Movies, Marathons, and Moab
Moab has gone through many phases over the years, starting with its earliest incarnation as a quiet valley with a crossing point for the Colorado River and access to game animals in the La Sal Mountains. After this, Native Americans settled in the valley and farmed, using water from Mill and Pack creeks, and then mobile, independent cattlemen moved through with their herds. After this came large scale ranching and farming operations, and then a uranium boom. In the time since mining declined in the 1980s, recreation has taken over as the big local industry, as hikers, photographers, bikers, and off-road enthusiasts have utilized the old mining roads and trails to access the amazing scenery in the remote areas of eastern Utah, also drawn by Arches and Canyonlands national parks and Deadhorse Point State Park.
With this relatively new industry has come growth in Moab and increasing creativity in how people enjoy the area. Rock climbers have a wonderland of routes to choose from; Jeeps have trails so challenging that it’s hard to believe anyone would attempt to drive them; BASE jumpers do back flips off local cliffs just to add a little flair to their jumps; numerous half-marathons and other running races are scheduled for the canyons each year; and land management agencies have allowed folks to learn while they hike by interpreting some of the many rock art and dinosaur track sites that dot the landscape all around Moab. The area is an outdoor paradise and literally millions of visitors enjoy the landscape every year. But this has not come without controversy, with contrasting opinions voiced by regional advocates like Edward Abbey, on the one hand, and leaders of the Sagebrush Rebellion of the late 1970s and early 1980s on the other.
Starting around 1950, Moab also became a favorite area as a setting for big-budget (and not-so-big-budget) movies, with John Ford filming several westerns in the area. Over the years, a diverse range of films has been shot in the area, assisted locally by the Moab to Monument Valley Film Commission. John Wayne movies such as Rio Grande and Rio Bravo were shot in part in this area, as were more recent popular films like the opening sequence to Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (at Arches National Park), the end of Thelma and Louise, and parts of the recent Johnny Depp movie The Lone Ranger, which was shooting at and below Fossil Point, at Deadhorse Point, along the Colorado River near Gold Bar, and upstream in the Professor Valley, in 2012. In all, dozens of movies have been shot in this area over the decades, and those familiar with the geography of the Moab region will recognize it in many of these films.
To see exhibits on the recent decades of outdoor recreation sports in the Moab area, and on the movie industry’s history of work in the region, come check out the Museum of Moab! (And after that, for even more movie history, see the Moab Museum of Film and Western Heritage at Red Cliffs Lodge).