Colorado’s “Annex Moab!” campaign is growing: meet the man behind the movement and sign the petition to bring Moab home
“Moab, Colorado” does has a nice ring to it.
There’s a growing movement in Colorado to bring the Centennial State way of life to the good people of Moab, Utah. A friendly, neighborly, good-hearted movement dubbed Annex Moab!
And, perhaps not surprisingly, there’s swelling support for it on both sides of the Colorado/Utah border.
Essentially, the idea behind the movement goes something like this: Moab, is more of a Colorado town in character, than it is Utahan. It’s cool, laid back, outdoorsy, happening, beautiful and exciting — and the people who live there deserve a political landscape to match their cultural one. At present, they are stuck in the wrong state.
Which is a situation; a moral wrong that needs righting; a problem that can be solved simply with a little land grab — with enough signatures on their official change.org petition.
So the Annex Moab! logic goes. And it’s a logic that Rooster Magazine is proud to stand by. Why not? We love everything Colorado stands for, and we love the charisma and geography of the town of Moab and its surrounding areas. It’s a match made in heaven, really — it’s something that seems like it should have happened a long time ago.
And what have the people of Moab to lose, anyway? From this Rocky Mountain vantage, it seems like they’ve got everything to gain.
Moab, if you are unfamiliar, is an incredible place for outdoor enthusiasts: gear freaks, motor heads, river rats, climber-folk and campers of all breeds. It has incredible natural scenery, that feels extra-planetary, like something from Mars; it has world renowned mountain biking and hiking, climbing, river rafting and jeeping; it is a quirky, fun and active little town, only 35 miles west of the Colorado border (as the crow flies).
Because of that unfortunate geographic fact, Moab is subject to the totally lame rules and regulations of their conservative state government. Beer sold at bars cannot exceed 4 percent ABV. It is illegal to have more than two glasses in front of you at once (even if you are enjoying a craft “flight”). Shots come in thimbles. Marijuana is still a felony to possess. Abortion laws are restrictive. Men can be held responsible for the crimes their wives commit. And beavers can be held accountable for the damages caused by their dams.
It’s a strange place. But geographically speaking, it’s one of this continent’s most spectacular regions: filled to its brim with incredible terrain, mind-boggling vistas, canyons, cliffs, boulders, rivers and scenery unlike anything else anywhere else on Earth.
“Moab is the beating heart of the Land of Deseret,” says Juan Wilder, the founder and leader of Annex Moab! “But that’s not a Utahan town — it never has been — at least not since I’ve known it. And the locals don’t seem to think so either.”
Wilder is a strange bird. The dude was born in Colorado and raised on the Western Slope of the Rockies. He’s a conservationist, botanist, Monkey Wrencher, psychonaut and self-described anarchist; he has long wild hair and mischievous eyes. He says he’s been going to Moab (to bike, hike, climb, raft, burn, trip and wander) since he was barely a year old, and tells me he is not-so-distantly related the late great American author Ed Abbey.
We met up for margaritas in a dusty cantina in Grand Junction to talk about his budding movement.
According to Wilder, the idea was never his alone. “Annex Moab! was not born in a vacuum,” he says. This is something that he’s heard whispers of on both sides of the Colorado/Utah border; an idea that Coloradans and Moab, Utahans alike have been toying with, quietly, jokingly for long time.
He’s just the guy who decided to do something about it.
“You hear people say, ‘Man, I wish...’ or ‘Wouldn’t it be nice if...’ enough times and you realize that there’s a real desire behind the words, even if it’s said passively, or jokingly,” Wilder says, stirring his drink with his middle finger. “Why not give that desire some real volume? Why not put some intention behind it and see what happens?”
Moab is quintessentially Colorado, argues Wilder. “It’s time to make it technically, legally Colorado as well.”
