Roger Marolt: Passing through Moab on the way to the Promised Land

Fans of burning gasoline might outnumber calorie burners in the desert these days

Roger Marolt
Cluster Phobic
Roger Marolt for the Snowmass Sun
Kelsey Brunner/Snowmass Sun

Moab is a gathering place for gear, a town for tinkering and tool envy. The motor crowd prowls about the desert on motorcycles, three-wheelers, jacked-up Jeeps and, as of late, four-wheel-drive, souped-up side-by-sides that can take almost anyone to about any place only a few folks went before. The big-wheeled, amplified-thrumming, loftily sprung petroleum propelled carts are the fat skis of desert travel.

It’s also a mountain bike mecca, a place you must ride in order to rise above recreationalist status.

There are rock climbers, too, perpetually readying themselves at the tailgates of their vans on the sides of the roads, coiling ropes, checking their chocks and cams, clipping all things scattered about to old carabiners to organize their junk drawers on wheels.

There are desert runners, rangy as the prickly desert flora they glide by on foot, wearing all things of breezy fabric from hats to socks. Hikers are everywhere observing it all, even them equipped with smartwatches counting steps, calories, vertical feet climbed, all the while calculating average heart rates and updating the estimated recovery time a body needs from this calming exertion that is as necessary as mankind is old.

Moab is the regional place where mid-life awareness blossoms into crisis and new dads seek the encouragement to keep their lives as they are, encouragement that their wives can’t fake enough to give.

This place is not for the faint of heart any more than it is for those in other places who kick tires on Corvettes to fill the same holes that youth leaves in us all. While our bodies keep moving through time, youth refuses to budge.

It is a place where salt-and-pepper beards, sucked-in guts, flabby pectoral muscles and relaxed-fit jeans find opportunity to hopefully show youth that it made a mistake in abandoning us, while the young pretend they will always be that way. Meanwhile, wives sit by motel pools watching the kids and grandkids, planning the next ladies night out and trips to Hawaii.

These parts of Moab haven’t changed in the 25 years since I last visited. I have passed through since then on my way to somewhere else less vicious on my intentions to accept the inevitable, but there is no flavor in those sniffs at a scent once familiar and inductive of mouth water. I saw how much Moab was growing, but got little idea of how. They haven’t built a new golf course to sell more lots, so I figured all that was happening was simply more of the same.

We visited on the weekend of the annual car show, so naturally there were more motor enthusiasts than endurance athletes around, but it seemed the fans of burning gasoline might normally outnumber the calorie burners anyway.

I know four-wheel-drive vehicles were in Moab first and for many years were not challenged by the self-propelled crowd, but by the late ’80s, when I first visited, there seemed to be a sort of equilibrium, an easy truce even, between the two crowds. There weren’t incidences I recall of the two groups hanging out or even overt signs of respect shown one to the other, but most of the time each gave the other enough space to be cool.

I think this has changed. It doesn’t seem like there is any more animosity between the groups, but it appears the motor sport crowd now outnumbers all other enthusiasts by a significant number. There are still plenty of places to go where motorized vehicles are not allowed, so you can find large expanses of dust-free and quiet desert to bodily recreate in, but there is probably not much left in the way of “mixed use” lands near Moab. There are plenty of different kinds of motorized vehicles mixing it up in those places, but there is not much sense for anyone breathing hard to try enjoying them.

Aside from the environmental degradations, I don’t see this as all bad for Moab. The town seems happy, judging by the local throng celebrating the car show weekend by lining Main Street in folding chairs to watch the informal parade of cars rumbling up and down into the night, cheering boisterously the occasional chirp of tires as traffic lights turned green. It’s not my thing, but it is theirs. It might even be that the growth the town has experienced has brought them back closer to their roots. And, yet, I am likely romanticizing it.

Roger Marolt thinks he now sees Moab as it is, rather than how he used to want to see it to bolster an image he had of himself. Email him at

Editor’s note: This story was originally published in the May 4 edition of The Snowmass Sun. It was later posted online on May 15 due to a previous web publishing error.


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