Weekly Webb: Staring at the stars in Moab

2014-03-28T00:15:00Z 2014-03-28T09:22:05Z Weekly Webb: Staring at the stars in Moab The Billings Gazette

The desert has a whole new appeal after our long, snowy winter.

OK, so the water in the Green River looks a bit like the muddy water at Lake Elmo and if you’re wearing anything that’s not red, it soon will be. But let’s focus on numbers. The temperature in Moab, Utah, hit 69 degrees over the weekend. Billings climbed all the way to 32 on Sunday.

The red sandstone spires look like ancient beings huddling to gossip. Arches carved by water and wind look like windows into an alternative universe. Writer Edward Abbey had it right when he wrote, “Wilderness is not a luxury but a necessity of the human spirit.”

It was a strange experience camping last weekend near Moab because I didn’t have to worry about waking up to snowdrifts, or about grizzly bears terrorizing the campground where most folks left their coolers out.

Moab is 360 miles southwest of Denver, or 236 miles south of Salt Lake City. It’s a toss-up which route you take. Either way, it’s nearly 1,000 miles from Billings.

As a first-timer, I was inspired by the simple beauty of seeing bright red rocks against a turquoise sky. Here are some other discoveries I made about the desert lands of the Colorado Plateau:

It’s probably best to bring the tent as well as the fly. What are

the odds of having a campground neighbor who was so prepared she brought two tents? The 50-site campground in Moab takes reservations up to six months in advance. I didn’t make one and stayed nearby at the Arches View Resort, which was comfortable sleeping on the red sand with Arches National

Park in the distance. But it was noisy with truck traffic throughout the night. The Moab campground, on the other hand, is tucked behind massive rocks, pinnacles and sandstone fins — all bright red. To make reservations for the Moab campground, call 877-444-6777.

Abbey, who is one of my literary heroes, was once a park ranger at Arches National Park, about five miles north of Moab. His book, “Desert Solitaire: A Season in the Wilderness,” was written about his experiences as a ranger at Arches in 1956. Legend has it that even though the title and most of the writing implies that he spent his time alone in the desert, he had his wife and youngster with him most of the time. Either way, the book is Abbey at his best, with poetic descriptions of the desert and ornery rants against development.

Here’s his growly advice about Arches: “Do not jump into your automobile next June and rush out to the Canyon country hoping to see some of that which I have attempted to evoke in these pages. In the first place, you can’t see anything from a car; you’ve got to get out of the goddamned contraption and walk, better yet crawl, on hands and knees, over the sandstone and through the thorn bush and cactus. When traces of blood begin to mark your trail you’ll see something.”

You don’t need a Subaru Outback or a Toyota Tundra to navigate the dirt roads and two-lane highways of Utah. Last weekend, two Volkswagen bugs straight out of the ‘70s were tootling around the desert with wooden barrels strapped to their tops. With water such a hot commodity there, the barrels possibly held clear, fresh water from Montana, or maybe marijuana driven over the border from Colorado.

Remember that Eagles song, “Peaceful Easy Feeling” with the line, “I wanna sleep with you in the desert tonight with a billion stars all around?” I swear it was written about the night sky near Moab. Don’t forget to look at the stars.

You can’t visit Moab without seeing Moab man on T-shirts, beer mugs, stickers, and souvenir refrigerator magnets. So where is he? I finally found the iconic figure on a rock wall south of town near the golf course. You can also find petroglyphs of horses on your way to Delicate Arch in Arches National Park.

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