The Outsider: The marching bands of Moab
We woke up to the boom-boom-boom of a marching band.
Over the weekend, I took my first-ever real trip to Moab for a birthday. I’ve driven through or past Moab a few times before, but it’s always been en route to something else, like Las Vegas, or Salt Lake City. I guess it’s hard to believe I’ve lived in the mountains for going on seven years now, and yet I’ve never made the Summit County pilgrimage to the desert. Hell, I even enjoy mountain biking, and from what I’ve heard this is the Mecca, or as close as I’m going to get without taking a trip to Whistler or New Zealand. Needless to say, it was about time I took the shoulder-season rite of passage to that other tourist destination out west.
Now, back to the marching band. We showed up the first night long after sundown and camped on Potash Road, so a few miles outside town itself in the mouth of one of those famously red — and famously weird — canyons this place is known for. (Don’t ask me the name of the canyon. I’m just along for the ride this time around.) The temperature was about 53 degrees when we showed up. The rain had just passed through en route to our neck of the west — perfect conditions — and we fell asleep to the far-off brap-brap-braaap of dirt bikes.
By morning, maybe 7 a.m. on the first day of Daylight Savings time (so really 8 a.m.), we heard the kit-ak kit-ak clatter of a full marching band, accompanied by an amplified voice: “Looking for a drop site? Drop site is by the arch, check-in by the trailhead.” I knew that today would be the start of the Moab Trail Marathon and Half-Marathon, but I had no idea it would be such a freaking production. Like, where did they find a marching band in the middle of Utah? Did they truck them in from Salt Lake? Grand Junction? That one film with Nick Cannon?
I also didn’t expect the band to be so close, but of course it was my ears and the canyon walls and this brand-new place playing tricks on me. Our campsite sat directly beneath one of those rusted, slick, sheer walls, sheltered on three sides by a grove of willowy trees, and so even though the marathon start line was three or four miles away, the sound of the band and announcer from across the Colorado River echoed perfectly off the wall. If I listened closely enough (at 7 a.m. grumble grumble) I could make out everything the announcer was saying: “Welcome, welcome, if you’re just arriving, the drop site …”
The whole thing was a much different experience than I expected. It felt so … alien. For most of my adult life now, I’ve spent my camping time deep in the woods around Summit and Eagle counties, where my goal is typically to get as far away from civilization as I can without wasting too much gas. This also means my usual camp experience has been above 9,000 or 10,000 feet, in the thick of the pine trees, where temperatures are always in the 40s — even on July — and there’s nothing to hear but the occasional bird and the extremely rare cricket, let alone a marching band fanfare.
For a few groggy minutes that morning, it felt like Moab was welcoming me to the desert-town hotspot all of us mountain-town locals love to visit — or simply need to visit — at least once a year. The drumline laid the beat and the announcer echoed: “Welcome to Moab, where the dirt is red and the rocks are round and the sun is always out.”
I once had a boss at Vail Mountain who described Moab — especially bouldering in Moab over Christmas — as her “happy place,” the one thing she could always depend on. I never understood that, at least at the time. How could a bone-dry desert trump the mountains, even if it is beautiful and extensive and much more than just red-rock canyons?
Now that I’ve been, I think I understand. And it started with an alien marching band.
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