Desert Dwellers

If you haven’t seen
the city’s tagline spread across billboards or experienced the desert mecca for
yourself, Moab is a place where adventure begins. And in this Utah town, where
mud season sees upwards of two inches of rain, adventure never really stops.
Come summertime, however, temperatures linger near triple digits, requiring outdoor
junkies of all types to employ tactical strategies when navigating the area’s
exposed red rock. From avid recreationalists to professional adventurists, a
few Moab locals share their wisdom and penchant for enduring the hot summers in
Utah’s desert – all in the name of a rugged, good time.

 

Steph Davis

Lured to Moab by the
simplicity of desert life in 1995, Steph Davis has built a professional career
on rock climbing and BASE jumping. Though she’s spent the better part of her
adult life harnessing gravity around the world, she admits that Moab will
always be home. Davis, whose recently published memoir, Learning to Fly, was released this April, is also co-founder of
Moab BASE Adventures.

 

Have you had to adapt your climbing style and
techniques to fit the unique environment of Moab?

With Moab, it’s all about
adapting to the climate and the environment. Avoiding heat is a major issue
until fall comes. In winter, it’s about avoiding the cold. Sandstone is a very
particular medium, for hiking and climbing. It takes time to learn how to trust
the rock, and also to know when you shouldn’t.

 

What about adapting your day-to-day life?

In the summer, you have to do
everything active you might want to do before 9 a.m., and then the rest of the
day is kind of shot unless you like going on the river. Fortunately, we have
the La Sal Mountains, and it is cooler up there, so it is still possible to
climb, bike and run if you drive up higher. But the end of summer is when
things really get going – in Moab, fall and winter are what we wait for all
year. Suddenly you’re free to do whatever you want, you’re not limited by
avoiding the sun and the heat. So things get really busy when summer finally
stops.

 

But, interestingly, summer is still a busy time
of the year for tourism. What can visitors learn from locals in terms of
climate?

I’m surprised by how many
people actually do visit Moab in the summer. If you’ve done enough Moab
summers, you learn never to go in the sun from June to September. You have to
adapt to the heat, and you can’t just go charging out at 10 a.m. and expect to
exert yourself, and then expect to feel good the next day. It’s all about
conservation and avoiding the heat. It’s hard for people to really understand
how hot it is before they experience it.

 

Have you ever seen your gear break down from
constant exposure to the elements?

The sand and the sun can be
hard on nylon. It’s important to keep equipment out of the sun as much as
possible. But we never have to deal with mold and mildew.

 

 

Dave Lohner

Between part-time
gigs at restaurants, bike shops and bars, Dave Lohner does whatever it takes to
keep the nearly year-round bike dream alive. Committed to Moab life since 2000,
Lohner pedals his bike 10 months out of the year – stopping not for the
occasional snowstorm, but rather the consistent heat waves that plague the desert
community during the longest days of the year.

Tell us about your philosophy of living
in Moab.

Moab’s a town of
escapists. You learn to need less. I used to live in a pickup truck camper for
years, but the town’s cracking down on it now. Moab doesn’t want it. It kind of
sucks. But the recession is the best thing that’s happened here. The gated
communities went south. It’s been good for the bike shops, restaurants and
hotels. Recreation is the one free thing in America. A walk, a bike ride along
the river – it’s still free. We’re on our fantasy island out here. The rest of
the world hardly exists.

 

What’s your bike of choice in this
terrain?

A Salsa Mukluk. She
is gorgeous! All chrome. It’s a custom bike from the ground up with a downhill
fork on it. [Ed. note: Lohner actually notes it has four inches of travel.] I’ve
ridden everything in this town on everything, but this bike is unbelievable on
fat tires. It gets the job done. I’ve taken it down all the nasty s–t in this
town last summer and was shocked at how well it did.

 

Does the weather affect you mentally?

Once the temperature
gets above the redline, it messes with your mind. Every summer I’m here, I’m
thinking that I should be in the Northwest. I hate summer here. If it wasn’t
for the mountains, I couldn’t pull it off. I used to spend my summers in Whistler,
but now I have a house, two dogs and responsibilities.

 

How about physically?

