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Jeepers in the Moab

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Moab is full this week. It’s Jeep Safari Week and the “jeepers” swarm the town—and the desert. I want to demonize them for their blatant disregard of responsible use of resources, but it’s hard to vilify a driver with a back seat full of young kids having the times of their lives. The kids don’t know any better. What disturbs me is that the adults don’t either. Or, at least, don’t want to admit that they do.


I wonder how on earth they can afford it. Basic requirements are $2,000 worth of tires and wheels on a vehicle that gets about 12 miles to the $3.619 gallon. Jeepers don’t want to permanently damage hearing and kidneys by driving said vehicle for the minimum 150 miles to get to Moab from anywhere, so he or she might tow his or her jeep with a $30,000 to $50,000 pickup that gets slightly better mileage than the jeep (unless it’s towing something) or a $60,000 to $250,000 motor home that gets nowhere near the mileage that said pickup does.
The average mortgage on a truck is 5 years and a motor home, maybe 10. That’s $6,000 to $25,000 a year before interest, taxes, fuel or maintenance. If you live in the motor home, that might be okay. If you live in the pickup...


Just a little math to brighten up your day.


My first night in town was marked by an encounter with a man on horseback riding down the sidewalk of the main street. He might have stepped out of 1890, with a pistol on his hip and a saddle carbine in his boot and a cowdog following at the heels of his paint horse. I looked and there he was, and I looked again and there he wasn’t. My first thought was of Edward Abbey’s Hayduke, a phantom rider that folks hardly noted on the crowded sidewalk, just stepping out his way as if he were another pedestrian.


Out in the desert it is still somewhat lonesome—but not completely. My hostess and I clambered into the Fisher Towers a few days ago and witnessed the climbing feats of several young phun hoggs, one of whom stood with her arms upraised in victory on the 4-square-foot top of a gargoyle-looking piece of sandstone about 600 feet above the desert floor, which is made of unforgiving rock. Okay, she had a rope around her waist, but the first whack on the pinnacle wall will still hurt—a lot. If she were my daughter, I would have been unable to watch.


This is a huge country with surprises hidden over each horizon. We enjoyed a hike into Mill Creek east of Moab, a place with no closeby road or single track, and a huge variety of petroglyphs to be found independently that get not much attention except from brave and hardy folks like our guides.


The colors in the exposed layers of stone are mute, but they are also never-ending in their variety, as are the number of fantastical shapes the rock has been formed into. I found myself wondering what our northern world might look like if all the trees were replaced by sage and tamarisk, rabbit brush and Mormon tea or sometimes nothing at all except the biological crust. I have noticed this crust before, but hiking with a scientist has changed my view of it. The desert has a lot more life than one might imagine.


And this Easter weekend, it has a lot more human life than I might have wished for. Jeepers are everywhere, pushing up the price of gasoline one penny at a time, and spring break for most schools in America has pushed hundreds of motor homes and thousands of tents into Utahn “wasteland,” which really isn’t a waste at all.


We drove across the edge of the San Rafael Swell day before yesterday to spend a day in Bell and Little Wild Horse canyons. We found Goblin State Park camping full. No problem. We drove down the wash, found an empty place with its very own cottonwood tree, and set up camp far enough off the “road” to a.) not suffer headlights or dust clouds and b.) not get washed away if the rains came.


Today, we literally walked through the Swell, climbing to the north side through Bell Canyon and dropping back to the south through Little Wild Horse. Going upstream, we met one man who obviously got up very early. Coming downstream, we met a whole bunch of folks—and many of their dogs—who obviously did not. When we reached the narrowest of the narrow, a one-person-wide slot about 100 yards long, we got into a traffic jam and had to get up on the canyon wall and lean across so folks could walk under us.


We met way too many people in the canyon. But at least they were out of their jeeps. Solitude is rare in the desert this weekend.

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Author info

Sandy Compton Sandy Compton Sandy Compton is one of the original contributors to The River Journal, and owner and publisher at Blue Creek Press (www.bluecreekpress.com). His latest book is Side Trips From Cowboy: Addiction, Recovery and the Western American Myth

Tagged as:

travel, The Scenic Route, jeepers, Moab, Jeep Safari Week

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