On the trail: A desert oasis disappears | AspenTimes.com

On the trail: A desert oasis disappears

Bob Ward
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

Like many longtime visitors to southeastern Utah, I have always enjoyed filling my water jugs at Matrimony Spring, tucked under a sandstone overhang by the Colorado River along Highway 128. The cool, clear water that gushed from the cliff there was always far better than any of the treated water to be had at a spigot or faucet in town, at a campground or public park.

Beyond the quality of the water, however, there was the simple joy of filling your bottle or soaking your head with water that issued straight from the cliff, like a gift from the Canyonlands. The spring was a cool feature to share with guests who were new to the area, and it cooled my skin and lifted my spirits on many a hot afternoon on the way in or out of town.

I’m speaking of Matrimony Spring in the past tense because, on a trip to Arches National Park last weekend with my family, we found it closed. Where water used to burble out of a pipe jutting from the rock, there is now a warning sign and a sealed steel box.

According to a February story in the Moab Times-Independent, an environmental health official closed the spring after two consecutive tests showed contamination, and redirected the flow into the river nearby.

Saddened by the closure, I quietly hoped for some culprit to blame ” some punk vandal or a developer who had messed with the flow. But no such culprit exists as yet; the total coliform is entering the flow somewhere upstream from the spring, but the source is unclear.

Predictably, the closure has triggered an emotional debate in Moab, where the flow was a symbol to many locals. The Times-Independent story referenced a couple of local legends attached to Matrimony Spring, one that people who drank from it were forever “married” to the region (certainly applies to me), and another that couples who drink from it will soon be married.

My love affair with the redrock desert continues, but my thoughts returned to the spring all weekend in Arches, every time I sipped from my water bottle and tasted that chlorinated city water. As one Moabite told the local paper, it was “like I lost a really good friend.”

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