I have that
leatherneck. I don’t like sunblock. Is it the sunblock causing the cancer? Or
is it the sun? [Laughs] No, seriously. Look at the labels. I don’t want to put
that on my skin. I try to cover up. I want to hold onto my youth. [Laughs]
Really though, you gotta keep yourself out of the sun. My bikes are kept in my
living room. You just have to monitor stuff like that. The sun definitely
destroys stuff. But nothing’s forever, right?

 

 

 

Eric Odenthal

Migrating to Moab
from Los Angeles, California seven years ago, you could say that Eric Odenthal
has made a few life changes. Fueled by his lust for rock climbing, Odenthal soon
began sharing his knowledge of the sport and the area through his own company, Windgate
Adventures, where he teaches climbing and canyoneering courses and guides
hiking and photography tours to national parks.

LA to Moab. That’s a big change. What is the
biggest difference you’ve noticed since moving to a small, desert town?

I’ve become a hippie since
moving here. You focus more on enjoying the outdoors all the time. If you live
here, it’s because you love it and you want to share the experience and keep
the delicate environment as clean as you can. I wake up and see the Moab Rim
every morning. The angle of the sun changes so much throughout the year that
you see things differently, like the way light reflects off the walls. It’s
very calming.

 

Does adapting to Moab’s climate get easier with
time?

There’s always a transitional
phase to adjust to each season. You can feel the sun every day a little more as
the summer progresses. You gotta keep the sun from cooking you, so you wear
long sleeves, pants, a big sun hat. It doesn’t become that much easier – you just
have to acclimate every year.

 

Rock climbing must offer some intimate
perspectives on Moab’s geology. What have you discovered about the desert
rocks?

The geology is so far beyond
reality. You see certain areas that have dinosaur footprints or Indian
petroglyphs or lost cultures that were here 800 years ago. All the sandstone
towers and the rivers cutting through them… It’s hard to understand the makeup
and history of the land. The desert has stayed the same, but it’s constantly
evolving. It’s incredible.

 

Despite its ancient history, it’s still a
delicate environment. What’s your experience with this fragility?

When I’m
climbing the desert towers around the area, I notice how fragile the rock
quality is. The cryptobiotic soil is very fragile, too. I teach that to
everyone on my trips. If you step on it and crush it, you can change the
environment. That soil is alive. When we’re out hiking on slickrock, I’ll
sometimes pour water on the moss to show people just how alive it is. It blooms
and turns bright green for a few moments before it evaporates. It’s so much
more alive than people actually see.

 

 

Marshall Hannum

Marshall Hannum
originally came to Moab in 1993 for a seasonal summer job, but monolithic
landscapes and a surreal ecosystem roped him into permanent residency until
2000. Leaving Moab to pursue other interests in Salt Lake City for a few years,
Hannum eventually returned with his kids and wife in 2007 to begin his second
stint as a year-round resident, desert rat and, until recently, shop owner of
Uranium Bicycles.

What do you find so alluring about
summers in Moab?

I get this deep
intensity when riding up a steep hill for an hour in 100-plus degree heat. It’s
almost an obscene relationship you have with this heat. It’s like you shouldn’t
be there, but you don’t want to screw up the situation. As long as you keep
moving, you’ll have air across your body, and it spurs you to keep going – it
becomes a quest not to stop. But at the same time, it keeps some people away.
Sometimes I see more jackrabbits when I’m out riding that I do people.

 

Any non-masochistic perks of the
summers?

You have the place to
yourself. There are far fewer visitors in the summer. Many of the people that
come to Moab don’t have great climate to begin with. The mornings and sunsets
are magical in the summer. You can be out before the sun comes up and it’s
still cool and nice. The desert wakes up, and you see all sorts of things you’d
never see in the mid-day sun or when it’s overrun by lots of people.

 

Does the harsh weather in Moab get
easier with time?

I think you get used
to it. I don’t mind hot weather and long, dry spells or even cold winters. But
I don’t have to contend with freeway traffic, smog pollution and commuting and
wearing a suit. “Harsh” is very relative when you look at it that way. You schedule
your life around the weather. If you can avoid it so you’re not out in the
baking desert mid day. You get up early, you find ways to get to higher places.

 

Have you ever seen gear breaking down as
a result of the weather?

We had to be careful
with our bike fleet [at Uranium Bicycles]. If we left them out in the sun, the
sun would deteriorate everything. Grips melted, suspension forks cracked. We kept
our bikes parked in the shade. I’ve had to send more than one bike back [to the
dealer] because it faded in the sun.

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