Ski lifts in the desert? The last time Moab’s climate was cold enough to attract skiers was ice ages ago. Two chair lifts have recently been constructed here on the fringes of town. I?ve heard all the threats about global warming, maybe there’s a sharp investor out there who knows otherwise, and is speculating on global cooling. The thought of mechanized travel to the top of the red rock may repulse the purists among us. It got my hackles up. I assumed that the lifts were installed to attract lazy mountain bikers who didn?t have the legs, lungs, or willpower to pedal their way into the canyon lands above this fabled fat-tire Mecca. I jested about the foolishness of this endeavor repeatedly as we caravanned from Grand Junction, Colorado to our destination. ?There it is,? I pointed. The first chair lift jumped into view on the left-hand side of the road, immediately as we crossed the river into Moab. This one apparently led to the northern tip of the slick rock trail. ?We?re going to use that one over there,? Steve Boemke pointed to the opposite side of the valley where I could barely make out a larger chair lift that topped the rim rock about a thousand feet above us. I wondered silently if the lifts were a sign that Moab was commercialized beyond redemption. Would this be my visit? After a grizzly-bear sized breakfast at the Jailhouse Cafe, we rolled out to the Northwest end of town, purchased all-day lift tickets and lined up for the first of many trips up a rockslide that breached the sheer sandstone parapets. The attendants were middle-aged, local men who appeared to enjoy the slow pace of their new profession. The towers were painted to effectively camouflage them against the red rock. The workers, who had installed them, had erected replicas of Anasazi dwellings in some of the caves along the route. At the top, there was an observation deck, a kiosk explaining the rules of the canyon lands and a small concession hut with vending machines inside. From the deck, you can see the snow-capped La Salle mountain range–a massive volcanic uplift that rises 12,000 feet above the twisted layers of multi-hued rock that blankets most of Southern Utah. Across the valley, you can make out the Slick Rock trail and Porcupine rim. To the left, the muddy Colorado River, a thousand feet below, continues to slice through the sandstone on its way to Mexico. Throughout the day, we meet tourists. Some are hikers, runners or neo-mountain bikers on cheap rentals. Most are families who are passing through on Spring Break. They tell us about the rock art they have discovered, ask us how far we are going, or simply greet us with a hey and a wave. We do the same–taking time to view an ancient panel of Anasazi petroglyphs, and we discover dinosaur bones protruding from an ancient riverbed. By sunset, I realize that I was wrong about the chair lifts. My snobby environmentalism and experienced mountain biker attitude obscured the fact that there are people who would appreciate the experience who don?t have the ability to forge their way into this inhospitable desert. I can climb my way to the rim rock with relative ease. I?ve pedaled to vistas that could move lumberjacks to tears. Why not share? Moab is beautiful, but it’s an ex-mining town, not a pristine wilderness area. The minor impact of a camouflaged chair lift is nothing if it can convey the grandeur of this spectacular natural formation to regular folks. It does. Four by four, people ascend the lift chattering about this and that–but inevitably, they return in silence. There is magic in these sandstone walls.
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