Turbulence over Moab

May 2, 2004
Outside Magazine

Outside magazine, June 1999

Big Sky Bargains


Turbulence over Moab
New air service makes Slickrock City more accessible. Is that a good thing?


June in northwestern Montana means a whopping 16 hours of daylight, modest crowds in Glacier National Park, and best of all, shoulder-season lodging rates. For example, Grouse Mountain Lodge in Whitefish (877-862-1505) is now offering double rooms with Rocky Mountain views for just $80 a night, a savings of more than 40 percent. And flyfishing, kayaking, and other activities can be arranged through an outfitter right at the lodge. Similarly, at Whitefish's Hidden Moose Lodge (888-733-6667), rooms are 20 percent off through June 24. Two-person digs with private decks are $79; suites with hot tubs, just $100. Breakfastthink huckleberry buttermilk pancakesand the use of mountain bikes and canoes are gratis.

A Thai Buy

Seldom are there fewer people teeming in the temple-rich blocks of Bangkok, a city of six million, than in Junea month that's always relatively untouristed, yet not too soggy or hot. Adding to the allure is an offer from Northwest Airlines available through the end of the month: $669 for airfare from Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle, Las Vegas, or Honolulu and five nights at the luxe Royal River Hotel, on the Chao Phraya River, with breakfasts and taxi-boat service, based on double occupancy. For July and August, the price jumps to a still-reasonable $849. Call 800-800-1504 for reservations.

The world capital of mountain biking Moab, Utahis gearing up to draw even more devotees to its jam-packed trails. In June, Sunrise Air will begin routing three flights daily from Salt Lake City ($150 round-trip), and one each from Las Vegas and Phoenix, to Moab's Canyonlands Field. But the really big news (at least for those jetting in from Salt Lake and Vegas) is that your best friendyour bikecan fly for free.

Fat-tire fiends will be reaping the benefits of an airport expansion that includes a new taxiway and a runway that has been lengthened to allow more traffic and can now accommodate jets as large as 737s. And the terminal, once little more than a few chairs and a desk, now features such modern-day amenities as a car-rental counter and a lounge.

Ever since the cycling world discovered Moab in the late 1980s, tourism has exploded. According to a veteran official at Arches National Park, just outside town, visitation has doubled in the past decade; last year, a million and a half people came to Moab itself. Now Sunrise expects to add 13,500 annually to those hordes. What's more, the town is expecting even greater crowds when the Winter Olympics come to Salt Lake City in 2002.

Predictably, visitors and locals leery of gridlock on the Slickrock Trail are not impressed. Moab-based Bill Hedden, the Utah conservation director for the Grand Canyon Trust, has already witnessed the deleterious effects of escalating tourism on the landscape. "No one but the most rabid chamber of commerce member would be happy to see planes disgorging tourists," he says. "The shift of businesses to tourism has produced an overextended industry that depends on growth."

Still, this summer's bikers can find plenty of alternatives to Moab's most famousand congestedtrails. On often-overlooked Abajo Peak, in the Blue Mountains about 60 miles south of town, you're virtually guaranteed deserted classic western singletrack. The Robertson Pasture Trail, for instance, climbs through aspens and ponderosas before breaking out above tree line for expansive views of The Needles in Canyonlands National Park, and finishes with a steep 3,000-foot descent. You won't see many people, but you may see a few more planes overhead.ERIC HANSEN

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