By far the largest town in southeastern Utah, Moab (pop. 5,100; elev. 4,025 feet) makes an excellent base for exploring Arches  and Canyonlands National Parks  and the surrounding canyon country. Moab lies near the Colorado River in a green valley enclosed by high sandstone cliffs.
The biblical Moab was a kingdom at the edge of Zion, and early Mormon settlers must have felt themselves at the edge of their world, too, being so isolated from Salt Lake City —the Mormon city of Zion. Moab’s existence on the fringe of Mormon culture and the sizable Gentile population gave the town a unique character.
In recent years, Moab has become nearly synonymous with mountain biking . The slickrock canyon country seems made for exploration by bike, and people come from all over the world to pedal the backcountry. River trips on the Colorado River  are nearly as popular, and a host of other outdoor recreational diversions—from horseback riding to four-wheel jeep exploring to hot-air ballooning— combine to make Moab one of the most popular destinations in Utah.
Moab is also one of the most youthful and vibrant communities in the state; thousands of young people travel to Moab for the recreation, while hundreds of others work here as guides and outfitters. As Moab’s popularity has grown, so have concerns that the town and the surrounding countryside are simply getting loved to death.
On a busy day, hundreds of mountain bikers form queues to negotiate the trickier sections of the famed Slick Rock Trail , and more than 20,000 people crowd into town on busy weekends to bike, hike, float, and party. As Details magazine put it, “Moab is pretty much the Fort Lauderdale of the intermountain West.” Whether this old Mormon town and the delicate desert environment can endure such an onslaught of popularity is a question of increasing concern.
Moab's recent history involves mineral extraction. Oil exploration in the 1920s caused some excitement, but nothing like that of the uranium boom that began in 1952. Moab's population tripled in just three years as eager prospectors swarmed into the canyons. One of these hopefuls, Charlie Steen, did hit it big. Experts laughed at his efforts until he discovered the Mi Vida uranium bonanza, about 30 miles south of town. An instant multimillionaire, he built a large mansion overlooking Moab and hosted lavish parties attended by Hollywood celebrities.
By the 1970s, the uranium mines were largely abandoned, but all the rough roads that had been built to access the mines set the stage for exploration with jeeps, ATVs, and mountain bikes. Another legacy of the uranium boom can be seen along the highway at the north end of town, where the area around the Colorado River bridge is the site of a massive environmental cleanup, slated to take years to complete. Charlie Steen and most of the prospectors have moved on, but Moab has never been the same since.
Great Lakes Airlines (800/554-5111) provides daily scheduled air service between Canyonlands Field, 16 miles north of Moab, and Denver. Several companies, including Roadrunner Shuttle (435/259-9402, www.roadrunnershuttle.com ), offer shuttles between the airport and town.
The only other public transport option to Moab is the Bighorn Express shuttle (888/655-7433, www.bighornexpress.com ), which makes one minibus run daily between Moab and Salt Lake City  (southbound trips run Sun.-Fri.; northbound trips are Mon.-Sat.). Advance reservations are required. One-way fare is $69.
Enterprise (711 S. Main St., 435/259-8505) rents cars at the airport.