Which, is exactly what he’s trying to do. He started the change.org Annex Moab! petition as a way to take this idea out of the shadows and bring it into the light, to stir people’s imaginations and get them thinking about how awesome it would be if Moab was part of Colorado instead of Utah.
And these things can happen. They’ve happened before. As Wilder points out, just in 2017 the border between North Carolina and South Carolina was clarified; and in 1961 roughly 20 acres of land was transferred from Minnesota to North Dakota.
“It isn’t impossible to change state borders,” he says, pulling up a picture on his phone and leaning over to show it to me. It’s a google map. On it, is highlighted the area Wilder hopes to annex… though he says he’s open to negotiating with the state of Utah. “We can offer them Grand Junction or Pueblo if they feel slighted.”
“Go ask around Moab. Talk to locals about Colorado and the Annex Moab! movement,” he says. “You’ll be surprised how many Moab locals like the idea. Even the ones who haven’t heard of us, like the idea. It is not trivial,” Wilder assures me. “So when there’s widespread sentiment like that, it deserves some discussion. Regardless of how crazy, people think the idea is, regardless of how complex, ridiculous and impossible they say it is, it is worth talking about.”
So, I did exactly that. I called businesses and individuals around Moab (promising anonymity) to try and gauge how the community might feel about the Colorado way of life coming to Moab. And here’s what I heard:
“I think that would be great! Yeah. I think most people [in Moab] would be okay with it.”
“As a local I can assure you there would be many people who would be supportive of that … I would say there’s a lot of people in Moab that don’t think of ourselves as part of traditional Utah.”
“Hahahaha! I’m all for [the Annex Moab! movement]. I like Colorado’s laws. But I don’t think Utah’s ever gonna’ release its grasp on Moab. It makes too much money.”
“I mean we would love it. We’re way more Colorado than Utah. But Utah’s never gonna’ let us go because they want our tax base.”
“Yeah I’ve heard of it [Annex Moab!] and I think it’s cool. I think most people think it’s cool.”
In fact, I didn’t talk to a single person who was flat out against Annex Moab! Sure, there were some who expressed uncertainty about how realistic the idea was, (and a few who didn’t want to offer an opinion) but almost everyone seemed to be on board with Moab hypothetically adopting Colorado’s rule of law.
Wilder might just be on to something.
On top of increasing the personal freedom of the people, Wilder argues that the town itself would also see significant increases in local tax revenue, from things like marijuana tourism and more breweries serving better, stronger beer. The restrictive conservative anti-drug, anti-women’s rights, anti-strange state government would dissolve and a new era of freedom would befall the town of Moab (and its surrounding areas).
Plus, he says, they’d get a way cooler flag. “Have you seen the Utah state flag?” He asks cocking an eyebrow. “It looks more like the seal for the United States Federal Reserve Board, than something you’d want to hang on your home.”
Wilder says he doesn’t know how it’s going to happen, when, or where it’s going to physically begin — all he knows for certain is that the Annex Moab! petition is the first step. “It’s a statement to the states of Utah and Colorado that The People want this. It’s a demonstration of will.”
Will that be enough to incite any real change? Or is this desert rat provocateur, Wilder, just trolling the great state of Utah? Is it just a satirical jab, an empty threat, a joke at the expense of our next-door neighbors? Or is it the first real step in a movement that’s going to change the shape of our state?
Time will tell, I suppose. And it doesn’t seem like Wilder cares one way or the other. The annexation is happening, officially or not, whether everyone is on board or not, he says.
“Visit Moab any given weekend of the Spring, Summer or Fall and two out of three cars have Colorado plates on them. Go into the outdoor stores and you’ll see chalk bags, festival pouches, water bottles and beanies all emblazoned with the Colorado ‘C.’ Look closely at the stickers on the Welcome to Utah sign, and in restaurant bathroom stalls and you’ll see ‘Annex Moab!’ stickers slapped here and there.”
“The movement is alive,” he says. “Under the surface it’s bubbling, and I think it’s about to break into some kind of boil.”