The dramatic deaths of these adventure seekers have stunned the greater Moab community and prompted conversation about all the things that have gone wrong to result in the tragedies. Failed knots. Ropes that are too long. Inner urges that require physical and emotional stimulation to a higher degree than is required by an average individual.
But the fact is, we live in a tempting landscape, and people are drawn here to feed those inner hungers. We as a business community are a big player in this picture. We bill ourselves as “the” adventure capital. From the state capitol to the local vendor, we tell people to come here to experience what they can’t find anywhere else.
It’s Jeep Week, as if any of you hadn’t noticed. For nearly 50 years Moab has proudly hosted hundreds of revved up four-wheelers who come here every spring to explore our rocks and trails. Before the week is out, some of those Jeepers are sure to experience the harsh reality of gravity and sandstone. Hopefully, there won’t be any fatalities.
The recent incidents and accidents have prompted local discussion about who is to blame when things have gone wrong. The rope swing at Corona Arch, made popular by a YouTube video, recently made headlines when the state prohibited commercial outfitters from taking visitors there. That begs the question then – if it is still privately permissible to swing from a 110-foot natural span using your own intelligence and tools, where is the professional guidance?
I personally supported the commercial prohibition of the rope swing adventure at Corona Arch, but not because of safety reasons. I think this natural wonder and others like it should be enjoyed as monuments to be viewed. People have long been hiking to Corona Arch, like Delicate Arch, to photograph and enjoy it in its natural state. At Delicate Arch, the Park Service has posted signs that advise visitors not to be “arch hogs,” so that everyone who hikes there can have the opportunity to have a moment to enjoy it personally. I get that. Likewise, at Corona Arch, where the state land is much less regulated than in the parks, I understand the state’s reasons for banning commercial use there. Perhaps the whole shebang can be re-examined so that there are times when natural wonders on state and BLM lands can be enjoyed naturally, and at other times they can be enjoyed as thrill modems.
I live near Fisher Towers. I hike through the giant sand castle a couple of times a year and I have seen some amazing feats. Once I saw a guy climb to one of the crumbly points and then BASE jump off of it. His adrenaline was so high when he landed that he had to smoke a cigarette to calm down. Other times I have been the only one there, but usually there are a few hikers. We all share it just fine.
There is no question that as Moab grows as an adventure capital, the rules and regulations on state and federal lands will be examined. I hope that some deep thought and community discussion will guide future use of these areas, and that these latest accidents don’t prompt a series of unnecessary regulations. One voice that should be a big part of the discussion is Grand County Search and Rescue. I am personally grateful for their dedication to pick up the pieces after all the outings that go wrong. Their service is priceless. Their unwavering dedication is nothing short of amazing.
To a large degree, this is a land of free agency. I like it that way. Let’s not forget that we are an adventure capital, and that our rapids, rappels, and assorted rides do quench a thirst for those who visit here, and certainly for those of us who choose to live here.