High Desert Hoofbeats
A sign of the times...
by Sena Taylor Hauer
May 02, 2013 | 703 views | 0 0 comments | 8 8 recommendations | email to a friend | print
The sign between two stalwart sandstone pillars has stood on the east side of the Colorado River bridge for as long as I can remember. The word MOAB is just about the only easily legible thing on the faded and peeling sign, but if one struggles to read it the text is interesting and fairly up to date.

“Moab was first settled in 1855 by the Elk Mountain Mission of the Mormon Church,” reads the text. “Less than five months later [some] members of the party were killed by Indians and the settlers fled, abandoning their holdings. The next permanent settlers came in 1877. A post office was established in 1879 and Moab was given its name, probably from a biblical source. Finally in 1890, Grand County was created with Moab as its county seat.

“Cattle and sheep grazing were the [primary] activities until the 1940s. Then occasional mining turned to a boom as Moab became the capital of the western uranium boom, which lasted well into the 1960s with a revival in the 1970s. Since the 1980s, recreational pursuits have become [the basis] of the economy.”

I’ve used brackets in the above text where I couldn’t read the exact word that had been on the sign, and the following and final paragraph says something about freighting and travel over the Colorado River.

“This historic crossing has become a ‘gateway’ to some of Utah’s most unique scenery,” the text summarizes, and notes that river running and mountain biking have become some of the key interests in Moab that involve the river. And then the text fades out and the last words have faded and peeled away.

The massive plan to create a transportation hub near that river gateway, which also includes a vital facelift of the nearby Lions Park, is evidence of tourism’s impact, and more specifically cycling, on the greater Moab area. The pedestrian bridge that was christened a few years ago has quickly become a safer route for both road and mountain bikers who want to pedal from town out to Arches and points beyond. The Bar M and Klondike Bluffs trail systems, which complement the Gemini Bridges routes on the other side of U.S. 191, are favorites for mountain bikers. The revamped old highway that leads just north of the Moab Fault near the entrance to Arches National Park and climbs through Morrison formation clay up and out of Moab Valley is a pleasant non-motorized connector to both mountain biking trails and the smooth stretch of state Route 313 to Dead Horse Point, a favorite for road cyclists.

Moab prides itself on its offerings of extreme outdoor recreation. “This isn’t Disneyland,” we often tell visitors. And yet recently I’ve thought of Disneyland every time I’ve driven the river road and seen what looks to be a monorail in the making along state Route 128. That suspended track will soon transport cyclists on their own route, thereby making the highway more safe and more pleasant for all.

Construction dust has been flying at the Lions Park hub the past several years, and I’ve marveled at how the elements have come together with very little disruption to travelers. New elements of the hub include an underground bike tunnel which has walls made to look like sandstone. This is pretty amazing, as was the new four-lane bridge. Years ago, when I heard that a bike path might somehow be built parallel to SR 128, I really wondered about the feasibility of the idea. But there it is, coming together, again with very little disruption to the public.

It seems like a very long time ago that the Lions Park area wasn’t a construction site, and it will surely be quite a long time before it is all finished. The old interpretive sign that tells Moab’s history will stand guard as the frenzy of construction and tourism whirl around it. When it’s time for a new sign to be installed, I hope it will be held up by the same stone pillars that are just about the only remnant of days gone by at what we now know as the Lions Park transportation hub.

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