Utah city markets self as multisport playground
As Moab nears in the distance on U.S. Highway 191, the billboards advertise adventures of all sorts.
One peddles skydiving, another hot air balloon rides.
Off to the right, dirt bikes kick up clouds of red dust. Mountain bikes and all-terrain vehicles are a ubiquitous sight.
Moab is a desert playland offering excursions of all types.
Pick your adventure. Raft or kayak the Colorado River, hike in a national park, play golf, scale sandstone with your climbing gear or tackle one of countless trails perched atop a dirt bike, ATV or mountain bike. Gear stores and guiding outfits for sports of all sorts line Main Street.
Arches National Park and its awe-inducing red rock formations tower above the city. Canyonlands National Park and its eons-in-the-making rugged beauty sits nearby. Combined, more than 1.5 million people visited the two parks in 2012 according to National Park Service statistics.
In domestic and international circles, Moab is known for it all. Without recreation and the tourism dollars it brings, the old uranium-mining town would have practically nothing to fall back on.
Fruita is more of a community with killer trails. It boasts only a couple of bike shops.
“Our downtown looks different,” Fruita City Manager Clint Kinney said. “It looks like people live here and do stuff. It’s a community first, a community with a lot of great stuff to do.”
Undeniably, though, the famed singletrack mountain bike trails are a big draw for Fruita and the Grand Valley. Sure, there’s plenty else to keep a tourist occupied in the Grand Valley. Hiking, golf, rafting, boating, trail running, road biking and sight-seeing at Colorado National Monument are among the options.
But the Grand Valley, with its high-desert terrain and hundreds of miles of singletrack trail, is synonymous with mountain biking. Its inhabitants partake in activities of all types, but mountain biking is what Fruita and the Grand Valley are best known for in recreation circles.
“The Moab thing is so multisport at this point,” said Anne Keller, co-owner of Hot Tomato Pizza in Fruita. “Fruita is never going to have 18 jeep tour companies. It’s never going to have the ATV guys out there and the rock climbing. Moab is this crazy conglomerate for all these sports.
“We pretty much have biking and hiking and the river, but Moab’s version of the river is on such a larger scale.”
Keller knows a thing or two about both tourist destinations. An avid cyclist, she worked as a guide in Moab for a spell before arriving in Fruita nearly a decade ago.
Keller and fellow Hot Tomato owner Jen Zeuner wholly embrace Fruita’s mountain biking culture. They’re regulars on local trails, and both worked at Over the Edge Sports in Fruita before making their foray into the pizza business.
Although much of its clientele is local, Hot Tomato is a popular destination for out-of-town mountain bikers in search of sustenance, particularly during peak mountain biking seasons in the spring and fall.
Peak season seemingly knows no bounds in Moab, where a packed festival calendar and multitude of outdoors activities fills up hotel rooms and campgrounds to capacity many weekends.
“We have the river, hiking, climbing and then great biking,” said Scott Newton, owner of Poison Spider Bicycles in Moab. “And I think the parks really help. Arches and Canyonlands really draw. People come here for the parks and then might not necessarily come for biking, but then they experience all of Moab.”
Having two of the country’s more popular and most recognizable national parks in its backyard is a big boost to Moab’s profile as an outdoor recreation destination.
Public land anywhere
Some visitors barely stray from their cars on an Arches visit. Many lace up their hiking shoes for an up-close examination of the park’s imaginative rock formations, which are flavored with shapes and patterns only Mother Nature could mold.
As such, Moab is a hiker’s dream.
“Hiking is probably one of the biggest (draws) because people can use public lands to do it,” said Marian DeLay, executive director of Moab Area Travel Council. “You can be in the parks, on (Bureau of Land Management) land, anywhere.”
And there is so much else to do.
“The river is very popular in the summertime ...,” DeLay continued. “You see hot-air balloons first thing in the morning. You can go out to the park, and there are so many things to do besides the park. Golfing is extremely popular. There are horseback and mule rides.”
Fruita is more than mountain biking, too. Colorado National Monument, which received 454,510 visits in 2012, and the arch-filled McInnis Canyons National Conservation Area can be accessed through Fruita. Highline Lake State Park provides a venue for water adventures.
“We’re not trying to be a one-horse town,” Kinney said. “There’s more than mountain biking.”
But Fruita’s identity is very much tied to its world-class mountain biking and, as those billboards alongside U.S. 191 so artfully illustrate, Moab is all about everything.