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Living In Moab

Found in: | Inside | Outside | Our Towns |

The red moonscape that surrounds Moab is gorgeous, and the town itself is friendly and scrappy. It's the kind of offbeat community I have always hoped to find. And yet, I can't stay.

This type of mixed sentiment is more common than you might imagine around here.
My Moab affair began nearly two years ago, back when I was living in the lush but narrow canyon confines of Glenwood Springs, Colo. Every so often, I would get an unignorable tightness in my chest, and I knew I had to drive west, into open space. I would usually stop in the comfortingly unhip city of Grand Junction, but sometimes something would pull me farther, into bigger and bigger skies, and I would arrive in Moab without having planned to be here. I didn't know anyone, but somehow the desert and stars and dust comforted me.
I couldn't completely explain why I was lusting for Grand County. Even now, after being a Moabite for nearly half a year, I still don't fully know how to describe this world. The pros and cons of living in this remote, tourist town of 5,000 are dramatic and abundant and actually do make for conversation quite frequently.
"I never considered living here, actually making a life here," explained my friend, Aubrey, the other day. "And it's taken me - how many years? Eight years to decide to make my life here."
Like me, Aubrey is young and not a mountain biker, river guide or climber, three subgroups that dominate this town. But unlike me, she's staying. At the end of this year, she could be going to off on a Peace Corps assignment, but she has decided not to. She has a delicacy and vulnerability about her, but when she describes her Moab life, she sounds so sure. She was actually born here and spent childhood summers here, she said, but was really a city kid at heart. When she decided to move to Moab, after being in college and living abroad, she thought it was only temporary, a time to see her grandparents and figure out her next step. After many years, she finally realized Moab was it.
She likes that people ask her about her family at the grocery store and that she can see the whole town pass by her front porch. Then again, sometimes she steps back and looks at her life and worries that she's not living up to her full potential, not in this unpeopled desert with its ridiculously low wages and sparse dating scene. When I asked how she reconciles these elements, she had a twinge of sobriety in her voice.
"I think that reconciliation happens every day," she said.
I understand. I am the same way, except that my daily conclusion is different. I might have an afternoon on my own when I'll walk through a canyon with high, sandstone walls, where nothing can be heard except for birds and a clean, little stream meandering through the crevice. With no one around for miles, I'm free to laugh and jump around, and I do, because I feel so lucky to even know about this place. But then, perhaps just hours later, that elation will be tempered by a beer-soaked conversation with a friend who wonders aloud how she is ever going to be an artist when she's forced to work multiple jobs to stay afloat.
It's then that I remember that the only reason that I was able to come here is that I was laid off from my newspaper job in Colorado. I remember that this is still only an experiment, another chapter in my life, and that I'm not ready to settle down. I remember the high housing prices and the hot summers and the endless supply of loud trucks and tourists that push through Moab's strip of a downtown. Main Street is also a highway, and its busyness and string of T-shirt shops are jarring against the desert. I try to remember that. Then, of course, my feelings about the surrounding land and the people sneak in, and my choice to leave becomes wrenching again.
"It gets to a point where you just have to let go and be open to whatever brings happiness, whatever the universe provides you," said Alien Child, another friend of mine who likes to go by his pseudonym.
At the time, he was trying support my leaving and telling me why he moved to Moab, but unbeknownst to him, he was also making me feel wistful. His story is a reminder of why this place is so special.
He moved to Moab five-and-a-half years ago, after having made a life for himself in the materialistic world of New York high fashion. He worked mostly on the retail end of things and had never designed a garment on his own - until he came here, that is. Then, he got caught up with a recycled art fashion show run by a local nonprofit. Ever since, his outrageous, sculptural interpretations of seasons, holidays, invasive plants and more have made him the biggest hit of every WabiSabi Fashion Show since he arrived in town. As he sees it, something about being here gives him opportunity that he never had in the big, over-stimulated city.
"Here, people are creating things because they don't have those other outlets," he said.
That sort of reinvention charms me likes crazy.
I actually felt it the moment I moved to town in late January. I gave myself one Friday to find a room to rent and to firm up a job prospect at the local paper. All that happened by lunchtime. While I had been closed off, downright depressed in Colorado, I felt an immediate opening of my heart here, and the safety enveloped me. That same day, I got hooked up with my soon-to-be-friend, Christy, a lovely energy worker and nearly 30-year Moab resident who helps run KZMU, Moab's community radio station. I could probably spend an entire article detailing her incites about this place, but she's such a public person, a mama to the community, really, that I'll give her more privacy than that. Suffice it to say, she described some problems she sees here, like how it's easier to buy a plastic tomahawk than a good bra. But she also explained why, even when she has tried to, she hasn't left.
"All you have to do is tune yourself a little bit, come down a little bit with your pace, open up your, whatever it is, your perception a little bit, and there's this exquisite, delicate melody that this place just whistles into your heart," she said, in her calming way. "And you're there forever, and you're branded more or less forever. And you fall in love, and that's just that."
As I get ready to hit the road, I feel that love in me. At once, I'm both sad and excited to leave, and I am also bolstered by the rare, embracing quality this town has. Most potent of all is a strangely assured sense that I'll return - and perhaps, somehow, that time it will be for good.

Stina Sieg is now at the beginning of a yearlong trip around America in a vintage trailer. Follow her journeys at

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