes for more than 40 years.