The Hundredth Meridian

The Machine in the Desert

How many years has it been since I became acquainted with Moab, Utah?  More than I had realized, apparently.  When I first saw the place, a room at the Canyonlands Motel cost $19.95 per night, I recall, and you could get breakfast at the motel’s cafeteria, pleasantly located in the shade of a hoary cottonwood tree, for $2.25.  The motel has long since been knocked down, the tree uprooted, and you can wait as long as 40 minutes for a breakfast seating at any restaurant in town.  Who’s surprised?  Though it seems like the day before yesterday, June 1980 has fallen into the past by nearly a quarter-century.

Even in the 80’s, I used to avoid Easter week in Moab for the jeep safari and, later, the mountain bikers down from Salt Lake City.  In those days, the jeepers were countable in dozens rather than by the hundreds, while the bikers, though annoying, were half female, eye-catching in their tight, bright Lycra pants, and wonderfully silent on their motorless machines.  The mountain bikers have been largely displaced over the past ten years by the dirt bikers—not just a different breed but almost a different species—whose delight is not in physical exertion and peace (of a sort) but bodily inertia and ear-splitting noise.  As the pre-Christian Easter was a ritual celebration of the forces of natural rebirth and renewal, post-Christian Easter in the American...

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