Wednesday, May 5, 2010
Uranium and Cigarettes
Tuesday, May 4, 2010
Coming up through the Navajo reservation, which is mostly in the northeast corner of Arizona but also spills into Utah a little, I was convinced that the Indians had the best scenery all to themselves. But Utah is no slouch when it comes to photo opportunities.
I said southern California looked familiar, but it turns out this spot is almost as much so. With its red rocks, snow-capped mountains, and natural bridge formations, southeastern Utah has been used in movies for years. The director John Ford first filmed Stagecoach near Monument Valley in 1939, then did several more around Moab, including Rio Grande, in 1950. If you saw Thelma and Louise or Once Upon a Time in the West or Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade or City Slickers II, you saw Moab. And also The Greatest Story Ever Told, which is either about Jesus or the invention of Viagra.
The real boom took place when they started mining uranium here for nuclear bombs and electricity in the 50s, and Moab began to call itself "The Uranium Capital of the World." Not sure that's what I'd want my town to be famous for, but there it is. Then those pinko wide-eyed one worlders and tree huggers started scaling back the weapons and power plants and the radioactive bubble burst. Now Moab is back to trading on its scenery.
In terms of media exposure, perhaps the most familiar images of the Moab area are from the Marlboro Man advertising campaign. It was here that the rugged cowboy, astride his horse, paused to survey the breathtaking scenery and light a smoke. For a whole generation of TV watchers this was cigarette central, and the theme from The Magnificent Seven was the musical accompaniment to pure rich tobacco pleasure.
When the town was first settled back in the last quarter of the 1800s and given the name Moab, some folks objected because in the Bible the city of Moab was known for incest and idolatry. Feathers were ruffled and petitions were signed. Evidently, though, the cooler heads of the golden calf worshippers and sister rapers prevailed, and the name stayed the same.