Founded in the late 1800s, Moab was hardly a speck until the 1950s, when prospector Charlie Steen discovered uranium in the nearby hills. When the ensuing mining boom finally waned, the hold of Moab's mine-owners and businessmen waned with it. The town threw in its lot with tourism, and has become the Southwest's number one adventure-vacation destination.
Moab still isn't a large town, though – the population has yet to reach ten thousand – and neither is it an attractive one. The setting is what matters. With two national parks on its doorstep, plus millions more acres of public land, Moab is an ideal base for outdoors enthusiasts. At first, it was a haven for mountain bikers lured by the legendary Slickrock Bike Trail. Then the jeep drivers began to turn up, and the whitewater-rafting companies moved in, too. These days it's almost literally bursting, all year, with legions of Lycra-clad vacationers from all over the world.
Perhaps the main reason Moab has grown so fast is that out-of-state visitors tend to find Utah's other rural communities so boring. As soon as Moab emerged from the pack, it became a beacon in the desert, attracting tourists ecstatic to find a town that stayed up after dark – even if it does amount to little more than a few miles of motels, restaurants, and bars.