My day job recently took me to Denver, Colorado, for a workshop and conference. When I first found out about it, I got a map and started looking at reasonable weekend excursions. I found that Moab, Utah was about six hours away. In eastern miles, that’s quite far, about the length of time it takes to drive from Geneva to New York City, for example. In western miles, it’s practically next door. When I was at Chaco Culture National Park, it was two hours to buy groceries. One way! They even provided dry ice so you could get your ice cream back home in solid form. I’m not sure those desert folk are living quite sustainably…
Anyway, I scheduled a car rental, and called up my friend Kate. I usually refer to her as “Ranger Kate” because she was a ranger–and my volunteer supervisor–at Capitol Reef National Park this past summer. Though she’s not currently a ranger. Kate and her husband Hau were kind enough to let me surf their couch during my brief stopover in Moab. They live in the old jail house. I was imagining bars and such, but it’s really just a cute house, no bars, with two very friendly cats, TC and Jackson.
Hau helps run a Field Station for a Utah university. It’s a neat concept, not very common in the East. It’s used as a camp-away-from-campus, and classes (everything from geology to archaeology, environmental studies, probably even English lit) can schedule time there to do field work. It’s a very cool idea, and not too far from my dream of an astronomy/ecology summer camp for kids of all ages.
Moab is an interesting little town. I liked it. Touristy in the way all touristy towns are…touristy, but it had some real substance beneath the surface I think, and it had no wax museum so it beats Niagara Falls and Lake George hands down. One of the interesting things I’ve been picking up on since my first visit to Utah this past summer is the incredible geographic range of social networks out here. When I traveled around Capitol Reef in July, I kept running into people who asked me if I knew Ranger Kate. Of course, this was a specific subset of the general (and generally thin) population: non-LDS, funky cool people.
When I was in Moab, Kate and Hau ran into several people that they knew from the Capitol Reef area, several hours away, or from other far-flung corners of Southeast Utah. There’s a lot of unsettled space between towns out there, but the towns draw the thin population in and let them mingle–and neat things happen.
Another thing that struck me was just how many things people have to do there to get by. Everyone seemed to have several jobs, some of them seasonal, and people always seem to have schemes to keep them going a bit longer, or push them further along whatever road it is they are walking down. Constant reinvention and flexibility seem to be the keystone concepts of building a life out there. I liked it.
It was a memorable, low-key weekend, filled with a little desert hiking in Arches and other places around Moab, some petroglyph hunting, and some nice long conversations with Kate and Hau. It was great to talk about ideas, debate possible solutions. I think it was me who posed this question: “If you could change one thing in the USA, instantly, to make it a better place, what would it be?”
I think mine was “People will no longer blindly believe corporations when they claim that their product or service, like hydrofracking, is safe.”
If you got a single change that you could enact across the country, what would it be?
While you’re thinking about that, check out my set of Moab images: