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ULUM Brings Unpretentious Luxury to Moab

All the majesty of a camping experience with none of the compromise.

ULUM Brings Unpretentious Luxury to Moab
Courtesy of ULUM

The two-hour drive to Moab, Utah from the Grand Junction Airport is peppered with tumbleweeds, UFO-themed roadside attractions, and a parched desert framed by photogenic red rocks. This is my first time in a state bordered by more than one right angle, and the cartoonish landscape conjures familiar images of Wile E. Coyote, the Road Runner, Thelma, and Louise. Driving through the town of Moab itself, I’m reminded of Californian areas like Tahoe—environmentally-conscious slogan T-shirts paired with Libertarian contrarianism. Oakleys are unironic. There are Kokopelli stickers on Jeep Wagoneers. I’m officially in the part of the Wild West with Mormon drinking laws.

A blink-and-you’ll-miss-it exit off the main road takes you down a gravelly path towards ULUM. The resort’s understated presence contrasts with the international hospitality chains littered along Highway 191. The trademark luxury canvas tents are dotted along a stretch of terrain tucked in the elbow of a crescent-shaped rimrock. The sleek and unpretentious lobby and dining area are geographically oriented to face the indisputable main character of ULUM: Looking Glass Arch (more on her later). As a no-car hotel, the staff takes you to and from your tent via golf carts. Surrounded by prehistoric rock, I half expect the carts to take off with the scrambling sound of Fred Flintstone's feet.

Photographed by Bailey Made

Courtesy of ULUM

The Great Indoors

The tents are stately yet humble, lifted above the ground to maintain a low impact on the surrounding flora and fauna. The interior is larger than I anticipated, with a square footage akin to my Los Angeles studio apartment. The only differences between ULUM and a typical luxury suite are the canvas walls, a trespassing spider here and there, and the added amenity of a wood-burning stove. When it comes to camping, my friends call me a wuss—I prefer the term “cosmopolitan”—so I am pleased to report ULUM has done away with any discomfort associated with outdoor living: there is a bathroom stocked with Aesop products, a heated shower, a king-size bed, a cooling unit, bathrobes, WiFi, and abundant outlets. To be clear, none of the perks come at the expense of the joys of camping. The wind rustles the walls of your tent at night. You fall asleep to the smell of burning aspen wood. There is always a clear sky for stargazing. And every night, there is a complementary s’mores bar outside the communal fire pits for all those interested in a Girl Scout-style “kumbaya” moment.

During the day, the main building offers an airy lounging space, a cafe, and a lobby with all the amenities TSA might have tossed from your carry-on. In the evenings, the space transitions into a sleek dining room that I can only imagine will become a popular date spot, given its stark contrast to Moab’s more family-style dining options. The cocktail menu boasts bright florals that showcase the native plants of the area: juniper, sage, rosemary, prickly pear, and lavender. The menu features locally sourced ingredients—mainly from a selection of seasonal favorites from Easy Bee Farm—with guest favorites like the salted beets, ancho brisket tacos, and the bison steak. Both the CEO and CMO come from a background in food and hospitality, so while ULUM is the first of its kind as a departure from their more outdoorsy endeavor, Under Canvas, this aspect of the experience runs like a well-oiled clock.

While I could have spent the entire afternoon languidly sunning myself on the deck by the pool in the company of like-minded lizards, I would be missing the very reason most people are drawn to ULUM in the first place: the great outdoors.

The Great Outdoors

On the first morning, my phone alarm went off at 6 a.m. for our scheduled hike at 7. The embers in my woodfire stove had gone cold hours before, and the temperature inside the tent had lowered to the same outdoor chill of a typical desert morning. Through my chattering teeth, I hemmed and hawed to no one in particular as I pawed through my suitcase, looking for leggings. From the direction of a neighboring tent, I heard a girl groan, “Meughhhhhhhhh.” “Okay, she gets me,” I thought to myself. I couldn’t exactly make out the words, but I thought I heard her say, “I’m coooooooold.” Amen, sister. Hearing the crunch of gravel outside my tent, I figured I might as well meet my new friend on our way to the parking lot. Peeling back a wing of the tent door, I stepped outside and found myself face-to-face with a cow. Sometimes, you make a new friend; sometimes, you’re just projecting on a cow.

We met our hiking guide, Mike Coronella, who is the kind of person who answers the question, “How are you?” with “Every day I wake up is a good day!” I admit his optimism was a bit glaring at 7 a.m., but as my crankiness burned off, I found myself completely endeared to his energetic quips and constant stream of geographical fun facts. If I could take any man on Cash Cab with me, it would be this guy. Having spent years as a desert survivalist charting the Hayduke trail from Arches National Park to Zion, he spent the last decade as a search and rescue volunteer, a trail guide, a proficient tracker, an author, and most recently, a sommelier-in-training.

Here are some useful tidbits I learned from Mike in our three-hour tour of the Needles District: You may never see a Mountain Lion during your time in the desert, but that doesn’t mean they don’t see you. On the side of the road, you can find the remains of a homesteader cult started by Marie Ogden, who, in the 1920s, left her life as a New York socialite because she started receiving messages from God through her typewriter about living off the land and achieving immortality. If there is moss or shrimp in the water in a pothole, it’s safe to drink. If there are cows around, it is not. BASE jumping has the highest mortality rate of all high-adrenaline sports. If the desert could talk, she would say, “I’ll kill you if you’re not careful today.” Our public lands are at stake with this next election as the far right wants to privatize our national parks. In conclusion, do not miss a guided tour with Mike.

While our specific group saw Newspaper Rock, the Needles District, and a few historic Native American sites and abandoned cowboy outposts, Mike can tailor your afternoon to suit any range of adventurous to educational pursuits. If you are interested in anything from rafting to paddleboarding to dune buggies, ULUM hosts help book you an afternoon with a location in town. Moab’s primary appeal is in its prehistoric and vaguely Martian terrain, so anything that immerses you in the landscape is a proper use of your time. While there is a vast menu of outdoor options, there is one I would deem unmissable (and thankfully, it’s in ULUM’s front yard): Looking Glass Arch.

While you can take a stroll to Looking Glass Arch and quite easily nab a photo in its famous—for lack of a better word—hole, a traditional rock climbing experience up the arch’s spine is certainly something to write home about. In a group of four, you will be suited up in a harness, helmet, and climbing shoes, and a guide will coach you through all necessary steps of safety precautions and belaying. Our group was paired with a guide named Herb, whose easy-going demeanor and habit of punctuating every sentence with “no doubt” convinced me we were in the hands of a well-seasoned outdoorsman. When I asked him what kind of skills you need to go on this particular climb, he said, “No skills at all.” As someone who hasn’t been to the gym in four years and most recently pulled a muscle while sleeping, this was music to my ears. I would say the climbing was easier than anticipated, but I would caution that a fear of heights could be your number-one enemy. Luckily, you are clipped very securely into the rock at all times, so you feel more like a dog tied up outside a coffee shop than Alex Honnold from Free Solo (who Herb has climbed with many times). The biggest challenge for most would be the 140-foot free-hanging rappel from the center of the top through the arch’s opening. Herb will generously take photos of you at the outset of your rappel, so if you can muster an expression other than terror, you’ll get a great pic for your mom’s Christmas newsletter.

Through the Looking Glass

You’ll notice in Moab that almost everyone we encountered on our trip—Mike, Herb, a paddleboard instructor— seemed to share the same story: They visited Moab on vacation and decided not to leave. While the terrain is an international playground for all manner of adrenaline junkies, there is an unnamable quality to the place that acts on something subcortical in your nervous system. At first, I attributed it to all the prehistoric rock—that entrada layer of sandstone that stood in tandem with the dinosaurs. With human life existing for just a fraction of a percentage of the time that dinosaurs roamed the Earth, it’s impossible not to confront the comparative silliness of fretting about your day job or the bad date you had six days ago. In the span of 165 million years, there were dinosaurs that went extinct before the T. Rex even existed. Right-sizing your own insignificance is impossible to avoid, and the untethering feels a bit intoxicating. It starts to produce some spiritual derangement; I began to feel that UFOs and immortality cults don’t seem so far-flung. There is almost a centrifugal energy to this line of thought, and the horizons stretch so long in every direction that you could pursue the edge indefinitely. Everything around you starts to vibrate with that invitation, and you begin to see why so many people chose to leave everything behind to stay here.

In the middle of my musings, I hear a rattlesnake behind a rock, and the call of the wild quickly dissipates. I remember that I am not made of that hearty American stock. I have a stomach ache 90 percent of the time and a headache the other 10 percent. I like $17 cocktails with one big stupid ice cube and dating delusional actresses who hurt my feelings. I like crying in traffic. I like wearing impractical shoes. Returning to my tent, I see the Aesop soap winking at me, and I realize ULUM knows all this about me. I’ve been a child on a leash at the mall; they let me cosplay with a sense of abandon but didn’t let me wander so far that I got scared. ULUM gives me a round of applause at my tepid attempts at adventure, like a mother cheering excessively for a child fumbling through a dance recital. She spoils me, and I let her. I guess that’s the precise sense of comfort you should be able to purchase at a luxury price point.

After dinner, I debrief about my day around the communal pit fire, generously helping myself to the s’mores bar. I discuss roasting techniques with a couple from Massachusetts (they prefer a slow-n-steady golden brown; I like the torch-n-burn method). They are empty-nesters and retirees on a road trip through a few national parks. They have a daughter “just about your age.” We wax poetic about the majesty of nature and even generously call this experience “camping.” In that moment, I indulge in that fleeting sense of community. Between communal afternoons at the main building, sharing small adventures, and partaking in the hotel's many offerings, you can’t help but feel you belong to a little village. While luxury hotels can coddle you, very few organically produce a sense of togetherness. ULUM offers a steady center amid Moab’s unearthly splendor.

Photographed by Bailey Made

Courtesy of ULUM

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