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Chapter #93: Matheson Wetlands Fire, Moab, UT - October 29, 2008


Close-up, similar to MoabLive.com webcam - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)

Moab, Utah - I've seen fire and I've seen webcams.

On Wednesday, October 22, I departed Moab, Utah after three weeks of hard work, learning and meeting many new friends.  There is so much about Moab, the place, the time and the happenings that I want to share, it is hard to know where to start.
 
While ensconced in my Pioneer travel trailer at the Moab Rim Campark the night before, I heard fire engines racing north, on nearby Highway 191.  Although the nearest fire department to the south is in Monticello, Utah, fifty miles away, that fact did not register with me.  Somehow, it was nice just to hear that an emergency was receiving an Trailer Campsite, Moab Rim Campark, Moab, Utah - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)emergency response, as we would wish if our property were in peril. 
 
On Wednesday morning, I hustled down to the RV Park office to create the final changes on our new webcam, streaming live from that location.  With the consent of Jim and Sue Farrell, the proprietors at Moab Rim Campark, we had installed a webcam up under the eaves of their second story.  Offering a panoramic view of the RV Park, Highway 191, the Slickrock area and the La Sal Mountains, our new webcam offers the world a completely new view of Moab, Utah and its weather patterns.  If you like, you can view the webcam at MoabLive.com or MoabRV.com.  Just click on either link and be patient as the webcam loads.  With the view changing every five seconds day or night, I assure you that you will not be disappointed.
 
October 2008 Matheson Wetlands fire, along the Colorado River, Moab, Utah - Click for larger image (http;//jamesmcgillis.com)Wednesday morning, I was so busy with the webcam that I failed to notice a column of smoke rising from the  Matheson Wetlands Preserve, which fills the space between the City of Moab and the nearby Colorado River.  According to the Wildlife Action Plan (WAP) for the area, the Matheson Preserve's lowland riparian habitat is the most critical habitat type in all of Utah.  As a unique wetland, it formed when the Colorado River bend in the Spanish Valley eroded its outside bank, leaving its former watercourse as a tangled swamp or reeds, bulrushes and non-native Tamarisk trees.
 
Moab UMTRA uranium cleanup site in foreground, with Matheson Wetlands Reserve, beyond the Colorado River, in the background - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)As with so much of the Desert West, the Matheson Wetlands are no longer as wet as they once were.  Although the water table there rises and falls with spring runoff or the occasional thunderstorm, a system of irrigation and water control dikes has turned much of the southern pond into “solid ground”.  Hunters and others camp or party in clearings, amidst the tangled undergrowth found throughout the preserve.  Did one such individual or group leave a campfire unattended the prior day?  Perhaps ironically, the fire appears to have overlapped a prescribed burn originally planned for October 2008.  That burn was only a small part of a wetlands restoration project planned for the preserve.
 
As I connected my pickup and travel trailer that morning, the wind came up and swept the fire from up near Highway 191 and the Colorado River, downstream to the gap where Kane Creek Road meets the river canyon.  Luckily, the firefighters stopped the fire there, but it was dramatic to watch, even from several miles away.Looking downstream, old U.S. Highway 191 Colorado River Highway Bridge, with Matheson Wetlands Reserve on the left - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)
 
As I prepared to drive back to Los Angeles, I remembered a bit of Moab history.  In 1855, eight years after founding Salt Lake City, a party of forty-three Mormon men built a rock fort in the area now called the Matheson Wetlands Preserve, near the Colorado River.  Growing crops and attempting to convert local Native Americans to their religion became the Mormons’ primary challenges.  Additionally, they sought control of the strategic river crossing and trade with travelers along the wagon road known as the “Old Spanish Trail”.
 
The naming of Moab retains elements of controversy.  Some say that the original settlers named Moab for its appearance, supposedly being similar to an area located on the eastern side of the River Jordan.  Others say Moab was a bastardization of the Paiute Indian word “moapa”, meaning mosquito.  Either way, with the coming of regular postal service and incorporation of the town in 1902, the name Moab became official.
The Spanish Valley, Moab, Utah - with Matheson Wetlands at the far end of the valley - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com) 
Several months after their 1855 arrival, Native Americans attacked the Moabites, burning crops and killing three settlers.  The Mormons then abandoned Moab, not to officially return until 1878.  With its cultural affinity and geographical proximity to Colorado and Arizona, Moab grew into the twentieth century more as a typical Western town than as a Mormon colony.
 
To my knowledge, the remnants of the old fort did not survive the one hundred fifty-plus years of mud and floods visited upon the Matheson Wetland Preserve by the mighty Colorado River.  Perhaps the denuding of that area will lead to renewed archeological interest in locating remnants of Moab’s original, if brief, non-native culture.
 
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By James McGillis at 06:25 PM | Environment | Comments (0) | Link

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