Sarah Barstow

Author Sarah Barstow and son Zinny [Courtesy photo]

I came through Moab 23 years ago and immediately fell head over heels in love. I have lived in a lot of special places but, as we all know, there is nowhere like Moab. I am raising two children here. I created and am running a small business here. I love the small-town feel. I love the community here. I love the proximity of everything. I also love how easy it is to get away from it all. Moab has been there for the best moments in my life, but also my rock during my absolute worst times. When suffering through devastation and loss, I acknowledged how good Moab was for my soul and how blessed I was to be doing my healing here. 

Anyone who knows me, however, knows that Moab and I have had a rough time as of late. For much of last year, my Moab home was not healing for me; it was stressful. It provided anxiety and heartache. I started mentally composing my Dear John-style letter to the area. It would begin: “Dear Moab: I can’t do this anymore. I have loved you so deeply for so many years, but you’re just not the same. It’s not me – it’s you.” Then maybe something about still remaining friends.

Moab has always been a place of extremes. That hasn’t changed. I’ve never lived anywhere where I can feel both positively insignificant, like how you can feel microscopic in our vast desert, and emotionally significant and surrounded by friends in the same day. Our landscape is extreme. The sports here are extreme. The off-season used to be extreme. And the incredible people in our community work extremely hard to make a go of living here.

But for me and so many others, the quality of life here has changed extremely in the past few years and an increasing number of people are heartbroken. It’s not just locals. I can’t tell you how many tourists have apologized to me this year, saying “Wow. What has happened to Moab?” “Are you okay?” they ask, as if I’ve suffered a loss. And in a way, I have. We all have.

Long-time visitors tell me that they will only come to Moab in the winter now. Some locals tell me they’ll only come downtown to shop in the off-season, as well. Out of town friends will come to camp, but they don’t want to come into town. First-time tourists I met this past spring said “This is not what we expected. Is this normal?” They expressed that they had no desire to come back. I saw a bumper sticker in Colorado that said, “Don’t Moab Fruita!” I’ve spoken to people from nearby towns who say that they are deeply concerned with becoming like Moab. Have we reached the tipping point yet?

Can I continue to live in a place that feels like a scene from “Mad Max” half the year, but that I love deeply the rest? I don’t know.

I, by no means, think the doors should have been shut behind me when I arrived. Moab is amazing! Why wouldn’t people want to come here? Go to any beautiful place these days — inside this country or out — and you will be with crowds of tourists. But it’s not just the droves of people that are affecting our quality of life. It’s the noise. The chaos. There are parts of the year when the noise is downright torturous and it’s not only on Main Street. More and more, you just can’t escape it. Personally, I have a hard time reconciling the beauty here with the decibel levels. It’s ruining the quality of life for locals and the quality of experience for tourists.

But here I am, and there is still nothing more beautiful than a dusting of snow on red rocks. It’s easy to fall back in love with Moab during the slower months. Time to reconnect with friends, with the land and with our community. I want to stay positive. Perhaps I’ll even give my “Dear Moab” letter another try. Maybe this time it will read “Dear Moab. You have so much to offer, and I’m not ready to give up on you yet.” In the meantime, let’s be grateful for this place and each other. We’re all in this relationship together.