238 miles SE of Salt Lake City

Named for a biblical kingdom at the edge of Zion, the promised land, Moab has evolved into a popular base camp for mountain bikers, four-wheel-drive enthusiasts, hikers, kayakers, and rafters eager to explore the red-rock canyon country that dominates southeastern Utah. A drive down Main Street confirms that yes, this is a tourist town, with scores of businesses catering to visitors.

Not far from the Colorado River, Moab sits in a green valley among striking red sandstone cliffs, a setting that has lured Hollywood filmmakers for hits such as John Wayne's The Comancheros, the biblical epic The Greatest Story Ever Told, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Thelma and Louise, and City Slickers II.

It's also become a favorite location for Madison Avenue. Remember those Chevy commercials with a car perched atop a huge red tower of stone? That's Castle Rock, one of the Moab area landmarks -- and the only way to get to the top is by rock climbing or helicopter. According to Bette Stanton, local author and film historian, when the first commercial in the series was being made in 1963, Chevrolet successfully hauled a car and a negligee-clad model to the top of the 1,000-foot tower, but by the time filming was done for the day, gusty winds made it impossible for the helicopter to land to pick up the model. A crew member, carrying extra clothes, was dropped to keep her company, and after a chilly night they were both airlifted down.

Like most Utah towns, Moab was established by Mormon pioneers sent by church leader Brigham Young. But Moab was actually founded twice. The first time, in 1855, missionaries set up Elk Mountain Mission to see to the spiritual needs of the local Utes. Apparently unimpressed with the notion of abandoning their own religion for the ways of the LDS Church, the Utes killed several missionaries, sending the rest back to Salt Lake City in a hurry. It wasn't until 20 years later that the settlers tried again; this time, they successfully established a small farming and ranching community.

Moab (elevation 4,000 ft.) remains a relatively small town, with just under 5,000 permanent residents, but that still makes it the biggest community in southeastern Utah. Practically within walking distance of Arches National Park, Moab is also close to Canyonlands National Park and is surrounded by the Manti-La Sal National Forest and vast, open spaces under the jurisdiction of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM).