Back in Blanding, Wright’s observations are visible in stark relief. Nearly 40 years after Abbey’s anti-development, pro-environment antics, this town of 1,975 people continues to struggle with the complex and often conflicting values related to the land on which they live and the need to make a living. In the absence of a more diversified job market, such need often demands exploiting the literal bedrock on which their lives are built. Over the past 15 years, such exploitation—mainly in the form of #mining— has reaped some benefits. At $47,156, Blanding’s median household income is still well below the national average of $51,939 but well above its own turn-of-the-century figure; in fact, since 2000, the town has seen a 42.94% increase in its average household income. Despite such an impressive jump, it’s not all good news in Blanding. Nearly 18% of the town’s population lives below the poverty line. Steady, salaried work with good benefits can be hard to come by. While most of the area’s mines have been abandoned as employment opportunities shift to the retail and healthcare sectors, the industry remains important, providing employment to more than six percent of local residents.
Is this a tension that Abbey understood? Delorme doesn’t think so. The writer came and went regularly, and even if he wasn’t wealthy, he could, at least, indulge in what many locals cannot: leaving at their leisure. And while he railed against development, Delorme says it was Abbey’s prose that had the effect of spurring on that which he criticized so vehemently. In fact, Delorme posits, Abbey may even be the reason why #Moab, just about 75 miles up the road, is the bustling town it is today. His descriptions of the #Utah red rock, of the wild, wide open spaces, drew people, even as he hoped it would inspire them to keep it pristine by doing what he himself could not: staying away.
Chrystine Olson, a former Rangeland Management Specialist for the USDA Forest Service who worked in the western states, first visited Moab 32 years ago and recalls it being a sleepy town. Now, she says, it’s like many places in the American West, transformed by development, but not, perhaps, the kind of development one might expect. “#Outdoor enthusiasts can love a place to death,” she says. “All those #climbers and mountain bikers have needs after they’ve had their adrenaline fix. Moab and the surrounding area have experienced the classic case of a modern western boomtown, only in this circumstance it’s based on outdoor recreation rather than mining, ranching, or logging,” she says. Though the boom was only just beginning when Abbey was at Arches National Park in the 1950s, “he gets it right in Desert Solitaire,” Olson says. In one of many passionate, poignant passages, he wrote: “[M]ost of what I write about is already gone or going under fast. This is not a travel guide but an elegy. A memorial. You’re holding a tombstone in your hands.”