In the 1950s the cold war race for the development of nuclear weapons spawned a new gold rush. Uranium, the element used in most forms of nuclear science, was the new gold. With the US Government buying as much of the element they could lay their hands on, prospectors cropped up looking for it all over the US South-west. Small mining towns appeared in the middle of the desert. Of the small towns remaining in south-eastern Utah, Moab is the place that is most popular with visitors.
Moab got its name from a story in the Bible. Moab was the son of Lot's daughter, and it was also the land just short of the Promised Land. Early Mormon settlers named the town.
Situated along Highway 161, wedged in between Arches National Park, Deadhorse Point and Canyonlands National Park, Moab lies along the east shore of the Colorado River.
This large town hosts a variety of attractions for the budget-conscious backpacker. You can go mountain biking, river rafting, rock climbing, hiking or off-road driving. There is also a museum devoted to movie stunt men, as many movies have been filmed in and around Moab. Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade, for example, had its opening scenes filmed in Arches National Park; the double arch is shown in this sequence.
The National and State Parks near Moab provide ample opportunity to view geological formations rarely found anywhere else in the world. Some examples are:
Arches National Park has hundreds of natural arches created by wind, water and time. Also found there are the Fins: sheer sandstone fins rise from the sand making a natural labyrinth of rock.
Delicate Arch is a Utah State symbol; it can even be found on our license plates.
Canyonlands is a vast network of canyons carved into the Colorado Plateau in which you can also find examples of the Native American rock art known as pictographs (pictures carved into the sandstone).
Newspaper Rock is one of the world's largest examples of pictographs to be found in one place and represents the art of more than one tribe.
Deadhorse Point is a mesa that juts out and points to a bend in the Colorado River. It gets its name from being used to corral wild horses without using a huge pen: the 1000-foot drop to the canyon floor works better than any fence. The final scene in the movie Thelma and Louise where the women drive their car of the cliff, was filmed at Deadhorse Point.
Moab is justly famous for its Slickrock Bike trail, consisting of 11 miles of track painted on exposed sandstone. The unique nature of the Navajo sandstone formation found only in this part of Utah provides bikers with a great challenge. The Slickrock Trail attracts thousands of mountain bikers all year round and the 'Fat Tire Festival' is held annually in the spring when bikers gather to ride and commune with nature.
Moab is the natural place to use as your base when planning river-rafting trips on the Colorado River. There are many different levels of rafting to choose from, everything from a quiet trip down the river to expert-only cataract white water kayaking.
Also popular are its many hundreds of miles of four-wheel-drive trails. Jeeps were very common in post World War II mining activities, and these jeeps blazed the trails still in use today by thousands of four-wheel-drive enthusiasts. The jeep festival held every year during the week of Easter brings 100,000-plus participants, and the city swells into a great bazaar of jeep parts, bicycle accessories and tourist gift shops.
In town there is a little park, perfect for playing Ultimate Frisbee. Also in town are excellent restaurants and a brewery for when your day's activity is done. The town dump has a sign on the gate that says 'The World's Most Scenic Dump'; it looks out over redrock canyons so this is probably a true statement. Luckily for the residents of Moab, the proximity of three parks, the Colorado River, and the trails that make Moab famous, has saved the town from slowly fading into a cold war arms race memory.